Kirk Gosden, chef director at Rockfish, invites Joanna Davis to try some of the seafood restaurant's dishes ahead of its opening at Poole Quay.

ONCE exclusive to Devon, Rockfish - a group of sustainable seafood restaurants - is creeping eastwards along the south coast.

With a branch in Weymouth having opened in August last year, the latest outpost of chef Mitch Tonks' growing business will open on Poole Quay on February 1.

The restaurant occupies what was once a Purbeck Pottery shop and overlooks the Sunseeker yacht yard and ferry terminal.

The space, once housing piles of pots, plates and jugs, is now home to a large and inviting dining room with vaulted ceilings, bar and open kitchen.

Some 35 members of staff have been hired, with some of the team's expertise coming from the Weymouth Rockfish. The sous chef in Weymouth has become the head chef in Poole.

"What we do is very specialist," Kirk says. "We're given the most fantastic ingredients and we have to get it right. The other day I had an 8kg turbot in my hand and it was perfectly straight because it was so fresh. I'd never seen such a perfect turbot in my life."

While the Weymouth Rockfish is in a 'perfect' location right by the beach, where 'it's building trade really well', Kirk says, he was full of excitement about the Poole branch when he first set foot at its quayside location.

"One of the things we had to sort out when we got here was increasing the number of plug points from two!" Kirk said. "When I walked in here I thought 'we're never going to get it done' in the time available, but we did and I think they've done an amazing job in a short window of time'.

"There seems to be a bit of general excitement about us opening. I've spent a lot of time in the town and I've really been getting a feel for it. I'm really looking forward to the summer and taking part in everything that goes on. We're up for all of that."

This branch of Rockfish will carry on the group's tradition of serving quality seafood and maintaining the high standards it is already known for, Kirk says.

"Even though we're a small company, people want the consistency throughout the restaurants. Customers want to come to Rockfish and know what they're going to get. We just can't get it wrong."

So animated is Kirk, he can't stop talking - brimming with enthusiasm about his love of the Rockfish food and his passion for the brand.

He tells us he will proudly represent the company when he attends the national Fish and Chip awards in London, for which the chain's Brixham takeaway is up for an award, competing against nine other chippies.

Southampton-born Kirk has enjoyed a career taking him all over the world.

He started at the Botleigh Grange Hotel in Southampton where he met a Swiss pastry chef who persuaded him to try cooking in Switzerland. He did and then ended up working in London with stints plying his trade in France and Germany on the way. Kirk was soon yearning to escape London and when a chef job came up in Bermuda, he couldn't resist.

"Believe it or not I decided I had had enough of the Caribbean, I came back with my kids, went to Spain and spent five months on a beach deciding what I was going to do. I dabbled in real estate but I just couldn't get cooking out of my blood. I love food and I love the industry."

Kirk ended up meeting Mitch Tonks and was offered a job as chef director and Rockfish history was made.

He said: "Out of everything I love to cook fish the most. It's always been fish for me. What I love about it is that, with steak being the exception, no other food has to be cooked so precisely. Fish has to be cooked perfectly otherwise you lose what's so special about it.

"When I do scallops I like to sear them really quickly so they still have that marshmallowy texture and the perfect flavour. I don't want to cook the hell out of it."

Rockfish strives to use as much local produce as possible and wants to start putting Portland oysters on the menu, Kirk tells us.

The fish used at Rockfish is procured from Nick Rich, skipper of a fishing vessel based at Brixham. He fishes every day weather permitting and tows nets for three hours at a time before hauling, which ensures that the fish is in first class condition - most vessels tow for six hours. You can follow Nick's Instagram account to see what he's catching on any particular day at trawlerman_nick

*Rockfish Poole, 9 The Quay, Poole opens on February 1. See


WE began by trying some of Rockfish's appetisers to prepare our palate for the delights ahead.

We started off with some juicy, fleshy olives from the north of Spain, which were first discovered being sold on a cafe on a humble industrial estate. They were followed by boquerones, marinated anchovies, which had a lovely zingy flavour.

Rockfish's main dishes come with unlimited chips and salad.

My favourite dish of the evening had to be the chargrilled monkfish tails (£19.95), presented to us with a side of smoky tomato-based romesco sauce. The sauce was perfectly complementary to the full flavoured fish with its mild, lobstery flavour.

This was my first experience trying whole oven-roasted gurnard (£14.95). Its freshness was evident in appearance and in taste. It has a delicate oiliness to it and just slid off the bone.

I also sampled cuttlefish for the first time. I was only familiar with the species through formerly popping a cuttlefish bone in my budgie Benny's cage so trying the real thing was a treat. With its consistency like a fuller, meatier version of squid, it was a satisfying eat. Amazingly 99 per cent of cuttlefish caught in UK fishing waters is exported.

Another first for me was trying pout, a member of the cod family. We tried both battered and breadcrumbed versions and I found it to be a refreshing change from cod with a slightly more savoury flavour.

"Pout is a really economical fish that's also delicious. It's one of the most underutilised fish on the market," Kirk says.

A dish I was never expecting to try in such grand surrounds was canned sardines! But throw away any preconceptions you have about cheap, tinned wartime rations, these were new season Cornish sardines bursting with flavour and succulence - a world away from what you would buy in the supermarket.

For dessert we tried the chocolate nemesis. It's a gluten free, rich and indulgent beast of a pudding. It's light in consistency but will give you a real chocolate buzz.

And just in case an Eton Mess seems completely out of keeping this time of year, Rockfish has introduced the winter mess. An apply, caramelly delight perfect for this time of year, I was amazed I'd never seen a similar variation before.

Next up were churros, once the second best selling dessert at Rockfish, which have been reintroduced to the menu after a spell away. They're expected to be just as popular this time around. I found them to be beautifully crispy and moreish but lacking the wow factor of the previous two desserts we had tried.

And as for the drinks - lovers of unique wine and artisan gin needn't feel left out because the restaurant group has its own wine, Xarello, which as Kirk describes is the perfect accompaniment to fresh fish because 'it's like adding a squeeze of lemon over the fish'.

The homemade gin especially made for Rockfish, Seafood Coast Gin, is another winner with a strong bold fulsome juniper flavour.