Wednesday, November 3rd saw me booking the morning off work and heading to The RockFish Grill on Whiteladies Road, to join a group of like-minded food enthusiasts for a smoked salmon tasting session.
The Clifton-based venue is one of three owned by award-winning food writer and restaurateur Mitch Tonks, and comprises the restaurant itself, a fishmonger and a cookery school. The reason for our visit on this particular day was to trial five different varieties of smoked salmon, in order to help Mitch and RockFish to decide which to stock for the Christmas period.
A quick straw poll of the table revealed that none of us had ever tasted different varieties of smoked salmon side by side: we all (as I’m sure the majority of people do…) simply buy our one brand of choice and happily devour it. As we were presented with our five types of smoked fish, one after the other, we began to realise how much variation there is in the product, depending on how it has been cured and what type of wood it has been smoked over. I personally hadn’t realised how much variation there was in cost, either, with the salmon we tasted ranging from £21 to £49 per kilo.
The five we tried were…
1. Brown & Forest, Taunton, suppliers to Caprice Holdings. This fish is smoked long and slow over oak, and I found the aftertaste a little too strong and smokey for my liking. £35/kg
2. The Valley Smokehouse, just outside Bristol. This was much lighter in terms of smokiness and colour and probably the most similar to what I’d normally buy. £21/kg
3. Bloydits, Shetland. A much more natural woody, smokey flavour and smell, and sweeter than the others. This got my second place vote. £35/kg
4. Frank Hederman, Ireland. By far my favourite – and the favourite of many of the others around the table. The fish was smooth, full-flavoured, and had by far the best balance of fish and smoke without one of the two being over-dominant. Our only concern was that the cost may be prohibitive, at £49/kg
5. Tim Croft Smoked Salmon, Paddy’s, Isle of Man. “Interesting” can certainly describe this one. Rather than simply using sugar and salt to cure the salmon, Tim uses an ingredients list that includes dill, onion salt, garlic salt, rum and lemon juice. We all agreed that, while innovative, it wasn’t really traditional smoked salmon, and was a little too tangy for our liking. £30/kg
Many, many thanks to Mitch, Neil and Laura for a fantastic morning!
If you’re into your fish, it’s definitely worth checking out the RockFish website. They pride themselves on super-fresh produce, their slogan being “Tomorrow’s fish are still in the sea”. Fishmonger Neil is absolutely lovely and incredibly knowledgeable, and gave us all a lesson on the signs to look for when selecting your fish, and how to dress a crab. If you’re keen to learn more, have a look at their free Wednesday morning seafood masterclasses, or book yourself onto one of their cookery classes.
The restaurant menu changes daily, and in addition to the a la carte menu, RockFish offer a lunchtime and early evening set menu. At two courses for £12.50 (or three for £15), this menu is an absolute bargain. My friend Laura and I paid a visit a few days after the tasting, and I went for the two course option: a starter of sprats was fantastically fresh and so large that I had to leave some in order to fit the main course in! The main was fried cod with chips and tartare sauce, the cod perfectly cooked under a light yet crispy batter, and the tartare sauce deliciously tangy and the perfect accompaniment. Menus change daily: check here for more information.
Telephone: 01179 73 73 84
Address: 128-130 Whiteladies Road,Clifton, Bristol BS8 2RS