Brixham: the next big thing?

When we first chose to move to Brixham, almost four years ago now, it struck us as a place with so much potential. That has only been confirmed by the people that we’ve met since, and the exciting businesses and events that we have watched grow out of the community. I’m only just beginning to work out ways in which I can contribute to this, but I still felt a swell of pride when I read the feature on the ten best up-and-coming seaside towns in this month’s Coast magazine which put Brixham at number one.

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As part of Leigh’s birthday celebrations last weekend we were able to treat ourselves with meals at not one but two of the brilliant new restaurants that have opened up in the town.

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First, Bistro 1909. Up until the end of last year this was Brixham Deli – it was the only place to get a decent coffee when we first moved here, and a real sign that there was maybe more to this sleepy little seaside town than met the eye. When its owners, Roy and Gill, decided it was time for a change it was hard to hide my disappointment at first… But the restaurant they’ve created in its place makes it more than worth it.

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Delicious locally sourced food cooked to perfection – Leigh declared the pate the best he’d ever had, the steak and mussels were seriously good, and the chips are, I have decided, the best in Brixham. The setting is classic and cosy: custom made leather banquettes, industrial chic lighting and old Brixham photographs. With their own twist on a traditional formula they have hit upon something that works very well indeed. We’re already trying to work out when we can go back…

The other place we had to try – this time with Arthur in tow – was the latest addition to Mitch Tonks’ Rockfish chain, right above Brixham fish market.

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There’s been an understandable buzz about this place – it has after all been a long time coming. Mitch Tonks lives in Brixham, and has had his eye on this site since it first went out to tender. Unfortunately Torbay Council had other ideas, and we ended up with a really disappointing restaurant in there for a while – all style over substance, with no attempt to make the most of its unique location. Every time I looked at it across the harbour I grumbled with a sense of missed opportunity, so it was brilliant to see the site finally occupied by a restaurant that does it justice.

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It looked great, the fish was (of course) supremely fresh, and the atmosphere was buzzing. We shared a fruits de mer starter which was a real treat (it was Leigh’s birthday after all) and then went for classic fish and chips to follow. I’m very glad they offer the option of replacing batter and chips with grilled fish and salad as again this is somewhere I imagine we will revisit often!

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In conversation over both of these meals the subject of how our town is changing was never far away. It is one that is naturally taking on increasing significance with the possibility that I will soon have a role on the local council and actually be able to play an active part in the decisions that shape Brixham’s ongoing regeneration.

There will definitely be some difficult decisions to be made.

Brixham is regularly compared to nearby Devon towns like Dartmouth and Salcombe. In a lot of ways it has much more in common with them than it does with the other two towns in Torbay. But when we chose to move here, it was precisely because it wasn’t like them: it has a thriving, year-round community, fed to a large extent by its fishing industry. It attracts a diverse range of tourists, not only those with huge amounts of money to spend. And it is still reasonably affordable as a place for young families to bring up their kids.

Lots of the changes that we’ve already seen have been incredibly positive: the new selection of local eateries, the coffee shops like The Bay Coffee & Cake Company and Millie & Me that mean I no longer need to wait until I’m in London for my flat white fix, tired drinking establishments transformed into inviting pubs like New Quay Inn and The Manor. Shoalstone Pool is going from strength to strength, our theatre is full of ambition and ideas for the future, and Brixham YES is doing increasingly impressive work with young people and their families.

But there have been conflicts too, particularly around proposed developments which appear to meet the needs of some but for others cut right through what they perceive as the heart of our community.

As Brixham rises to the challenge of becoming the next big thing, we must remember that it’s not just its physical heritage and charm that needs to be protected. It is the local community that gives our town its soul, and as we continue to move forward we can only do so together.

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