Category Archives: Sophie is eating

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

Why chefs need to take responsibility for what is in their food

Two weeks ago, a group of ‘chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers’ put their names to an open letter published in The Telegraph. In this letter, they rallied against the recent regulations introduced by the EU designed to make eating away from home an easier option for the many people, like myself, who suffer from a serious allergy.


It was on my radar at the time, but it has taken me a little while to fully digest the implications between the lines of their sparsely worded letter and to formulate a response which is not merely an outpouring of fury at the ignorance and arrogance which underpins their declarations.

On one level, actually, they’ve done me a favour: I now have a clear and categorical list of the establishments and proprietors I need to ensure I avoid whenever I fancy a meal out. I enjoy good food, and I love eating in restaurants when the occasion arises, but it simply isn’t worth risking a life-threatening allergic reaction if the person preparing my food isn’t willing, or able, to tell me whether it might contain nuts.

It is for this reason that the publication of the letter strikes me as an extraordinarily bad business move – ironic, really, when its signatories are aligned behind an organisation called ‘Business for Britain‘. Clearly it is more important for them to take a swipe at the EU than to consider the needs of a significant portion of their customer base. Conservative estimations of people suffering from acute, severe food allergies in the UK put the number at around 500,000. Other studies indicate that 6-8% of children in the UK – that’s over 1 million – have a proven food allergy. Whichever way you look at it, there are an awful lot of people whose health – and life – relies on knowing what is in the food they eat. They all have families and friends whose dining habits will be influenced by the allergy sufferer. So why exclude so many potential customers from your business?

This issue of exclusion is at the heart of my anger towards the signatories of this letter. Allergy is not a lifestyle choice. It is not something that causes mild irritation to its sufferers. It can – and does – cause death if the allergen is inadvertently consumed: there are between five and fifteen fatalities each year directly caused by food allergy in the UK. Many of these are due to meals eaten outside the home – and, as with the 18 year old who tragically died in Manchester earlier this year after eating a burger, allergy sufferers tend to be very clear with restaurant staff about the food they need to avoid. I mean, you would be, wouldn’t you, if you knew that eating the wrong thing could kill you?

Far too many times when I have asked the necessary questions with regards to my allergy the response of the waiting staff is that they cannot guarantee that any of their food is nut free. This warning is so ubiquitous now on packaged food that at first glance it might not seem so extraordinary, but in the types of establishments I favour – ones which serve freshly made food cooked from scratch – I really do find it quite odd. If it were true, then what else that is lying around in the kitchen might have made it into the food? Bleach, perhaps? Or maybe rat poison? The implied lack of caution about cleanliness and cross-contamination astounds me. In the vast majority of cases, when I push further for a response from the chef, they are happy to reassure me that they can prepare me a meal that is safe. If they don’t, then I can’t eat there. Simple, really.

Putting the issue of cross-contamination to one side, the signatories of the letter decrying the improved regulations seem to take things one step further. In complaining that the rules will destroy ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ they seem to be implying that, as chefs, they have a right to add ingredients on a whim without the irritating distraction of the consumer taking away from their art. They seem to have forgotten that they have a responsibility to the people who are paying them to prepare their meal – and that responsibility includes providing food that is not going to cause illness or death to someone suffering from an allergy.

They complain of the ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ these new regulations have caused, but in reality businesses can comply with the new regulations simply by being able to verbally communicate, if asked, whether dishes contain any of the top 14 allergens. Having taught in the state system for ten years I fully appreciate the frustration that comes with seemingly unnecessary paperwork, but is that really too much to ask?

After recent high-profile scandals around the food we eat not being quite what we thought it was (horsemeat, anyone?), I think we would all like to know what it is we are putting in our bodies. If you have an allergy, this concern becomes even more important.

If you are a chef, I do not believe you have the right to exclude someone from accessing the services at your establishment because they suffer from a chronic medical condition. In fact I would argue that to do so flies in the face of legislation surrounding equality and access – particularly as recent rulings have declared that severe allergy is capable of being a disability.

Of course it would be lovely if we did not need to worry about the needs of others as we went about our personal and professional lives, if we could all act as we wished without concerning ourselves with the repercussions our actions might have on others, but the fact is we cannot. And in fact the world would be a far sorrier place if we did.

We all have responsibilities to others – and that is something these ‘top chefs‘ would do well to bear in mind.

X is for Xampanyet


A tiny tapas bar in the Born area of Barcelona, near the Picasso museum: a little slice of history where locals and tourists alike gather to soak up the atmosphere, the food and the cava.

It’s never easy to get a table, but once you do, shuffling along benches and perching on stools to squeeze everyone in, you’re always in for a treat. From the ubiquitous pan con tomate to plates piled high with melt-in-the-mouth ham, from little red peppers stuffed with cheese to fresh and vinegary anchovies. We always eat too much, and it always costs a fraction of what we think it will. And it’s always washed down with copious amounts of house cava – served in vintage saucers and strangely refreshing despite being a little too sweet.

As I’m writing this I realise I haven’t actually been there for ages. For a while, after one of my best friends relocated out there with her family, Barcelona became my second home. But then I moved out of London, and Arthur came along, and suddenly popping over for the weekend became somewhat more challenging. We did make it back to the city this summer, but like many places in Barcelona this little tapas bar was closed for the holidays. I guess I’ll just need to book another trip to savour its flavours again.

X is for Xampanyet.


Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.

Home grown goodness


For my birthday this year my parents finally helped us get our acts together and plant up our garden. As well as some gorgeous flowering plants they bought a whole host of herbs, but the thing Arthur was most excited about was the lettuce.

Salad is pretty much my favourite thing to eat during the summer, but try as I might I haven’t been able to get Arthur interested in eating leaves. That all changed once he saw me picking the lettuce from the garden – and suddenly he wanted to try too.

He’d been fascinated by the new green things we were growing long before they were ready to pick. Several times a day he’d pipe up with ‘water plants?’ – handy for me as I don’t have a very good track record with keeping them alive…

We found him his own Arthur-sized watering can and he took his new job very seriously: first following Daddy’s lead and then having a go all by himself.



It’s lovely to see him enjoying our own little patch of nature so much, but the best thing about growing salad of course is that we get to eat it. Arthur’s still not entirely sure how to go about that, but he’s certainly enthusiastic. He asks for “lettuce” or “salad” with just about every meal – and I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s loving it as much as I do!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

P is for pho


Often people ask me what I miss most about not living in London any more, and the answer’s always the same. There’s the people we left behind of course, but actually in some ways the physical distance between us now means that we make more effort to see the people who really matter. It’s amazing how knowing someone’s only half an hour away can turn into an excuse not to see them yet the opposite becomes true when meeting up’s a real mission.

But I digress. The thing I really miss about not living in London any more is the food. It’s not like there’s not good food in Devon: the potential for really fresh, really local ingredients is of course much higher than in the city. But without the melting pot of cultures that I used to feel privileged to be a part of, our menu is much more limited.

Where we used to live in London we were surrounded by fantastic Vietnamese restaurants. There was a big Turkish community too, so the kebabs were out of this world. Not to mention the Punjabi lamb chops at Tayyabs, the Sunday dim sum at Yi Ban, the Argentinian steak at Buen Ayre and the special-occassion sushi at Soseki.

It’s Vietnamese food I always seek out first when we go back though. There’s something about the fresh herbs, the slippery noodles, the seafood. And I especially love pho. It’s like the best sort of comfort food, warming and flavourful and healthy. I miss the ritual of the little plate of basil and bean sprouts and chilli, alternating spoons of broth with digging around with chopsticks for more substantial morsels of deliciousness.

When we were on honeymoon in Vietnam I had it for breakfast every day. We’ve tried to recreate it ourselves to varying degrees of success, but without the authentic ingredients it’s never quite the same. The bowl above was devoured moments after the photo was taken in Tre Viet, a restaurant I’d heartily recommend if ever you find yourself hungry on Mare Street.

P is for pho.


Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.