When you first drive down into the South Devon town of Dartmouth, the view catches your breath. Sailing boats bob up and down, ferries pootle to and fro across the Dart estuary, a steam train can be spotted in the distance chugging along the Kingswear coastline, and brightly coloured houses hug the hillside. This is a proper pretty English coastal town. It’s got stacks of history, too, and was one of the places the Pilgrim Fathers stopped off at before they set sail across the Atlantic on the Mayflower.
As a tourist hotspot, particularly during the summer months, there may be a worry that the harbourfront will be awash with kiss-me-quick hats and chip shops but, thankfully, Dartmouth is an altogether more classy location. It doesn’t quite have the Chelsea-on-sea vibe of neighbouring Salcombe but, I’d argue, it’s got a bit more character. Oh, and the annual food festival in October is one of Devon’s best – catch it if you can.
For foodies, Dartmouth has a range of eateries to suit most appetites and wallets. The two jewels in the crown are practically next door to each other on the South Embankment: The Seahorse and The Angel. The Seahorse is Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse’s upmarket seafood restaurant and was last year listed in The Sunday Times Top 100 UK Restaurants. Inside it’s like a charming old-world European bistro, with cosy banquette seating and low-level lighting. While away an afternoon or an evening indulging on dishes like squid with blood orange and mint, hake with Manzanilla sherry and broad beans, or octopus braised in Vermentino wine with soft polenta, washed down with a bottle from the extensive and expertly curated wine list.
For a pre-dinner tipple, be sure to pop into Joe’s Bar at the back of the restaurant, a cosy wine bar serving up a range of aperitifs, including their own homemade Joe’s Gin. For extra-special occasions, you can also hire The Cantina – a private dining room where your guests can receive The Seahorse treatment in your own intimate surroundings. There’s a minimum spend of £800, which we reckon is totally worth it for up to 14 guests, your own private chef, and some of the best-cooked seafood in Britain.
For more fine dining and fabulous estuary views, head to The Angel, where MasterChef: The Professionals alumni and rising star Elly Wentworth heads up the kitchen. Elly is building a name for herself as one of Devon’s best young chefs, and brings her creative flair and precision to the area’s best local produce. Sample main dishes include line-caught seabass, roasted cauliflower, hazelnut and chicken dressing, and best end of Dartmoor lamb with aubergine pickle, anchovy fritter, artichoke and lamb jus. Having dined there recently, I can heartily recommend the puds too, which were amongst the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.
If your budget can’t quite stretch to fine dining, but you still want to sample some of Devon’s delicious seafood, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Rockfish. Also located on the South Embankment, this is more than just a fish and chip restaurant: it serves up the day’s local catch from Brixham Fish Market, and the menu is updated regularly to reflect what’s in season. We recommend you be adventurous and try something you may not have had before, like gurnard, hake or John Dory, which can be grilled or fried to your preference.
If you’re staying in Dartmouth and fancy rustling up your own seafood supper, then head over to Old Market Square and have a chat with the lads at Wild Food Devon, a family-run fishmonger. They can recommend the fish of the day and what to do with it.
If seafood is not your bag and you’re looking for family-friendly fodder at reasonable prices, then head to Kendricks. Opened in 2000, it’s popular with Dartmouth locals and serves up American-style food in hearty portions, every night of the week. The homemade Kendricks burgers served with slaw, gherkin and seasoned fries are an instant winner, as is the rack of pork ribs smothered in BBQ sauce. There’s a decent kids’ menu too, with staples like sausages, burgers and cod bites.
For a lazy family brunch, you’ve got to hit up Café Alf Resco, which has become something of a Dartmouth institution. Famed for its breakfasts, I recommend the Big Alf’s Breakfast, particularly if you’ve had a few the night before. It’s basically a full English, but the sausages and hog’s pudding are off the scale. Oh, and all other caféstake note: the toast comes is as it should always do, smothered in salty butter.
For a lighter option, go for the homemade granola and, for a vitamin hit, a smoothie. I recommend the apple, pear and ginger, which apparently gives me two of my five-a-day (although sadly, I don’t think it cancels out those cooked breakfast calories!).
If you like a cosy pub atmosphere with an abundance of history – picture a Tudor frontage, exposed wood beams and a rustic interior – Bayard’s Cove Inn is a must-visit. Dating back to the 14th century, it’s situated at Bayard’s Cove, where those Mayflower pilgrims stopped off to repair their first ship, and is full of charm and character. The food is pretty tasty, too: think upmarket pub grub. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it makes for a handy pit stop before or after you’ve explored the town. It’s also a B&B, with seven ensuite rooms upstairs, making it an ideal location to stay if you’re spending a couple of days in town.
I spent the night there and enjoyed a delicious starter of butternut squash arancini served with tomato, caper and olive sauce, followed by a main of freshly caught skate wing, served with salsa verde and new potatoes. Both dishes were exceptional, and good value for money, too. In the morning, you can enjoy a meat, veggie or vegan fry-up, a filled bap, or, like me, go for a plate of eggs Benedict, washed down with a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice. This is a friendly, informal place, which books up fast in the summer.
Tucked away down a side street you’ll find Anzac Street Bistro, which serves up some of the best vegetarian food in town, as well as plenty to satisfy meat-eaters. Tip: the veggie specials sell out quickly, so ring ahead and order in advance. Open Tuesday to Saturday evenings from 6pm, they serve up European dishes with an exotic influence. It’s got a relaxed, cosy vibe and there’s live music at the weekends.
If you’re planning on a day trip, take the ferry up to Dittisham and pay a visit to The Anchorstone Cafe – a gem of a place that specialises in seafood. In the summer, nothing beats enjoying an alfresco feast of Start Bay crab and Elberry Cove mussels, washed down with a crisp cool glass of white from Sharpham’s, just three miles upriver.
Café Alfresco doles out a decent cup of coffee, which is their own home blend and roasted locally. Or, if you like to enjoy your caffeine in pretty surroundings, check out Bula, which serves up coffee with bagels and homemade cake. I fell in love with the cinema-style seating upholstered in tropical fabric. With free Wifi, it makes for a bright and airy place to catch up on emails over a cuppa. The Deli at Dartmouth also does great coffee from Exe Coffee Roasters and is a smashing place to grab a quick lunch. You can also pick up a basketful of yummy local produce from the deli counter. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of The Curator Café in Totnes, head to its sister establishment, Woodroast, for a cracking coffee and some authentic Italian biscotti. Or, for a taste of France, head to Saveurs for a cappuccino and freshly baked pain au chocolat.
If you’re looking for an alcoholic tipple, Dartmouth has a raft of trad boozers too, with The Dolphin and The Cherub Inn two of our faves. The Cherub is actually one of the oldest buildings in town, dating back to the 1300s, and is a great place to chew the fat with locals. If you’re after a cocktail, then Bellini’s Bar is your best bet – although after all that food I could only manage the one before I tottered off to bed…