The Salt Room restaurant in Brighton, East Sussex, has been revealed as the winner of the 2017 Seafish Restaurant of the Year competition organised by The Caterer in association with Seafish UK.
The competition, now in its third year, was launched to highlight great use of seafood and knowledge of often under-used products, in all types of restaurants.
Recognised for its consistently high customer service, its excellent menu and good variety of locally sourced fish species, the Salt Room was praised by the judges for its innovative dishes and for taking risks to educate more consumers on the vast range of fish and shellfish available.
The Salt Room prides itself on only sourcing seafood from certified and responsible suppliers and serving these in innovative ways, such as whole market fish cooked over charcoal or gurnard with romesco, octopus and green olives.
An independent, mystery audit produced by Seafish UK as part of the judging process also scored the Salt Room highly with regards to staff's familiarity and knowledge of species served with the front of house team able to offer good advice and recommendations.
Lisa Jenkins, products and suppliers' editor of The Caterer, and co-chair of the judging panel, shared some visitor insight: "Part of the Salt Room's success is its simplicity. From the outside you would assume you were walking into a simple brasserie, but the dishes will blow you away. These can range from cured mackerel, fennel and kimchi mayo for lunch to octopus, cocoa beans, pancetta, seaweed and spiced gilt head bream, cucumber chutney and yoghurt, for dinner."
Raz Helalat, the owner of the Salt Room, the Coal Shed in Brighton, and the recently opened Coal Shed at One Tower Bridge London, and Dave Mothersill, group head chef, were presented with the trophy this afternoon.
Helalat commented: "This result was completely unexpected and makes all the hard work from the team this year so worthwhile. It's been a real group effort and an amazing 2017."
Mothersill added: "I didn't think we would win - it's an honour to simply be in the top five. But now we have won I'm super happy. It's perfect timing to receive this award alongside our new opening in London, the team have been working very hard and I'm really pleased for everyone involved."
Of the final five restaurants, the Ninth Wave on the Isle of Mull in Argyll was highly-commended by the judges as a very strong entry.
Owners John and Carla Lamont showcase quality modern British cuisine with an eclectic twist with ingredients gathered from the Scottish Isles and using the croft's own home-grown produce, fresh-caught seafood (caught by John Lamont) and organic meats from the island.
The 2017 judging panel included Derek Marshall, chef-owner of Gamba, winner of the 2015 Restaurant of the Year; Alex Aitken, chef-patron of the Jetty, Christchurch, Dorset, winner of the 2016 Restaurant of the Year; Calum Richardson, owner of the Bay Fish and Chips in Aberdeenshire; Giovanna Grossi, AA group area manager; José Souto, chef-lecturer at Westminster College, London and 2017 Catey Foodservice Caterer of the Year Paul Hurren, managing director of Lusso Catering.
Grossi, who has judged the competition from the outset, commented: "The competition was hard to call this year as we had five very different restaurants in our shortlist. We would encourage them all to enter again, and continue to raise the profile of restaurants serving seafood in the UK."
Three members of the Salt Room team will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the fishing docks of Brixham, where they will have the opportunity to extend their knowledge of the catching, processing and supply of seafood and each top-five finalist is also awarded with vouchers from uniform supplier Russums.