The Best Seafood Restaurant in Norfolk – Rocky Bottoms
Nestled between East and West Runton, Rocky Bottoms has come a long way from its origins as a brick kiln built in the 1800s, housed in a dilapidated building left derelict after World War II. In 2008 it was purchased by husband and wife team Ali and Richard Matthews, a local fishing family who transformed it into what you see today.
The uniqueness of this place is that every day Richard and his son Winston set sail in their traditional double-ended Norfolk crab boat, the Anna-Gail, to set up lobster pots and catch the famous local brown crabs. Their loot is then taken back to the restaurant where it is either placed in specially constructed seawater tanks or prepared on site, served a few hours later.
“We wanted a place where we could serve the best local crabs and lobsters,” says Ali. “We hadn’t planned to open a restaurant, but one day as I was walking on the cliffs, I saw the brick oven and thought, ‘I’d like to buy this. We thought it would be a good place to sell our products.”
A seafood bar followed, but it was when Ali bought a coffee machine that the idea for the restaurant was born. “It started from there!” she says, “I ended up employing a chef and seven people, which has now grown to 20 people.”
Richard, a 45-year-old fisherman, leaves the coast at Weybourne each day, and his departure time varies according to the tide. It’s not an easy job, he’s usually off for four or five hours. After being caught and brought ashore, the crabs are soaked, cooked, brought to the dressing area and then served. From the boat, at home, cooked and served – you’d be hard pressed to get fresher than this in many other places.
It is a very family business, each of the couple’s three sons, daughters and daughters-in-law having participated in its creation. Adam did the carpentry, Winston, a plasterer and mason, played his part and goes to sea with Richard, Hector takes care of their media, and daughter-in-law Abbie and her daughter Pollyanna take care of the facade of the home.
If he didn’t already have several USPs, the physical framework is to be wondered about; on the cliffs overlooking the Norfolk coast.
Ali has planted a lovely wildflower garden up to the top of the cliff so people can come and sit and have a glass of local beer or a glass of wine and enjoy the view.
If you want a table here you will need to book early. It’s open Monday through Thursday from noon to 5 p.m., and Friday and Saturday until 8 p.m., but you can stay for a drink until around 10:30 p.m.
“I just think it’s good to keep it a bit unique because we’re not the pub up or down the road,” Ali says. “I think it’s good for people to go out and eat early and enjoy the rest of the evening sitting down and relaxing. If we stay open later I think we might lose that uniqueness, plus the Richard and I are up very early to start work, so 5am to 8pm is a long day!”
During the pandemic they have continued to sell crabs and lobsters, provide a delivery service and supply other local venues, but after a bit of redecoration and new hires on board they are excited to fully reopen.
“I always have a good redecoration every year, a nice makeover with some changes in the artwork,” Ali reveals.
Fortunately, she says, despite its remote location and a general shortage of hospitality workers, they weren’t affected. Some former staff came back and they managed to recruit a full team.
“I think it’s a nice place to work,” Ali says. “Because you’re a remote location between the Runtons, we’re just behind the cliff, it’s an incredible view of the sea, and we have lots of birdwatchers who come here too. Every morning the sunrise is amazing and the sunset is beautiful.”
The venue has also hosted several weddings, but the company is not expected to fully commit to this. “Weddings by the sea and on top of a cliff? I need another permit! Ali has fun.
The key to the restaurant’s success will be what comes out of the kitchen, and the man running things as the restaurant resurfaces in the new season is Sean Creasey.
Over his 20-year career, Sean has amassed an impressive resume in the culinary world, working alongside Galton Blackiston (Morston Hall) and Stuart Conibear (The Ivy and Dorchester). He also ran Butlers restaurant in Holt, Tatlers in Norwich, the Dun Cow in Salthouse and the White Horse in Blakeney. Having joined the Rocky Bottoms team just before the pandemic in 2020, this is his year to really get into it.
“I’m an eater and I love to cook for people,” he says, adding that he enjoys helping diners get out of their comfort zone.
For someone who is used to cooking a lot of different dishes, the prospect of running the kitchen in a more specialized location was really appealing. “That’s part of the attraction,” he says, “I like the fact that with Richard and Alison, they grab it and we serve it. It cuts out all the middleman, we get the pick of the crop and the best product and that’s what’s so appealing about it.”
This year Sean is bringing some new dishes to open up the menu a bit, as it makes sense that they expand to suit a wider range of tastes and have a backup in case something happens and something goes wrong. ‘they couldn’t get out in the boat. or in case of bad season.
Let’s talk menu, then. Sean brings both his experience and his favorite dishes to Rocky Bottoms, which includes one of his signature entrees – wasabi tuna tempura, soy sauce and pickled pink ginger.
“It’s very raw and the dough is very light on the outside,” he explains. “It’s wrapped in black seaweed, put in batter and fried very quickly so the outside is crispy, but the inside is still nice, pink and raw. Wasabi, soy and pickled ginger sharpen it up and cut the fat from the tuna. It is a very good dish.
“I started doing this on day one of Butlers, where it was on the menu for eight years, then followed me to Dun Cow and now I’ve brought it to Rocky Bottoms, so it’s been almost 20 years since I cook this dish for.“
As for her favorite main course, it’s crab linguine with chilli, mint and lime. “An Italian dish doesn’t get any more complicated than that,” he says.
“The crab works really well with the pasta. You have the dark meat, which is almost a bit mushy, and then you have the delicate white meat, so once those two are mixed with the pasta, things like linguine and fettuccine.
“Crab alone is probably one of the most beautiful things you can eat,” he says. “I look at it as a fatty fish; it doesn’t want anything fatty with it. Something like mackerel, for example, you put things like capers, lemon and lime. Crab can handle those flavors too, so I would use chilli and capers and a bit of salt and vinegar, with anything fatty there should be something spicy to balance it out, a bit like putting vinegar with fries.
So what are Sean’s top tips when it comes to the best way to serve local crab? Keep it simple and serve with mayonnaise, lemon, brown bread, and salt and pepper to taste.
“I like chili or cilantro because the crab handles a lot of flavors without going away. So I’d say either don’t touch it at all, or put stronger flavors with it, if that makes sense!
“Similarly, mashed potatoes with crab, cilantro and lime made into a fishcake, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried works great too.”
Find out what’s on the menu at rockybottoms.co.uk