A passion for all things fishy

by Simone Sekers

WHEN we first moved here to Somerset, 15 years ago, we bought our fish from Dick the Fish, who called round the village with his van once a week, and who sold the freshest mackerel we’d ever seen, stiff with recent death, silver darts of deliciousness.

When Dick signalled his retirement, he said that, luckily, someone would be taking over his round. And so we got to know Martin, who after establishing that we might be prepared to buy a wider range of fish, called faithfully every Tuesday, and along with those wonderful mackerel offered skate and lemon soles and sometimes megrim.

He got a bigger van, with a distinctive number plate that his wife had given him for his birthday. We chatted briefly every week, and so I learnt that Martin’s dream was ultimately to have his own fish and chip shop. Although his links were with Stalbridge, where he had a fish counter at the newly built Dike & Son supermarket, he didn’t want to set up in competition with the thriving chippy already there.

He told me about the premises he had found in Milborne Port, a pretty village nearby, astride the A30 heading for Sherborne. There was reasonable parking, and an obvious shop window. Planning permission was a nightmare – I can’t remember the details exactly now, just his anxious face as he recounted problems with realising the end goal of his dream, that of having a restaurant above the shop, and of trying to fit it into a Grade II listed building. Could the stairs go here? Or there? There was a medieval fireplace that had to be worked round.

And while all this was going on, and the weekly fish round was continuing, and the catering for events (a wonderful seafood array put on by Martin and his wife is de rigeur at any big party round here), and the counter at Dikes, Martin was studying at fish-and-chip college.

At our weekly chats round the back of the fish van, Martin explained the finer points of the various batters, the kinds of fish, the technicalities of the oil. This was a man with a mission, and genuine passion for his subject.

‘Passion’ is used and over-used to describe too many things, but when it comes to food producers it does have a genuine meaning. It encompasses the need to work more hours than there are in a day, to put the family through sacrifices when it comes to anything financial, or to things like holidays and birthdays. Martin and Nicki, his wife, fortunately share the same dream and the same passion. It shows.

Something Else Fishy – the pun is on Martin and Nicki’s surname – is smarter than your average chippy. The décor is stylish seaside, lots of nets and pebbles and shells, and the headgear for the staff is equally stylish bandanas. The whole place exudes cheerfulness, and the entries in TripAdviser and the prizes won all testify to this being an exciting place to come and buy a takeaway (in an elegant cardboard box complete with airholes so that the contents stay as crisp as possible for the journey home).

But we like eating in the restaurant, which we did on the way home from the cinema in Yeovil. Longing to escape the cloying smell of popcorn, we could only think of one thing, walking up the stairs at Something Else Fishy, listening to the evening’s specials, and getting stuck in. Once you were encouraged to take your own wine, for a minimal corkage of £2, and you still can, but a licence has now been granted and the wine list is brief and to the point and fairly priced.

For old times’ sake I had the pan-fried mackerel fillet, crisp-skinned and with a delicious sauce of rhubarb and ginger, beautiful to look at and beautifully balanced. A huge bowl of mussels came next for my husband, but I have to have the fish and chips. For this Martin and Nicki bust their guts for years, to achieve that perfect batter, the freshest possible cod (my choice always), the clever wire baskets that keep everything crisp to the last mouthful. There’s tartare sauce and mushy peas, just as there should be. But best of all is to see the Elses’ dream in operation. Tired as they were at the end of a very busy Saturday evening shift, they were still smiling and rightly proud.

Something Else Fishy is at 1 High Street, Milborne Port, DT9 5DG, tel 01963 250225. Takeaway opening hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to -8.45pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11.45am to 1.45pm and 5 to 9pm; restaurant, Thursday to Saturday, noon to 2pm and 5 to 9.30pm.