Popular seafood restaurant re-opens - selling the freshest fish on the coast

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Lobster with garlic butter, chi

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Lobster with garlic butter, chips and salad. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

Nestled between East and West Runton, Rocky Bottoms has come a long way from its origin of a brick kiln built in the 1800s, housed by a ramshackle building left derelict after World War Two. In 2008, it was bought by husband and wife team Ali and Richard Matthews, a local fishing family who have transformed it into what you see today.

The uniqueness of this place is that every day Richard and his son Winston take to the seas in their traditional double-ended Norfolk crab boat, the Anna-Gail, to set lobster pots and catch the famous local brown crabs. Their haul is then brought back to the restaurant where it's either placed into specially-built seawater tanks or prepared there and then, served up just hours later.

Richard and Ali Matthews, Rocky Bottoms

Richard and Ali Matthews - Credit: Rocky Bottoms

"We wanted a place where we could serve the best local crab and lobsters," Ali explains. "We hadn't planned to open a restaurant, but when I was walking on the cliffs one day I saw the brick kiln and thought 'I'd like to buy that. We thought it would be a nice place to sell our produce'."

So a seafood bar followed, but it was when Ali bought a coffee machine that the idea of the restaurant was born. "It just went from there!" she says, "I ended up employing a chef and seven people, which has now grown to 20 people."

Richard, a fisherman of 45 years, sets out from just up the coast at Weybourne each day, and his departure time varies depending on the tide. It's not easy work, he's usually gone for four or five hours. After being caught and hauled ashore, the crabs are soaked, cooked, brought into the dressing area and then served up. From out of the boat, home, cooked and served - you'd struggle to get fresher than that in many other places.

This is very much a family-run business, with each of the couple's three sons, daughter and daughter-in-law having had a hand in its creation. Adam did the carpentry, Winston, a plasterer and bricklayer, played his part and goes to sea with Richard, Hector takes care of their media, and daughter-in-law Abbie and daughter Pollyanna take care of the front of house. 

If it didn't already have multiple USPs, the physical setting is one to be wondered at; on the clifftops overlooking the Norfolk coastline.

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Ali has planted a nice wildflower garden right down to the cliff top 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'll have to book in early. It's open Monday to Thursday between midday and 5pm, and Friday and Saturday until 8pm, although you can stay and have a drink until around 10.30pm. 

"I just think it's nice to keep it a little bit unique because we're not the pub up the road or down the road," explains Ali. "I think it's nice for people to come out and eat early and enjoy the rest of the evening by sitting and relaxing. If we stayed open any later I think we might lose that uniqueness, plus the fact that Richard and I are up very early to start work, so 5am to 8pm is a long day!"

During the pandemic they carried on selling crabs and lobsters, providing a delivery service and supplying other local venues,  but after a bit of redecoration and new recruits onboard they're excited to open fully again.

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. New interiors. Pictures: Britta

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. New interiors. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

"I always have a good redecoration every year, a nice revamp with some changes to the art work," reveals Ali.

Fortunately, she says, despite it's remote location and a general shortage of hospitality workers, they haven't been affected. Some former staff have returned and they've successfully recruited a full team.

"I think it's a nice place to work," says Ali. "Because you're a remote location in between the Runtons, we're right behind the clifftop, it's an incredible view over the sea, and we have lots of birdwatchers who come here too. Every morning the sunrise is incredible and the sunset is beautiful."

The venue has enjoyed several weddings too, but there are no plans for the business to go fully down that road. "Weddings by the sea and on the clifftop? I'd need another licence! Ali laughs.

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Head chef Sean Creasey. Picture

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Head chef Sean Creasey. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

The key to the restaurant's success will be what comes out of the kitchen, and the man heading things up as the restaurant resurfaces into the new season is Sean Creasey.

During his 20-year career, Sean has racked up an impressive CV in the culinary world,  working alongside Galton Blackiston (Morston Hall) and Stuart Conibear (The Ivy and Dorchester). He also headed up 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 stuck in.

"I’m a feeder and I like cooking for people," he says, adding he likes to help push diners out of their comfort zones.

For someone who's used to cooking lots of different dishes, the prospect of heading up the kitchen somewhere more niche was really appealing. "It's part of the attraction," he says, "I like the fact that with Richard and Alison, they're catching it and we're serving it. It cuts out every middle man, we get the pick of the crop and the best product and that's what's so attractive about it."

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Lobster with garlic butter, chi

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Lobster with garlic butter, chips and salad. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

This year, Sean's bringing in new dishes to open up the menu a little, as it makes sense for them to expand to suit a wider range of tastes and to have a backup in case anything happens and they can’t get out in the boat or in the event of a bad season.

Let’s talk menu, then. Sean brings both his experience and his favourite dishes to Rocky Bottoms, which includes one of his signature starters - tuna tempura with wasabi, soy sauce and pickled pink ginger.

“It's very raw and it has a very light batter on the outside,” he explains.  “It’s wrapped in black seaweed, put in batter and deep fried really quickly so the outside crisps up but the inside stays nice and pink and raw. The wasabi, soy and pickled ginger sharpens the whole thing up and cuts through the fattiness of the tuna. It’s a really nice dish.

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Tempura tuna with wasabi soy an

Rocky Bottoms Crab and Lobster restaurant, Cromer Road, West Runton. Tempura tuna with wasabi soy and pickled ginger. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

“I started making this on day one of Butlers, where it stayed on the menu for eight years, then followed me to the Dun Cow and now at I’ve brought it to Rocky Bottoms, so it’s nearly 20 years I’ve been cooking this dish for.“

As for his favourite main course, it's the crab linguine with chilli, mint and lime. "An Italian-style dish, it doesn't get any more complicated than that," he says.

"Crab works really well with pasta. You have the brown meat, which is a bit pasty almost, then you have the delicate white meat, so once those two are mixed with the pasta, things like linguine and fettucine.

"Crab on its own is probably one of the nicest things you’ll ever eat," he says. "I look at it like oily fish; it doesn’t want anything oily with it. Something like mackerel, for example, you put things like capers, lemon and lime. Crab can handle those flavours as well,  so I'd use chilli and capers and a bit of salt and vinegar. With anything oily there should be something sharp with it to balance it out, a bit like putting vinegar with chips."

So, what are Sean's top tips when it comes to the perfect way to serve up a local crab? Keep it simple, and serve with mayonnaise, lemon, brown bread and salt and pepper to taste. 

“I like chilli or coriander as crab will handle a lot of flavours without disappearing. So, I’d say either don’t touch it at all or put some stronger flavours with it, if that makes sense!

"Equally, mashed potato with crab, coriander and lime made into a fish cake, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried works really well too."

See what's on the menu at rockybottoms.co.uk