The Seafood Bar, 77 Dean Street, London W1D 3SH (020 4525 0733). Starters £ 9.50- £ 12.50, main courses £ 15.50- £ 32.50, plates £ 27.50- £ 49.50, desserts £ 6.95- £ 7.50, wines from £ 25
It starts badly; terrible, terribly bad. We order calamari, a large plate full at a considerable price of £ 10.50. It’s very old school: a pile of the hefty rings of golden-beaten ripe squid that the British came to associate with the sun-drenched exotica of 1980s Mediterranean holidays. Sangria, sunburn, the glamor of deep-fried calamari. I just have to look at them and soft waves of nostalgia wash over me. I can almost smell Nivea After Sun.
Now I bite in and what comes off the fleshy ring is a smooth saliva thread of something sickly white and worrying. The squid has not been membraneed before it was beaten and deep-fried. It looks like it is producing dribbles that need to be wiped off with a napkin. It’s naughty and a terrible waste. The newly opened Seafood Bar on London’s Dean Street is making a lot of noise about the sustainability of its business in general and the ingredients it uses in particular. But there is no point in enlarging your ethics if you do not want to take on the essentials.
Fortunately, it turns out to be an aberration, because we’ll eventually get to our main courses, and they will be magnificent. They will more than argue for the restaurant’s recent opening. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation. Seafood Bar is the first British outpost for a Dutch restaurant group with four branches in the Netherlands. It occupies the home of what was once the Red Fort, a venerable Indian restaurant much loved in its pompousness by the great men of the Labor Party because of the support given to their cause by its owner, Amin Ali.
I had never before measured how big the Red Fort place was. Now it has been removed and you can see everything. There are white tiles and white facades of slatted panels for the bar. There are blooms of beige whose beige can bloom, courtesy of pale banquets and lace wooden floors. There is also a small bare brick lit by eruptions of neon signs. It appears that the decor was done by a subsidiary of White Company in an attempt to break out of all the bedding and towels. For weeks, I have been able to see all of this through the huge faceplate windows because every time I have passed, it has seemed remarkably empty. As in, people kept remarking to me about its emptiness.
The problem, I think, is knowing what Seafood Bar is for, because all successful restaurants need a clear purpose. There is the date-night place and the place for special occasions; the family’s dinner place and the place “can not bother to cook”. In Bentley’s, Scott’s and J Sheekey, London already has three large seafood gastro palaces. Close your eyes as you hand over the plastic and insert the mantra: “Good seafood should never be cheap.” Somewhere in the middle market there are Parsons and Bob’s Lobster, the Oystermen and the various Wright Brothers. No, none of them are completely cheap, but you probably get away without whipping a kidney.
So what about Seafood Bar? What is it for? After all, the menu includes a fruits de mer for two for £ 87.50. That puts it firmly in Sheekey territory, right? This is where it gets interesting. It’s definitely about seafood dishes to share. The thing is, the division may not be quite the way the restaurant itself had intended. I’m aware that what I’m about to say may undermine their business model, but since this is what I would tell a close friend, I really should tell you this too.
Their dishes for one are enough to feed two. Let’s start with their “mixed grill from the plancha”. What they call a serving of one costs £ 35 and includes a huge king shrimp, large fatty shrimp and rings of (thankfully membranous) squid, a thick piece of salmon, a few slip-tongue fillets and a good-sized sea bass fillet. Oh, and a half lobster. All this comes in a ripe tomato sauce at the bottom, and dripped in places with herbal-garlic butter. Finally, it is decorated with leaves of sapphire. Get a bowl of their very good chips each and an awful lot of napkins and you will both be sorted. It’s huge.
Exactly the same applies with sea food. There is a version for one for £ 49.50, but if you are willing to give up the lobster, it costs £ 27.50. And again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes. There are mussels and razors, heart mussels and brown prawns, periwinkles, prawns, clams and a lobster. There is a seafood salad plus rolls with smoked salmon, a hunk brown crab, a seaweed salad and a few stone oysters. There is one bowl with a Marie Rose sauce and another with an herbal dip. There is a whole lot of everything. You get the idea now: a serving of chips or two, some salad and the work is done. Come here if you need to get into the dirty life of life with a close friend, or even just with an acquaintance. It’s impossible to be formal with someone when you’re up to your armpits in seafood leftovers.
The menu has other things. There is a sea bass ceviche that can be used. As mentioned, they do a lot on their website about the sustainability of their ingredients including the salmon, Nordic Blu, which they say is the most sustainable farmed salmon in the world. If you are interested in these things and you should, you can read all about it on their website.
There are only two desserts: a multi-layered chocolate mousse and a cheesecake. I take a look at them and know right away that they are not made here. Our talkative and knowledgeable servant confirms this. Do not let them hold you back. You’re in Soho. The great Maison Bertaux, which has been making its amazing cream cake and pastry thing since 1871, is just over on the Greek street. Right at the bottom of Dean Street lies Maître Choux, for some seriously impressive chocolate eclair and choux bun action. You have better choices. But come for these seafood dishes. I simply have to cross my fingers that they are not now rethinking their portion sizes and prices as a result of what I have said. For what they offer deserves a good audience.
Chef Niall Keating from the multi-star Whatley Manor in Wiltshire oversees the menu at a new restaurant to be launched next month in his hometown of Staffordshire. Lunar opens at the Wedgwood site in Barlaston near Stoke-on-Trent, and is named after the famous Lunar Society, part of the Midlands Enlightenment, of which Josiah Wedgwood was a founding member. The Asian menu will include small plates, including scallop with citrus and canned ginger, and tempura pumpkin with tamarind and chili, as well as delectable dishes like clay-baked chicken with treasure rice. Visit lunarwedgwood.com.
The ever-reliable Great Taste Awards, which award up to three stars for products across a wide range of food categories, have announced their supreme champion for 2021. These are the oak-smoked Mallaig kippers from J Lawrie & Sons in the Scottish Highlands . The judges praised them for their ‘perfect balance between wood, smoke and fish’. These award winners can be purchased online along with their other smoked fish products at jaffys.co.uk.
Shoryu Ramen, which operates 12 sites across London, is launching a franchise model to expand the brand to the rest of the UK. The company, which suspended its franchise plans in 2020 when the pandemic hit, is looking for single- and multi-unit franchisees right away. See shoryuramen.com.