Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Restaurant Review: J. Sheekey

I have to declare an interest here: J. Sheekey is probably my favourite restaurant in London, which accounts for me being taken there for my birthday.  I was lucky in going here quite a lot when I was younger.  This accounts for a lot of the affection I feel for it.  It excels in making its diners feel comfortable.  The dark wood panelling, crisp white tablecloths and art deco design all add a feeling of old-world luxury to the whole thing.  It does very well, but it doesn't let you know how busy it is, and isn't loud and frenetic in the way a lot of popular restaurants are.  Not that there's anything wrong with busy, it creates an atmosphere.  Here though the aim is just very different.  The restaurant is divided into three rooms each with around twenty covers as well as a bar and a newly opened oyster bar.  The effect of this is to create a far more relaxed, intimate experience.  Everything is gracefully done, the service is good, very polite and slightly formal.  They wear waistcoats.  The photos on the wall are all of old theatre stars in black and white.  In some places things like this can feel very twee.  Here, however, it is done completely naturally and all the details are just right.  If you have been there more that one or two times the whole experience is a comfortable and very comforting one.

Most importantly the food is excellent.  The menu builds on the slightly old-school feel, but is not at all old-fashioned.  Classic dishes are set next to modern ones.  There is no great invention here true, but that's not nearly necessary when they have fish and seafood of such high-quality and when they cook it as well as they do.  The menu changes but it does so slowly, leaving on favourite dishes for a fairly long time, sometimes changing them for new ones in a process of evolution.  Sadly yesterday, my favourite razor clams, with chorizo and broad beans was not there, instead they had paired meltingly soft octupus with those flavours to great effect.  My own starter of scallops with creamed cauliflower, bacon and sauce diable was excellent, though I thought the bacon was slightly over-powering.  The scallop was as delicious and sweet as it should be and it matched excellently with the cauliflower.  This last point isn't surprising since scallops with cauliflower was apparently the most popular pairing in Michelin starred restaurants last year.  But, like I said, invention isn't the key here just great food.  A salad of Arbroath smokie with endive and quail's eggs was excellent, wonderfully balanced and sweet.

The main courses were equally good.  My pan fried halibut came on a bed of mashed Jerusalem artichokes, with chanterelles and red wine jus.  Again a wonderful classic combination of flavours, the earthy mushrooms pairing well with what is quite a meaty white fish, that could perhaps have benefited from thirty-seconds less in the pan.  A plate of smoked haddock on colcannon with a poached egg and a mustard and cream sauce was impeccable comfort food.

My only disappointment was my pudding.  My favourite spotted dick had been taken off the menu after several years, so I went with a creme brulee.  Although it had a generous amount of fresh vanilla, this was sadly slightly bland.  A double-baked chocolate pudding was much better and an individual treacle tart near perfect, especially with a spoonful of creme fraiche to give some much needed acidity to something that can easily be over sweet.

The meal was excellent, encompassing fantastic produce and skilled cooking.  This is reason enough to go, but its the atmosphere and attention to detail that is a reason to return.

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