Whether you prefer fish and seafood at home or when dining out, this smart, modern venue is for you. By day, it’s both a top-end wet fish shop and fish restaurant. At night, the display of haddock, hake, halibut and herring disappears, but the assured execution of innovative, though never silly, dishes continues to delight.
Applebees nestles in the shadows of Borough Market, the city’s oldest and largest, to which foodies flock for top-drawer oysters, meat, cheeses, teas and more. In this attractive and historic area, and amid a cluster of impressive dining opportunities from traditional British to Japanese to seafood, Applebees holds its own with ease. Its orange, brown and white decor is modern but not too austere. You can sit on bar stools at a counter adjoining the long, open kitchen or at simple, cloth-less wooden tables along a wall of orange banquets. If you’re an east Londoner, Applebee’s other outlet in Wanstead, also garners generally good reports.
Despite the rather awkward long and narrow dimensions of this room of 50-odd covers, the ambience is relaxed and animated. In fact, like so many modern restaurants, it can get a bit noisy: whatever happened to good old sound-absorbing carpets and curtains? The clientele is varied, but young(ish) professionals feature prominently. The waiting staff are top-notch; informative, relaxed, competent, friendly and enthused about the product.
Fish, fish and more fish is the order of the day. The six starters all feature fish or seafood, and there’s only one meat – and no vegetarian – main course. Might it not be kind to add one veggie dish to each section? Even fish fanatics might fancy a light salad to begin with, for instance. However, the menu changes daily depending on what’s available.
Fish soup (£6.50 or £9.50 as a main) is a dark-brown delight with terrific depth of flavour, large prawns, hefty chunks of white and oily fish, and crunchy garlic bruschetta. Scallops with spring onion, grapes and watercress (£8.50) is an intriguing combination. The five medium-sized scallops are just cooked through and arrive with a delicious warm sauce made from the pan juices. The watercress makes perfect sense, but do halved grapes, which add to rather than contrast with the molluscs’ natural sweetness?
Grilled plaice fillets with turnip mousse, sweet onions and crispy beetroot (£16) is an unlikely-sounding winner of a main. The fish is perfectly cooked with crisp skin whilst the mousse has an earthy flavour but velvet-smooth consistency, elevating this most humble of vegetables to superstar status. The deep fried beetroot shreds and sweet onions complete a brilliantly conceived, thoroughly modern dish. A huge and juicy rib-eye steak (£19.50) comes cooked as requested with meaty mushrooms, roast new potatoes and a satisfying red wine jus.
Like the main menu, side orders change daily but could include chips, spinach, French beans, mangetout and mixed salad (£2.50 - £3). Chips arrive hot, thin, crunchy and salted (perhaps a tad over-salted for some tastes). They are delicious but pretty superfluous given the hearty portions.
There are just two desserts, each £5, chalked on the wall, or cheeses. Coffee panna cotta has a subtle but definite coffee flavour and a firm texture, reminiscent of the blancmange of childhood (and none the worse for that). Its Bailey’s sauce has plenty of the ever-popular cream liqueur’s unmistakeable flavour. Cheesecake is soft and creamy, contrasting well with its sharp passion fruit coulis. Its soft digestive biscuit base would have been better crisper. Both puds arrive adorned with berries.
Fittingly for a seafood specialist, white wines dominate the list. Entry level is a perfumed, fruity Vina Mocen Verdejo 2007 SP or a crisp, refreshing chardonnay unoaked Viu Manent 2007. Both arrive at the perfect temperature and are classy for the price (£4/£15). At the top end, a Chateau Genot-Boulanger burgundy 2005 will set you back £65. There are about nine reds of which the cheapest, Grenache Noir la Revolution 2006 (£4/£15) is subtle, smooth and, again, represents great value. Expense account holders may want to impress with the Barbaresco Camp Gros Marchesi di Gresy Piedmonte 1999 at £75. There are three roses (£16.50-£30) and five Champagnes (£30 - £250) and, commendably, in all, nine wines are available by the glass. A generous after-dinner pot of camomile tea hits the spot, and the filter coffee (both £2.50) is good, too.
The Last Word
Whether they are selling you a small pot of take-home prawns or cooking you a full dinner, Applebees know their fish. With a little judicious choosing, you could enjoy three courses and half a bottle of very pleasant wine for under £40. That’s nothing short of a bargain for cooking of this quality and imagination, served so agreeably and in such cool surroundings, especially when compared with some famous fish joints in the West End.