The West End’s most famous fish restaurant dishes up seafood that’s as comforting as its club-like surroundings and friendly atmosphere.
Located in St Martins Court, between St Martins Lane and Charing Cross Road, J Sheekey is a short walk from Leicester Square and the Strand, and is close to Embankment, Charing Cross and Leicester Square underground stations. Despite being surrounded by tacky tourist shops and cheap pizza joints, the little pedestrian walkway lends a feeling of class to the maroon and frosted glass fronted restaurant - a view reinforced by the bowler-hatted doorman and throng of paparazzi often found lurking outside. Moving inside, expect a series of small, wood panelled rooms with white tablecloths, dimly lit seashell light fittings and monochrome pictures of theatre stars from years gone by, combining to create a gentleman’s club feel that is comforting and traditional.
Rescued at the end of the 90s by Caprice Holdings, the London restaurant megastars behind The Ivy, Le Caprice and Daphne’s among others, J Sheekey attracts the glitterati in their droves, with everyone from Joan Collins and Christopher Biggins to the Beckhams stopping by to enjoy a fishy delight. As such, the rest of us are expected to book early and join the waiting list, though it’s not as lengthy as that at their other A-list venues, and the staff are friendly and welcoming whoever you are once you arrive. Indeed, sometimes they staff are too friendly – they get so busy chatting that they forget to top up your wine glass or bring your side orders with startling regularity, but a gentle reminder is enough and it’s a small criticism when they try so hard to make sure you enjoy your meal.
J Sheekey has served seafood and fish at this site since 1896, so it’s fair to expect them to excel in this arena, and although there are vegetarian and meat options for those who don’t fancy fish, you’d really be missing out if you went for these. A perfect introduction to your meal is the £9.50 sauteed skate cheeks with bacon and mushrooms, a mild tasting soft-textured fish combined with the salty flavours of the pork. This dish is perfectly executed, with none of the fatty flavours that sometimes comes through with skate or bacon. Another option is the gravlax with cucumber and mustard, a generous portion of salmon at just £8.50, though the dill and cucumber are a little overpowered by the overriding taste of the mustard.
Moving onto the main courses, the world famous Sheekey’s fish pie, priced at just £12.75, is a legend not to be missed. With creamy mashed potato topping and smoky salmon and cod hiding beneath it, this is a real crowd pleaser and totally indulgent comfort food - there’s nothing more satisfying on the menu. That said, the £19.75 Cornish fish stew with celery hearts and garlic mayonnaise is a tasty, unusual dish, with light and creamy flavours combining well with the sweet taste of the celery. If you fancy splashing out, there are more exotic options - lobster at around £40 or several caviar options from £50-£200. Don’t forget to order the mushy peas to bulk up your main courses, too - the perfect accompaniment to anything!
The desserts are well worth leaving space for, with light combinations such as honeycomb ice cream and chocolate sauce, creme brulee, Muscat jelly with clementine ice cream, or pineapple with passion fruit sorbet. The sweet and gentle dessert options are the perfect finish to the fishy and creamy flavours of the main courses, though they’re pricey at £6 to £10.
The wine list here is lengthy at 45 choices, with a focus on French white wines. With choices from a £17.75 house white from Languedoc to the £325 Montrachet Grand Cru, there are options to go with anything on the menu. A good choice with any of the fish dishes is the £35.75 Chardonnay, with light lemony flavours and a creamy, heavy texture.
The Last Word
J Sheekey serves the best fish dishes in the capital, and the slight letdowns of inefficient staff and high prices become insignificant next to the friendly, clubby atmosphere and the comfort food that you only wish you could whip up at home.