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Seabird, The Hoxton, Southwark, 40 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 (020 7903 3050). Small plates £10-£18; mains £16-£40; desserts £6-£7; wines from £28
There are many delicious smells to come across in a restaurant dining room. Flaming lamp oil is perhaps not one of these. Seabird, on top floor from the new Hoxton hotel in Southwark, south London, stinks of the stuff, courtesy of the guttering paraffin lamps on every dining table. It’s maybe not an exceptional start and I’m afraid it isn’t about to get much better. This really is unexpected. The brand new Hoxton hotel is, based upon your perspective, either a glorious homage towards the funky conversions of lower Manhattan’s red-brick warehouse buildings, or a vaguely tragic attempt at the architectural equivalent of the American accent: black Crittall-style window frames outside, lots of bare brick and globe lighting inside.
To fit this, they’ve brought in Joshua Boissy and Krystof Zizka, the starry duo behind Maison Premiere, a much-adored seafood put in place Brooklyn, to operate the restaurant. Expect a raw bar boasting the widest collection of oysters working in london and a seafood menu with Iberian influences. Are expectant of swagger. Are expecting all of the waiters to get beards. We consume some nice things at Seabird. The thing is, restaurants are extremely much more compared to efforts of skilled cooks. Just as it’s possible, thanks to great service and unforced buzz, to like a put in place spite of mediocre food, it’s equally possible to admire a few of the cooking while preferring the idea of sticking a fork into the soft part of your odds rather than needing to eat there ever again.
And thus: Seabird. As opposed to the downlit lobby, the 14th-floor space looks like some faux beachside cabin: floppy palm fronds, grubby, white-painted floorboards, huge raffia lampshades and rickety-looking bamboo-style furniture that makes a person of my size nervous. Music booms around the raw brick, concrete and wood space. The young people here do maybe not appear to notice. We have been first proven to armchair-style seating that makes us sink so low, we’re able to shovel dinner straight from the dining table into our mouths without lifting it. We ask to go to a standard table. They oblige. It isn’t really as if they’re full.
That is where we meet our waiter. People complain while i criticise waiters, given the dismal pay and the misery of coping with people generally speaking and me in particular. I sympathise. All of us hate people and I hate me. But service is really a part of the deal and if it’s administered with the grace of the unlubricated colonoscopy, it has to become mentioned. That he insists that he can explain the menu, which mostly involves telling us what they do not need: such could be the way of a seafood restaurant dependent on that day’s catch. I begin to order. He looks at me and nods. I ask if he’s perhaps thinking about taking notes. That he replies with one word. “No. ” You’re really not? “No. ” Fair enough. The very first three dishes land about five minutes later before the wine has arrived. I ask politely if we may possibly have our wine with our food. “It’s coming. ”
Later, when the mains turn up, a side dish of warm fava beans with grated egg and herbed breadcrumbs is missing. He looks baffled after i raise this. A suspicious soul may wonder whether perhaps, with no notebook, it definitely was forgotten. But that’s unfair. That he assures us he’d told us it was unavailable. Both people tell him he hadn’t said any such thing. He doesn’t offer to obtain something else. I actually do understand clams not being available, but what kitchen runs away from fava beans, breadcrumbs and eggs?
Regarding that food, it brings a casual London violence towards the knotty business of pricing: a small plate of sea bream crudo is £18. It’s a pleasing enough plate of raw fish, but reminds me of Coco Chanel’s advice to stand in front of an image once dressed and remove one item before going out. It’s decorated with the punch of romesco sauce, the saltiness of black olive tapenade and exactly what they call a pepper tartar, yet another way of saying chopped up peppers. Two of those might have been fine; three is actually many. Six small crab buñuelos are £12. 50. I expected filled spheres of fried dough. They are more like béchamel-filled croquetas. These are light within the crab and heavy on flour that hasn’t quite been cooked out. Salvation comes in the shape of French gillardeau oysters that are sweet and meaty and rewarding, as they needs to be at £4 each.
It’s tiresome after i bang on about price, isn’t it? Sorry, but it’s not likely to stop. Plaice on the bone with piri-piri sauce is £26. Just how much of a fish would you are expectant of for that? We get half a fish. I find myself wondering where the partner is. It is about away neatly from that bone as well as the big fiery stew by it has just enough kick. Ditto a whole boned mackerel, opened out and dressed with a lot of fresh chilli and smoked paprika. It’s a great bit of fish, with defined tension. It compares well towards the big flavours. It’s £18. By now I’m proper grumpy. The music throbs, the beardy waiters rush around looking earnest as well as the £32 bottle of godello isn’t taking edge off. It’s the nearest thing to an affordable wine on the list that has massive choice, but only when you spend a lot more than £40.
And thus to dessert. A trio of filled, glazed doughnuts are a moment of joy. A gluten-free manchego cheesecake would have been great, perhaps with the addition of gluten. It really may have done with basics. Grating fresh manchego outrageous didn’t help. Manchego is rarely the solution to anything. Most weird is a delightfully sharp lemon granita, with scoops of Chantilly cream which, contrary to the ice, are simply so much claggy fat. Quietly is a shot of Izarra liqueur, the type of caustic spirit you drink too much of on the cheap summer holiday, before an ill-advised assignation leading only to regret and a prescription for a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
At one point I attempt to move the stinky paraffin lamp away and burn off my fingers over the glass. When i wince, I look up and spot the industrial sprinkler system over the ceiling. My hand are sore, my ears are ringing and I’m feeling just like a shmuck to be here. All it would decide to try make every thing stop is perfect for the menu to inadvertently catch alight on the lamp and the system to trigger. That a minimum of would be an entertaining end to the evening.
For somewhere serving great seafood with no rattling bass line, grasping prices and lousy service, head to Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen in London’s Covent Garden. There, the oysters come naked or dressed: with spicy buffalo sauce and kosho for instance, or with smoked bacon, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Follow that with roasted halibut, whole marinated sea bream or get busy with the accessories and have the entire Devon brown crab with aioli (oystermen. co. uk).
Nour Cash and Carry, a venerable shop in Brixton’s covered Market Row, known for its massive selection of cheap ingredients serving the area’s diverse community, has been threatened with eviction by new landlords Hondo Enterprises. Hondo, run by wealthy Texan DJ Taylor McWilliams, insist they require the space to have an electricity substation, but Nour, which has traded for over 2 decades, say they have got maybe not yet been offered an appropriate alternative. A petition is available to sign in store.
Just 3 months after he opened Tandem, in Leicester’s Highcross shopping centre, chef Cyrus Todiwala has withdrawn from the business, which has a menu of dishes from throughout the Indian sub-continent. “Unfortunately, there was differences in vision, ” he told Caterer magazine, “I decided it had been most readily useful to pull back. ”
Email Jay at jay. [email protected] co. uk or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1