As many of you already know, I have a real fondness for the restaurant scene in London – actually even more than Paris, which remains a bit of a slave to French cuisine. For diversity and creativity, it really is in a class of its own.
And as I’ve probably made clear, I’m not a fan of “fine and fancy” restaurants. Instead, I tend to select restaurants that fit my mood and figure into the evening’s total experience.
So that brings me to one of my London favorites, J. SHEEKEY, a fish and oyster restaurant in the heart of Covent Garden, just a stone’s throw from the theaters in the West End and the cinemas of Leicester Square. It’s a rather large place, yet it gets packed every night, twice a night, by the pre- and post-theater crowd. Joanne and I have learned, however, that by going there around 8 PM, just after the pre-theater rush, you can get right in. Not only that, we’re usually fortunate enough to snag our favorite tables — #14 or #33, each in the back of small dining rooms, each affording a “catbird” vista of the rest of the diners.
Seafood offerings here are impeccably pristine – possibly swimming that very morning. J. Sheekey can be expensive, but it’s worth it (especially now that the dollar has strengthened against the pound). You can also make several delicious choices here that are extremely affordable.
For appetizers, Joanne and I frequently order the razor clams with chorizo and broad beans (about $19 dollars) or the house-cured gravlax with marinated cucumber (about $15).
A small, lightly dressed arugula salad does nicely as a second course, adorned with a few shards of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
The Main Course: Now, that’s another thing. You have a wide array of choices with serious cost implications. Some are very good and expensive; others are really good and moderate. For a splurge night go with the Dover Sole for Two. It’s about $100, but it will be the best Dover Sole you’ve ever had.
More often, especially on a chilly, rainy night, we’ll opt for the comfort of their creamy, crusty and chunky Fish Pie (about $20) or a favorite of mine (but not Joanne’s), the Smoked Haddock (Finnin Haddie), topped with a poached Buford brown egg and grainy mustard, at about $21. Fish & Chips? Yes, with mushy peas for $22. The Head-On Prawns with coconut and lemongrass are also a favorite.
Next door is the J. SHEEKEY OYSTER BAR, a sort of place to “pop in,” where no reservations are necessary (or taken). You can splurge on a Plateau de Fruits de Mer, at about $45 per person (and you’ll be satisfied by its ample size) plus a glass or two of Champagne. Another good choice is the oyster bar’s signature Shrimp & Scallop Burger, at about $20.
Bonus feature of J. Sheekey: It’s a celebrity hot spot. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. (Mick Jagger was in Minneapolis not so long ago, dining three nights in a row at Manny’s, and I’m sure I embarrassed myself in front of him). Among the celebrities I’ve seen at J. Sheekey: David and Victoria Beckham, Daniel Craig, Fergus Henderson (creator of St. John restaurant and an iconic chef globally), Anna Wintour with Bradley Cooper, Jude Law and Sienna Miller, and Kate Moss (not looking her best).
Finally, without exception, whether we dine in the restaurant or snack in the oyster bar, we always end our evening with dessert, and it’s always Spotted Dick. Let me explain: Spotted Dick is a pudding of suet and dried fruit that has been around since the mid-1800s. As you can imagine, the name has long been a source of amusement. In fact, the city council of Flintshire, the town that claims to have invented it, voted in 2009 to officially rename the dessert Spotted Richard.
Well, that didn’t work. It’s too much fun to say Spotted Dick.
Spotted Dick! Spotted Dick! Spotted Dick!
One view is that the name is a corruption of the word “pudding,” which evolved into “puddink” and then “puddick” and finally just “dick.”
Well, that’s more than you probably want to know. But…