J Sheekey is a fish and seafood restaurant that is a London institution. Located in the heart of Theatreland, next door to Wyndhams’s and the Noel Coward in St Martin’s Court, it dates all the way back to 1896, when Josef Sheekey used to have an oyster stall here. Numerous actors and show-business types now frequent it.
In June, J Sheekey relaunched its 50-seat pavement terrace and Atlantic Bar, the exterior of which is painted turquoise, with a temporary exhibition of illustrations by Quentin Blake printed on plates, coasters and posters inside. (This collaboration has now finished, sadly.) The heated terrace continues to be open for the winter, though, offering diners blankets, a menu of Scottish food and single malts.
The Atlantic Bar, which is next door to the main restaurant (the outside of which is painted a contrasting red) opened in 2008. J Sheekey is a member of the Caprice Holdings group, which also encompasses 34 Mayfair, the Ivy, Le Caprice and Sexy Fish, among others.
Fronted by a cosy street-side terrace, blocked off from tourists by blue and red planters, the Atlantic Bar is to the left of the main restaurant, but also serves food (most of which is similar if not the same). The wine menu is more limited but you can also order from the list next door.
The interior is low-key but elegant, the perfect hideaway for an intimate supper with a favoured friend or business associate. I started with a glass of champagne outside, served with olives and roasted almonds, and then moved to a table indoors when my companion arrived.
We sat in the corner on a brown banquette, which provided a view of an American family tucking into a generous platter of fruits de mer (£38 per person) next to us, a glimpse into the kitchen at the far end, and the gold-lit sit-up oyster bar straight ahead. There is an art deco look to the place, which is decorated with framed monochrome prints of artistes of old.
The house champagne is Gyejacquot Brut NV at £15 a glass, but there is also a pleasant English sparkling for £13 a pop (Herbert Hall Brut from Kent). “R” de Ruinart Brut NV is also served by the glass (£18.25).
Bottles of champagne start from £65, while reds and whites begin at a very reasonable £7 a glass. Most are European, with a leaning towards white, with the odd New Zealand Sauvignon and Californian Pinot Noir thrown into the mix. We ordered a bottle of the 2014 Viré-Clessé “Tradition”, from Domaine Michel, Mâconnais, France (this wasn’t on the Atlantic Bar wine menu). An enjoyable Burgundy Chardonnay, buttery and complex.
There are seasonal cocktails available such as the Stage Door made with homemade five-spice syrup, Amaro Averna, apple juice and prosecco (£13.75). The classics can, of course, be ordered too.
Instead of more formal starters and mains, the menu is divided into Shellfish, Raw, Salads, Oysters, Specials and Hot Plates. We ordered up a half pint of fresh, pink Atlantic prawns (£14) to peel while we drank our aperitifs and tore into chewy pieces of bread and butter. What to choose? The tuna tartare, bass ceviche or the West Mersea native oysters (£3.75 each)?
The prawns were so good I had to have the prawn, fennel and avocado salad with cocktail dressing (£11.75) as well, while my companion chose the succulent half lobster slathered in mayonnaise and spiced tomato sauce (£19.75), in the absence of the Isle of Barra razor clams, which had run out. Nice touches were the heavy silver jugs, bowls, cutlery and lobster crackers and forks, as well as the lemon halves wrapped in muslin and Wedgwood china.
Next up was the Sheekey’s fish pie (hot and warming, topped with creamy mash/£17.50), and a pair of Isle of Mull scallops served in the shell with garlic butter and shichimi pepper (£11.25). Other hot dishes included crab bisque, smoked eel and ham croquettes and seared octopus with roasted chorizo. The special was pan-fried salmon. With no space for dessert, our waiter insisted we try half a dozen chocolate caramel truffles, which were worth the extra calories.
I was impressed with the staff who were attentive, knowledgeable and friendly.
I loved this restaurant because it is not trying to keep up with the latest trends, simply serving great seafood and fish in a cosy, elegant setting. The ingredients are fresh and high quality, and the year-round al fresco terrace is a highlight. A great choice, especially if entertaining clients from the US, who will love the British aesthetic. You could even combine it with seeing a play.
- OPENING HOURS Mon-Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-10.30pm.
- PRICES Post-theatre fish pie and glass of house wine £18.75 after 9.30pm. Expect to pay about £30 for a starter and main in total, à la carte.