A restaurant consultant once told me that few restaurants last seven years in the UK; indeed many fold after just a year of operation. So a place that is still going on the same site since 1889 must be doing something right. Sweetings is the epitome of a traditional British restaurant. There are no reservations, and you wait at the small bar until all members of your party are assembled. At this point you are seated either at the small room at the back, or on a bar stool on one of a few wooden counters, each of which has a waitress to look after you. The floor is tiled and the room is light and airy, with plenty of natural light. The walls are painted cream and are crowded with old prints. As you sit at the counter some plain brown bread awaits you, and is topped up efficiently as needed.
We had scallops and bacon, which had four good quality scallops, nicely cooked, and a few slices of bacon, with a wedge of lemon. Nothing ambitious, but with plump, sweet scallops (12/20). Smoked eel was very simply presented with just a mound of horseradish cream, and tasted fine but could have benefited from some sort of garnish to give a little colour (11/20).
Deep fried haddock (£12.50) had a fairly light batter, served with decent chips and some rather tasteless peas. It was not a large portion of fish for the price, but well enough made (11/20). I was pleased to see that the salmon was wild (from the Tweed) but was strangely lacking in taste, cooked for a little longer than ideal, served with decent samphire; at least the tartare sauce is mostly (except the mayonnaise) made on the premises (11/20). An apple pie had too much crust in relation to the apple, served with a choice of custard, cream or ice cream that turned out to not be overly acquainted with vanilla pods (10/20).
I found the service from our waitress to be excellent, capable and genuinely friendly, but not intrusive. Starters range in price from £3.75 for Vichysoisse up to £12 for a crab cocktail, while main courses stretch from £11.50 for salmon cakes up to £27.50 for Dover sole. Chips are £3.50, the bread 40p. There is a wine list that is verging on ironic, with a dozen or so choices, all French, without either vintage or grower listed e.g. "Chassagne Montrachet" is £50, "Sauvignon" the cheapest at £19. At least the champagne is fairly priced, and less anonymous: Louis Roederer NV is £45, barely twice retail price. It is hard to get excited about food like this, and easy to feel that the prices are a little high for what is produced. But good fish is costly, and the place undeniably has atmosphere.