J. Sheekey is a curious place in many ways. It is cramped, with a low-ceilinged, wood panelled room covered with black and white photos of famous diners. It is a long way from the glitz of Cipriani et al, yet effortlessly attracts both media celebrities and a loyal following. The key to this success are a long and appealing seafood menu, decent ingredients, generally solid execution and slick service. The last time I came here I was sat next to Liv Tyler, and tonight we were graced with the presence of actor Christian Slater and fashion designer Matthew Williamson (no doubt amongst many others who I was not trendy enough to recognise), so the pulling power of this place for the well-heeled is not in doubt.
To start with I had tiger prawns with chilli and coriander dressing, the prawns cooked properly, the dressing with a little chilli bit but well controlled (14/20). Pickled herrings were pleasant (13/20), while half a dozen langoustines were served cold in their shells with a simple mayonnaise; they were cooked properly and of good quality (14/20). The only slip in the starters were chewy razor clams, where even the chorizo and padron peppers could not conceal the rubbery texture of the clams (11/20). Smoked haddock was well made, served on colcannon with a poached egg as garnish and an enjoyable grain mustard sauce (good 14/20 level).
My haddock and chips featured a large piece of good quality haddock, in a batter that was cooked a fraction too hard in the fryer, but still perfectly pleasant. This was served with good mushy peas but surprisingly dull chips that were simply not crisp enough (overall 13/20). Best was a simple grilled Dover sole, fresh and timed very well (easily 15/20). Also good were French beans with onions as a side dish.
For dessert rhubarb crumble was enjoyable, with the tartness of the rhubarb not overwhelming, the crumble having good texture (14/20). Scandinavian iced berries with white chocolate is a stalwart at the Ivy and here, and my companion who is a veteran of this dish pronounced it slightly below par though still good (13/20). Honeycomb ice cream had good flavour (15/20). I am no expert on honey , but it seemed a well-made dish to me (14/20). Coffee seemed oddly bitter to me (11/20).
The wine list is manageably short, mostly French but with a few good selections from elsewhere. Mark-ups are not generous but neither are they by any means high by central London standards. A Tokaji 6 puttonyos dessert wine seemed to be barely twice retail price, for example. Starters are mostly £9 - £12, main courses vary from £12.75 to £39.50, vegetables are extra at £3.50 - £5, and desserts are £6.50 - £9. I can see why this place does well; the habits of celebrities are a mystery to me, so I have no idea why it seems a media hang-out, but I suspect the unobtrusive and careful service is at the heart of this. The rest of us can at least enjoy a decent piece of properly grilled fish in central London.