Alex Hunter opened this branch of The Sea The Sea under a railway arch in Hackney in mid 2021, with executive chef Leo Carreira. It is sister to the restaurant of the same name in Chelsea. There is a crescent shaped table at which a dozen diners look directly in to the open kitchen, where a no-choice tasting menu is prepared. The restaurant has a separate preparation room, and sells some seafood to other restaurants as well as serving the customers here. Some fish is aged and hangs from the window by the entrance.
There is a wine list, though this cannot be viewed on-line. The list started at £45 and sample labels were Bodegas Forjas del Salnes Leirana Albarino 2020 at £70 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £25, Josmeyer La Kotabbe Riesling 2018 at £88 compared to its retail price of £27, and Laherte Freres Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs champagne at £124 for a bottle that will set you back £44 in a shop.
A savoury cracker was constructed from a milky skate with skate broth that is set with a chemical, piped out then dehydrated and deep fried. This skate cracker, which I guess you could compare to a prawn cracker, has a savoury topping of lactose, which has a mildly sweet flavour. The texture of the cracker was fine and there was a touch of bitterness present too, so although this sounds quite peculiar it was pleasant enough to eat (13/20). The first formal course was a warm savoury custard with made cockles and sake. I am very fond of this dish, which in Japan is called chawanmushi, when it is well made. The ideal version should be silky smooth but this one was watery, I think because the custard had broken. The cockles were fairly bland, and I think this dish would work better with something more interesting than cockles. However, the main problem here was the texture, which was just wrong (10/20).
An Isle of Mull scallop with served with garlic soy and Sichuan peppercorn. The scallop had plenty of natural sweetness and was lightly cooked, though the peppercorn was barely detectable (14/20). On a thin cracker was a layer of white crab meat along with some bilberries, whose sharpness balanced the natural sweetness of the crab. The crab itself was lovely, actually cooked sous vide and unusually sweet (15/20). Sourdough bread was made in the kitchen and was very good, served with a butter flavoured with yeast and togarashi (a Japanese spice blend). A razor clam crisp came with salsify. The crisp was made with a split pea miso and was doubtless technically clever, but just tasted odd. The stick of salsify was fine but this was a dish that was hard to get excited about (11/20).
Mackerel was cured and served with a pine nut and miso emulsion, fresh leaves and finger line dressing. This was nicely presented and the leaves and dressing were fine, but the mackerel was just flabby and disappointing. I can imagine this dish working fine with some lightly cooked fresh mackerel, but this was just a bad idea in my view (10/20). Squid was cooked and stuffed with tartare of squid, along with lemongrass vinegar and caramelised onion and a touch of Cambodian pepper. This dish just didn’t work for me, the mix of raw and cooked squid just odd, the vinegar quite sharp (9/20). This was quite difficult to eat, so jarring was it, and I could see from the line of barely touched plates around me that this was not an opinion unique to me. Dehydrated caraflex cabbage rested in a smoked fish broth and was topped with Baeri caviar (aka Aquitaine caviar) from a supplier called Imperial caviar. The contrast of flavours was quite interesting, with the earthy cabbage, the smoky fish flavour from the broth and the salinity of the caviar, though it might have been interesting to see this dish with a higher quality caviar (14/20).
Dry aged turbot from a large 7 kg fish was aged for a week before being served as a fillet, nicely cooked and coming with corno di toro pepper miso, Jerusalem artichokes and sea beets. The fish had interesting texture and good flavour, the sweet pepper miso a pleasant accompaniment and the earthiness of the artichokes providing some contrast (15/20). Lobster with wild mushrooms and pine had tender shellfish and nicely cooked mushrooms, the earthiness of the mushrooms being a pleasant flavour contrast to the lobster (15/20).
Pumpkin with mountain mint granita was unusual but quite pleasant, the sweetness of the pumpkin balanced by the mint, whose strong flavour did not overwhelm the pumpkin (13/20). Portuguese sponge cake came with toasted fennel seed ice cream and oscietra caviar. This was an unusual flavour combination but it was not unpleasant, the sponge cake having quite good texture (13/20). There was no coffee available, which seemed a little strange, but there were some petit fours, of a sort, in the form of almond shells with spinach and lemon bergamot, seaweed jelly and hazelnut chocolate and egg yolk.
Service was good. The bill came to £291.95 per person all in, with the food element £150 of that. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then it would still be hard to get away for less than £195 with service. Although the dining space is quite striking and the ingredients are costly, this is an awful lot of money for the standard of what appeared on the plate tonight. I have had aged fish in Japan, and even in highly skilled hands there it does not always work well, at least to my palate. Most fish (yes, I know there are exceptions) will taste better when reasonably fresh than when aged for many days. To deliberately misquote Jeff Goldblum’s character in the movie Jurassic Park: “your chef was so preoccupied with whether or not he could, he didn't stop to think if he should.” Although there were a couple of good dishes tonight, there were also some real duds in amongst them, and it is hard to be forgiving of such inconsistency at this high price point.