Welcome to the eighth Food Spark self-guided safari, leading you along a carefully curated route, visiting on-trend food hotspots to keep your finger on the pulse.
As well as breaking down the facts, we’ll take you to six of London’s best fish and seafood restaurants. We highlight why each venue is interesting and what you should try when you visit, so you don’t miss out on ‘that’ signature platter.
You could take our word for it and digest these gems on-screen, but it’s more fun – and a lot more delicious – to taste them first-hand.
Getting fishy with it
London’s fish restaurants typically fall into two categories: the gold-gilded, opulent seafood platter, pass-the-fish-knife places, and then the pared back, all-about-the-produce, young pretenders coming through the ranks. Ultimately, a good fish restaurant should be about fresh, sustainable, high-quality fish. And that’s it. You only have to visit Billingsgate Market (at 4am) to get a sense of London’s historic connection to the sea, and its river access and high-speed connections to ports across the country ensure diners still enjoy the freshest fish possible.
This safari covers new, innovative fish restaurants, as well as cherished London institutions. The UK’s fish restaurants are getting a makeover, so keep an eye out in 2020 for Manzi’s, Corbin and King’s homage to Leicester Square’s famous Italian seafood restaurant of the same name, and Alan Yau’s Chyna and Yau Grilling which is billed as a Chinese river cafe overlooking Canary Wharf’s South Dock. We haven’t squeezed Jackson Boxer’s Orasay, Tom Brown’s Cornerstone, Parsons, or the popular Oystermen bar in Covent Garden into this tour; but we recommend you add them to your list.
Address: 1 Park Road, Crouch End, N8 8TE
Style: A 'fin to tail' neighbourhood restaurant with a strong sustainability story.
About: Nestled in the community of Crouch End, this little fish restaurant is quietly making waves. Expect innovative ‘fish waste’ on the menu, like fish collars or fish skin crisps, to reinforce their sustainability message. Interestingly, they also serve vegan and coeliac dishes to draw a wider crowd. The menu is led by British ingredients (celeriac, crab, cabbage, oysters, eels) with a deft Asian influence (miso, yuzu kosho, tobiko) and drawing on Meditaeranean simplicity. They’re not afraid of playing with strong flavour combos either, serving hot Carlingford oysters gratinated in coffee velouté or crudites with green oyster leaf mayo.
What to order: Whole charcoal grilled fish of the day is the best combination of on-trend coal cooking with the freshest ingredients.
Travel to 2nd stop: Take the 91 bus and walk to Westerns Laundry.
Address: 34 Drayton Park, Highbury East, N5 1PB
Style: Another gem from the team behind London’s Primeur and Fiztroy in Cornwall.
About: Off the busy Holloway Road, this is an intimate restaurant with a heavily Mediteranean-inspired seafood menu chalked up on the board. Chorizo, beans and guanciale bring their earthy flavours to freshly caught, day boat fish. Expect seasonal small plates, oysters, and larger dishes like wild bass and bacon or whole sand sole to share. The extensive low-intervention wine list might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the minimalist approach to both food and drink suits the modern interiors and communal tables.
What to order: Menus change daily, but look out for their innovative surf and turf flavour combinations like brill in chicken butter sauce, or seasonal fish fideuà which is like a Valencian paella but with pasta.
Travel to 3rd stop: Walk to Drayton Park station and take the train to Moorgate. Walk to Sweetings.
Address: 39 Queen Victoria Street, EC4N 4SF
Style: An unchanging classic in the City.
About: Sweetings opened in 1830, and not much has changed since then in what’s probably the oldest remaining fish and oyster restaurant in the City. Sweetings is a kindred spirit to St John restaurant; Their bill of fare, rather than a menu, is simple and unfussy with prawn cocktail, dressed crab or smoked eel for starters and a range of fish (haddock, sole, turbot, brill) that can be grilled, poached or fried for main. Staff are happy to advise or let you pick your preference from the freshly caught display in the window.
What to order: Sweetings fish pie with baked jam roll for afters. Pure classic.
Travel to 4th stop: Walk 20 minutes to Seabird, or take the District and Circle one stop to Blackfriars and walk across the bridge to Seabird.
Address: The Rooftop at The Hoxton, 40 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8PB
Style: Hip hotel dining with a focus on small producers and big views.
About: Summer never stops on the 14th floor of Southwark’s new Hoxton Hotel, with lush palms, colonial-inspired interiors, and London served on a platter below. Seabird has taken the opulent, theatrics of traditional seafood restaurants, and given them a modern twist with Spanish and Portuguese influence. The sea-to-table menu includes periwinkles, cockles and oysters on ice, and a heavy emphasis on the grill with whole John Dory, mackerel or lobster a la plancha. Epic champagne brunches and 1am closing on the weekends makes it feel just a little rock n roll.
What to order: The octopus roll. A juicy tentacle served like a hot dog in a brioche bun with lashings of meaty sobrasada aioli and spicy green padron peppers on top. Don’t forget the napkins.
Travel to 5th stop: Walk to Blackfriars and take the District and Circle to Sloane Square.
Address:174 Pavilion Rd, Chelsea, SW1X 0A
Style: It doesn’t get fresher than eating in a fishmongers
About: Chefs serve daytime customers in the fishmongers, sharing recipes and cooking tips as well as hosting workshops in a uniquely interactive environment. By night, the shop transforms into a seafood and champagne bar with a daily changing menu of small plates, bowls and platters including more unusual fish and offal dishes like cod tripe, monkfish liver, or sea urchin. Located on Chelsea’s foodie mecca of Pavillion Row, they have Natoora, Bread Ahead, and Ice Cream Union as neighbours. Much like Fishworks, Moxon’s nextdoor or the Fish Butcher, The Sea hits the ‘grocerant’ trend, merging grocery with restaurant formats so consumers know exactly where their food is coming from.
What to order: Menus are always changing, but their aged sea trout okonomiyaki taps into the ‘seacuterie’ trend of preserved fish.
Travel to 6th stop: Take the number 22 or 19 bus down King’s Road or walk for 20 minutes.
Address: 383 King's Rd, Chelsea, SW10 0LP
Style: A playful take on the coastal cuisines of Peru and Japan.
About: Seafood is a canvas for flavour experimentation here, with traditional Peruvian dishes (salmon, sea bass or scallop ceviche) sat alongside Japanese Hamachi amberjack tartare with yuzu kosho and sorrel. They treat the catch of the day (which they source from family fisherman in Cornwall) like high-end steaks; cooked over charcoal, and served whole with a choice of three sauces (avocado and jalapeño, mango & ají limo, or ají panca). Like other restaurants from the Pachamama Group, plates come as and when they’re ready, which makes an informal, tapas-style dining experience.
What to order: Popped corn monkfish cheeks are a savvy and imaginative interpretation of this underused fish cut, or try the zesty crab pancakes for brunch.