*Seafayre has now closed. See the Stop Press at the end.
The first restaurant I was taken to as a child was a fish and chip emporium somewhere in Newcastle by my grannie. It had a plastic tomato on the table for the sauce so I squeezed it, as you do when you are nine. The ceiling must have been low because I splodged it, Beano-style. I don’t recall being taken again.
At Seafayre on Charles Street, Sheffield, if you ask they bring the tomato sauce, mayonnaise and tartare sauce in little dishes. Perhaps someone has told them about my propensities for splodging but they do that for everyone.
I like Seafayre as does my whole family and I find to my surprise that it is the restaurant I have visited the most since I handed in the Free Meals Voucher that goes with the job of restaurant reviewer (it’s an expense account).
Sheffield as a great northern city ought to have at least a couple of big fish and chip restaurants. It’s here that the national fish of preference switches from cod to haddock, or it used to do. The city is also the birthplace of the famous Sheffield fishcake (slices of potato enclosing fish, the whole then battered and fried) although it is not always done well. But it doesn’t.
Going back, in the Sixties there was the local equivalent of Harry Ramsden’s, Hopkinson’s Capri on Rockingham Gate, chippie downstairs, restaurant above, run by David Baldwin, now host of Baldwin’s Omega off Psalter Lane. That was before my time but on a much smaller scale there was later the Harlequin Fish Bar on Howard Street, with a couple of rooms full of atmosphere and the smell of frying fish. Pensioners queued in the morning to be sure of a table and for office workers fish and chip Fridays were a tradition.
I visited it once or twice in a professional capacity but it closed in 2003 and the owner retired to the east coast. It lingered on in our memories. Two years later Designers Republic produced a poster which read simply “Harlequin Fish Bar, Rest In Peas.”
Today there is Whitby’s, big and vast on the outskirts of the city, and recently reviewed by my colleague Martin Smith on The Star. See here: http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/food-drink-whitby-s-fish-and-chips-1-6947584
Seafayre opened last year in what used to be Pollards, the coffee company. The owner, Bruce Payne, previously ran a chippie on the old Castle Market but baulked at the rents of the new one on The Moor. He has married into a chippie dynasty in Sheffield which dates back to the Fifties and the family has several shops around the city. Seafayre is named after a family venture downstairs in Orchard Square which ran for 10 years until 1997.
There is a takeaway section and a restaurant, done out in a coffee and cream livery so you half think Bruce didn’t bother to give the place a makeover after Pollards left. But no, he didn’t want to be typecast with fishy blue. I beg to differ: when it comes to chippies you can’t have enough of tradition so give me aquamarine, fish nets and glass balls any day.
The waiting staff are lovely, most of whom seem to be left-handed, check back your order sweetly, give you your bill before you’ve eaten and make sure if you have kids they get a lollipop. The menu is limited, cod, haddock, plaice, scampi, Sheffield fishcake and pie in regular, pensioners’ and children’s portions. The quality is good, the batter dry, crisp and crunchy, the mushy peas homemade with that lovely mealy quality. They don’t do starters but you can have a pudding, not guaranteed to be homemade.
Bruce used to offer gluten-free but got little call and when the fryer broke down that was it. His initial refusal not to serve fishcakes in the restaurant because they were not classy enough was overcome by customer demand. Initial thinking to offer sole and turbot has remained fish pie in the sky. Seafayre, with its mix of pensioners, families and couples, is not that sort of place. But it does have faint echoes of the atmosphere that was in the Harlequin so you could call it a chip off the old block.
We went recently with three picky granddaughters for a pre-panto meal. The previous year we went to a pizza joint, paid a fortune and they grumbled and left half of it. At Seafayre the bill for five of us, with pop and loose leaf tea* for two, was £34. And they didn’t leave a thing.
*Since this was written the loose leaf tea has been replaced with teabags in a cup and a teapot of hot water. Apparently customers, many of whom are pensioners, were whingeing the tea was too weak/strong but probably they had not got anything else to complain about that day. Loose leaf tea is still available at £1.80 but is not on the menu.
STOP PRESS: The place closed on Wednesday, December 23, 2015, because the prospect of redevelopment seemed nearer. Bruce and his wife Helen will re-open in the Moor Market by the beginning of February. “We’ll be a takeaway, which is what we were on the old Sheaf Market,” says Bruce.
The restaurant section has been a success but the couple say they are not restaurateurs. “We’re market chippies and will go back to doing that.”