“Haddock!” bellows an assistant at the counter of the Market Chippy in Sheffield’s Moor Market. “Haddock!” she calls again across the sea of tables outside the row of takeaways which run in a right angle from the Sania Grill Bar to Sallie’s. An arm goes up, waves and she takes a tray across.
I’m on a piscatorial pilgrimage. My family have long been fans of Seafayre, the restaurant cum takeaway in Charles Street, Sheffield, and mourned when it closed just before last Christmas. But boss Bruce Payne and his wife Helen promised they would be frying again in the market from February. And so they have.
“For us it’s a bit like coming home,” says Bruce, reminding me that he started out as a market trader, running the Castle Chippy at the now demolished Castle Market and only opened Seafayre because he objected to the rents in the new market. Something must have changed.
“There’s a lot less stress and we’ve simplified the menu. I take my hat off to people who run restaurants,” beams Bruce, tipping another bucket of chips into the range. Some of his old customers from Charles Street, like the lady in red patiently waiting for her order with me at the counter, have followed him across, as well as others from Castle Chippy days.
Obviously it’s a lot cheaper: cod is £2.80 and there’s haddock and plaice to order, chips are £1.20 and mushy peas 70p, and there are fishcakes, rissoles, roe and sausage.
But instead of the relative luxury of the restaurant with its friendly waitresses who brought dishes of ketchup, mayonnaise and tartare sauce and gave the kids a sweetie when you paid the bill, you have to find a table if you don’t plan to walk out with your dinner in a Styrofoam box. There are plates, paper, although the cutlery is real, not plastic.
No matter, it is just as good as I remember. The cod is generous and the batter is superb: crispy with a touch of salt on the tongue, crunchy and rippling like waves over the fish. It’s an old family recipe – Bruce married into the Pearces, who have chippies across Sheffield – but is hardly a secret, just flour, water and salt. No beer, no carbonated fizz or baking soda. And no proprietory mix! Bruce looks hurt at the implication. The chips are firmish, just going on soft in that chip shop way. I eat it all down to the last mushy pea.
I present my compliments to Bruce. It’s been a lovely lunch. “We’re keeping it simple. It is what it is – a chippy in the market,” he says.