YOU know how it is, you go out to eat some fancy fish but can tell it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg and then the other two. Well there were four of us and we started with three Colchester oysters and ordered three plates of hake with clams and both fillets of a sea bass and the bill was £43.
Yes, you read that right.
Mind you, we had to make some sacrifices. One of us got out of bed at 5am to bake the ciabatta which mopped up our chilli-spiked tomato sauces while another popped next door but two to the wine shop for a chilled bottle of Puglian white and four glasses.
But if you don’t mind being propped up on a bar stool a couple of feet from a prime display of wet fish on crushed ice while customers come in for their cod or smoked haddock then I can heartily recommend Mann’s wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, any lunchtime when it’s open, all week save Sunday and Monday.
An A-board on the pavement invites you in: “Try any fish. We do the rest.”
The chef, not behind the curtain but behind the counter is Christian Szurko, not some fishmonger who fancies his hand with a frying pan but a fully trained chef with experience at London’s seafood restaurant J Sheekey and the Blue Broom, Lounge Bar and Club One Eleven back here.
Just walk in, size up the fish, tell him how you’d like it (fried or poached, usually) and sit down with a bottle of BYO and wait until it’s ready. All you’ll be charged is the shop price of the ingredients plus £2 per person for the privilege of having it cooked. The hake was £18 a kilo and the sea bass £14. If you really want a fish called wonga the halibut is £40.
While we were the only ‘diners’ on a blowy Wednesday the previous Saturday there had been 20 eating. “Not bad for a wet fish shop, is it?” said Christian, cutting very generous steaks off the fearsome looking hake lolling next to squid.
My wife and I were joined by fellow foodie blogger Craig Harris and his wife Marie, both staunch Italophiles, and it was he who had made the lovely springy ciabatta that morning.
Customers could already eat in after Christian started an impromptu oyster bar a couple of years back. At £1 a pop it was and still is a bargain. “It escalated from there. We always had the induction hobs because we make our own stock for the shop,” he added. So is he scratching a cheffy itch? “Partly, but I also run pop up restaurants. I’m looking for new premises now.”
If you fancy a glass of Chablis to chase it down then Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants has a berth there on Saturdays. As it was midweek my wife nipped out to fellow wine merchants Starmore Boss with a tenner and came back with a chilled A Mano Bianco. They also loaned us the glasses.
Christian, who took over the then Hillsborough-based business with his brother Danny (who has since left the shop) in 2008, could offer the fish with spiced lentil salsa, daal with paneer, spicy tomato sauce or garlic mash that day. We already had the bread so didn’t need the mash but the tomato sauce sounded good. “Throw in some clams and samphire?” asked Christian. You bet.
We almost forgot the oysters until Craig prompted me. They were expertly shucked by Craig’s new partner in the shop Scott Mills, another chef turned fishmonger. These were Colchester oysters in tip top condition.
So was the hake, heralded by tempting cooking smells. I sometimes find the texture of this fish, a favourite with the Spanish, a little on the heavy side but this, while still retaining firm-fleshed meatiness, was also light and flakey, set off nicely by the tomato sauce with a little crunchiness from the emerald green samphire. The clams were fine but I don’t go into raptures over a vongole. What is it but a posh cockle? Give me a winkle or a whelk any day.
It made for a very pleasant and enjoyable lunch where we could all pretend we were Rick Steins popping in for a bite with an obliging chef. This is one you all must try.
#Mann’s is at 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZE. Tel: 0114 268 2225 On Twitter and Facebook
Check out what Craig thought of the meal at www. craigscrockpot.wordpress.com