(The restaurant opens this week)
CHEF Cary Brown, one-time Bad Lad (reformed) of Sheffield restaurants, is in full flood with his intentions for his latest seafood venture: Neon Fish.
Builders are still working on the interior of what was the elegant Marco @ Milano on Archer Road but, as is always the case with Cary, the floor is littered with metaphorical donkeys hind legs and the occasional gastronomic sound-bite.
So when Cary rings his suppliers around the coast he’ll get the catch so quickly that when he calls “Tomorrow’s fish is still in the sea.” Heave-ho my hearties, the captain is speaking.
Here’s another. He detects people’s eating and social habits are changing so that “Saturday afternoons are the new Friday nights. They can come home, watch a bit of telly and fall asleep on the sofa.”
Neon Fish should be opening late July. He’s not in a rush, what with Covid still stalking in the shallows like a piranha – one fish not on the menu. Those who remember the heyday of Slammers on Ecclesall Road or recall his monkfish at Carriages will be licking their lips.
He chose the name after seeing an eatery in New York called the Neon Burger and signed by one: no letters, just the electric logo.
Neon Fish will be signed the same way and the decor will be full of glowing neon fishes. In a sense Cary is his own logo. At his last place his cartoon was on the menu. There has never been a Cary’s Cuisine but there was a Brown’s restaurant before the similarly named chain came to town.
The restaurant has not been finished or dressed for pictures but I get him to pose underneath a picture, appropriately, of fish inherited from previous owner Marco Giove. They are pals and Cary used to help him in the kitchen so he is no stranger to that.
This is the 14th place he has either owned, managed or cheffed and that’s not counting consultancies. “This is my last one. If it doesn’t work out I have no excuses,” he says.
It’s not entirely his. He is in 50-50 with co-director Gracie Anderson, a 23-year-old aspiring actress who has, at least for the moment, chosen the dining room as her theatre. She has already starred at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, where they first met, and went on to manage front of house at the Tickled Trout, Barlow.
Ñeon Fish, in what is arguably one of the prettiest restaurant buildings in the city, has two dining room and a heated terrace on three levels seating 50 or so with sails and canopies.
There will be a bar, driftwood tables and, the centrepiece, a seafood ice bar in the lobby piled high with oysters, lobsters, crab, langoustines, buckets of mussels and everything else that could possibly go in a fruits de mer.
In addition there will be a reprise of Cary’s celebrated fishy Slammers, in some cases “pulled up to date,” those Basque tapas pintxos, good old-fashioned fish and chips for those with the word Whitby written in their hearts, a day boat menu ( turbot sir?) and yes, if you want it, meat. A cote de bouef (rib eye) will be on the menu.
And did I mention the revival of ‘chicken in the basket,’ given a 2021 update?
Cary reckons he can do all this with two more chefs in the kitchen because, with fish, it’s minimal although accurate cooking with first class ingredients and presentation.
He gets serious, pointing out that post-Covid the hospitality industry is finished as it was. Already it is struggling to get staff no longer prepared to work long anti-social 60 to 70 hours a week.
“We will open on Thursday at 12 and go right the way through until Sunday (when there will be a return of Cary’s orgasmic roast dinners). That way staff have three full days off. More and more places are not opening earlier in the week for this reason.”
It will be interesting to see how he fares up against Christian Szurko’s recently opened Native fish restaurant. Prices will be similar. Cary says they are different sides of town with different client bases. As to prices, people must be prepared to pay for first class ingredients.
He is 55 now, a plumper, older version of the cocky young head chef (at 23) I first interviewed at the Charnwood Hotel. There have been successes and shipwrecks along the way since then: the Rock Inn, Carriages (his longest port of call), Simply Carriages, Slammers, Brown’s, The Limes (in Barnsley), Mini Bar, London Club, Royal Oak, Devonshire Arms MH, Barlow Woodseats Hall, Earnshaw & Brown at Hathersage Social Club, and now here.
He’s also reanimated. “In the past two years I have never been in a darker place. At one stage I thought I was never going to cook again,” he tells me. Then he brightens up.
He’s looking forwards to working with Gracie. To coin a phrase, they’re in this together, sink or swim.
“Seafood speaks for itself. All the glamour is there, all the theatre, if you know how to cook it,” he says. With Gracie holding the stage, Cary at the helm, many in Sheffield can’t wait for them to drop anchor . . .or should that be curtain up?