WELL THAT certainly beats a bag of winkles, Mr Brown!
We’re off for afternoon tea but not as you know it. No dainty cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls and French fancies for us but cod in batter, some juicy mussels, scallops atop pork belly, prawns, halibut and salmon, and the very tip of a lobster’s tail.
And if that sounds fishy it is because we are in Cary Brown and Gracie Anderson’s new restaurant Neon Fish on Archer Road, Sheffield (Marco@Milano as was) to sample what is billed as ‘Afternoon Tea from the Sea.’
It’s a clever idea. For most of us ordering a fruit de mer is pushing the boat out and it costs a whacking £95 for two here.
An afternoon fish tea is in shallower waters, a scaled-down version (at £40), light on lobster, apart from that tip, minus oysters but with bits borrowed from all over the menu plus a few extra tasty morsels.
If you don’t count fish and chips the nearest I’ve come to this is a plate of whelks or take-home bag of winkles (pin not included).
It might be cut-price but they do it in style: It is served on tiered plates with Carr’s Sheffield-made silver fish cutlery. How’s that for swank?
It looked lovely and it was. This may well become the Saturday afternoon rival to Cary’s legendary Sunday lunchtime roast meat platter.
Let’s start from the top because we did, with some generous pieces of cod in wispy batter on the uppermost tier.
They shared the plate with sweet, briefly cooked scallops on warm, pressed slow-roasted pork belly, surf and turf heaven in miniature. This is something you savour slowly, relishing the contrast in textures.
We saved a smoky mackerel pate in a jar until later. We wanted the white anchovies with chilli jam, a riff on the chef’s much-copied monkfish dish. It works just as well.
Moving down, the next tier held whorls of smoked salmon and halibut, the latter softer in texture with plenty of smokiness, and those lobster tips, the only items which didn’t live up to their promise.
The lowest tier had two very tasty king prawns, a pot of Atlantic prawns, crab meat in mayonnaise with julienne of apple and a tiny pot of pickled mussels.
The flesh was tender not firm, as well it might be since they had been steamed not 30 minutes before, cooled and briefly pickled in a liquor so good that afterwards, checking no one was looking, I swigged it down.
I didn’t need to. There wasn’t anyone else apart from my wife until a man wearing a pink top hat with a ticket in the brim walked in at five o’clock.
No, I haven’t smoked something and fallen down a rabbit hole: it happened (sometimes it is better not to ask) but there was certainly something Alice in Wonderland about our booking.
We’d tried the weekend before, only to be told the website was wrong so booked the following Saturday for 3pm. A last minute check online told us Neon Fish didn’t open until 5pm (website wobbles again) so that explains why we had the place to ourselves.
We were, in fact, the first to order the afternoon tea and it won’t officially be available until October 16. Don’t go thinking we got a freebie as guineapigs because we paid full whack. Top picks: the mussels, anchovies and scallops.
Gracie, who you may remember from the Tickled Trout, Barlow, leads delightful front of house service and Cary still cooks like a dream. You might have to twist his arm to get the fish tea sooner, though.