FISH restaurants in Sheffield are like buses: you wait for ages then two come along at once.
So now we have, at opposite sides of the city like boxers in a ring, Neon Fish at Millhouses and Native, on Gibraltar Street. And they couldn’t look more different.
Whereas Neon Fish is glitzy and twinkly, Native – next door to a tattoo parlour – is gutsy and gritty, with a wooden floor, weather-beaten tables, exposed brick walls and Sunday School chairs.
Native sits on the end of the street, overlooking the ring road and an empty lot, and while there’s a welcoming whiff of garlic and seafood as we open the door, the decor is not particularly maritime. It’s more funky than fishy.
There is a trio of surfboards on the wall, opposite the small open kitchen, and a statuette of a prawn on a stick.
It will, sadly, be the only one we will see this Friday lunchtime as the kitchen is right out of them, as it is mussels, so that rather depletes the starters we had hoped to graze from in the absence of a light midday menu.
Aside from the olives and bread, you won’t pay less than a tenner for a starter and around the mid twenties for a blackboard main but we like it and we like it a lot.
I was quite tempted by the oysters, after all the restaurant takes its name from the eponymous mollusc, but I can get them cheaper at owner Christian Szurko’s sit down and eat wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road.
Incidentally I recommend eating there if you don’t mind perching on a stool under the glassy-eyed stare of a monkfish on ice.
So I have the hand dived roast scallops (£13.50) in their shell, three beautifully cooked and sweet under discs of garlic, herbs, parmesan and breadcrumbs.
But you need bread to soak up the fragrant juices and the only bread available is that with my wife’s smoky mackerel pate, two generous quenelles, two small pieces of toast.
We call for more of the toasted sodabread. Why not have it there there in the first place, I ask our friendly waiter? Waste, he shrugs. It’s easy to ask for more.
With only four people in during our stay it was easier to catch his eye than on a crowded evening. And you might want to note that Native charges extra (£3) for remedying shortchanging customers on bread.
But I don’t want to grumble too much because my wife’s seemingly routine smoked salmon crumpet was superb. And I’m talking about the superior, tasty spongy crumpet made in-house, like the excellent bread, by the resident pastrychef.
It was competing with salmon, brown shrimps, a poached egg and a tarragon bearnaise and didn’t come second.
I had a blackboard main at £24 to see what the kitchen could do when spreading its wings.
Two good pieces of monkfish perched on a bed of soft giant couscous, flavoured with chunks of diced lamb breast, aubergine melting to a ‘caviar’ and, giving your tastebuds a zingy, crunchy send-off, bright red pomegranate seeds. In a word, funky.
We ate our meal with a couple of small glasses of decent Muscadet (£5 each) and finished with so-so coffee and wonderful madeleines – that pastrychef again.
It’s taken us a while to sample Native, which opened last year, but this blog doesn’t do a lot of ligging and has to pay its way. Boss Szurko has taken me to task for describing the prices as ‘minty’ but our lunchtime bill was £81.50 and we didn’t push the boat far out to sea.
There’s a lot to like here with an appealing atmosphere and precise cooking. Perhaps you can’t do much about the price of fish but Native could be more generous with the bread.
After all, haven’t bread and fish gone together since Biblical times? And as I remember there was enough to go round.
Native is at 169 Gibraltar Street, Sheffield. Web: http://www.nativejhmann.co.uk
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