Batter, tatter, fish – what’s up for the Sheffield Fishcake?

The Sheffield Fishcake at Seafayre - but is it under threat?

The Sheffield Fishcake at Seafayre – but is it under threat?

“Batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter,” is the succinct description of the construction of a Sheffield fishcake, seen as a geological diagram. It’s a sort of fish sandwich, a piece of cod or haddock between two slices of potato, swathed in batter and deep fried.

Some insist on calling it a Yorkshire fishcake on account of it also being sold in Halifax or Huddersfield but Sheffield is the only Northern town to give its name to this speciality. Yorkshire has its pudding and mushy peas so let this be Sheffield’s national dish!

I am not sure whether it’s dying out in the area’s chippies or is still holding on. The three or four chip shops nearest me don’t sell it. In Barnsley they think a fishcake is mashed fish and potato with parsley, as does most of the rest of the country.

It’s not hard to see how the Sheffield fishcake came about. A chippie decided this was the best way to make use of fish trimmings. But why is it a strictly regional thing: surely the same thought should have applied in the rest of the country. Perhaps only a Yorkshireman can turn (almost) nowt into owt.

I have always been fascinated by Sheffield fishcakes. I grew up in Derby where my father ran a chippie in complete ignorance of this delicacy some 40 miles north. I’d had a scallop, a slice of potato in batter, but that was less than half way to the real thing.

Nor had Bruce Payne, owner of Seafayre chippie and fish restaurant on Charles Street, Sheffield. He’s from Leicester and had to be shown how to make them when he married into Sheffield’s Pearce dynasty of chippies. The Sheffield fishcake is popular: when on Castle Market he once sold 224 on a Friday lunchtime. “I thought they would be as popular here but it’s a different clientele,” he says.

Bruce doesn’t use a slice of fish but trimmings as he says it would otherwise be difficult to seat the fish and potato together snugly. He has to be careful with his choice of spuds. “When varieties change I thought a baking potato would be suitable but it just goes mushy.” Nor does he parboil the potatoes. And “I always use cod because this is a cod shop,” he adds.

At just £1.45 it’s a particularly tasty and comforting dish and well worth ordering, with or without the chips.

The Sheffield or Yorkshire fishcake is a working man or woman’s snack but there’s no reason why it can’t be poshed up, as it is at the three-star George Hotel in Hathersage. Sous chef Steven Sumpner may come from Basingstoke but “I’ve always known about Yorkshire fishcakes because my father, who is from Leeds, loves them

“I remember my dad showing our local fish and chip shop how to make them so when we had our fish n chips nights he could have a Yorkshire fish cake. It was a big deal to him being a Leeds boy.”

Steven, whose own favourite fishcake from a chippie is from Four Lanes on Leppings Lane, Hillsborough, produced mini fishcakes for a special occasion at the hotel recently but it often goes on the menu because “it’s homely and rustic.”

His method is to parboil the potatoes so it allows for thick slices of spud which can be cooked at the same rate as the fish and batter: if he used them raw the rest would be overcooked. And because it is a hotel he can use tail ends of fillets.

The batter, too, gets special attention. “My recipe always has wine vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. This gives the batter an extra crispy and light texture with a nice punch of vinegar. I season with rock salt and it really gives that feeling you have drenched your fish in vinegar and salt but you still have a crispy batter!”

Steven’s miniature versions are extremely tasty little morsels with extra oomph in the batter. I enjoyed them.

Of course, one man’s fishcake is another man’s fritter, pattie, scallop or rissole so the Sheffield or Yorkshire fishcake might exist somewhere else in the world under another name. I have heard of a double decker fishcake with a layer of peas as well as fish and spuds and there is the famous mushy pea fritter at Two Steps on Sharrowvale Road.

Finally, here’s Yorkshire chef Brian Turner’s version, as seen on YouTube. Go to

*Seafayre has now closed but Bruce continues frying (and serving Sheffield fishcakes)  at the Market Chippie on The Moor Market. This is for the benefit of Peterborough FC fans accessing this site via


Steven Sumpner's Sheffield fishcakes

Steven Sumpner’s Sheffield fishcakes

Steven Sumpner in the George's kitchen

Steven Sumpner in the George’s kitchen

A chip off the old block?

Seafayre, Charles Street

Seafayre, Charles Street

*Seafayre has now closed. See the Stop Press at the end.

The first restaurant I was taken to as a child was a fish and chip emporium somewhere in Newcastle by my grannie. It had a plastic tomato on the table for the sauce so I squeezed it, as you do when you are nine. The ceiling must have been low because I splodged it, Beano-style. I don’t recall being taken again.

At Seafayre on Charles Street, Sheffield, if you ask they bring the tomato sauce, mayonnaise and tartare sauce in little dishes. Perhaps someone has told them about my propensities for splodging but they do that for everyone.

I like Seafayre as does my whole family and I find to my surprise that it is the restaurant I have visited the most since I handed in the Free Meals Voucher that goes with the job of restaurant reviewer (it’s an expense account).
Sheffield as a great northern city ought to have at least a couple of big fish and chip restaurants. It’s here that the national fish of preference switches from cod to haddock, or it used to do. The city is also the birthplace of the famous Sheffield fishcake (slices of potato enclosing fish, the whole then battered and fried) although it is not always done well. But it doesn’t.

Going back, in the Sixties there was the local equivalent of Harry Ramsden’s, Hopkinson’s Capri on Rockingham Gate, chippie downstairs, restaurant above, run by David Baldwin, now host of Baldwin’s Omega off Psalter Lane. That was before my time but on a much smaller scale there was later the Harlequin Fish Bar on Howard Street, with a couple of rooms full of atmosphere and the smell of frying fish. Pensioners queued in the morning to be sure of a table and for office workers fish and chip Fridays were a tradition.

I visited it once or twice in a professional capacity but it closed in 2003 and the owner retired to the east coast. It lingered on in our memories. Two years later Designers Republic produced a poster which read simply “Harlequin Fish Bar, Rest In Peas.”

Today there is Whitby’s, big and vast on the outskirts of the city, and recently reviewed by my colleague Martin Smith on The Star. See here:

Seafayre opened last year in what used to be Pollards, the coffee company. The owner, Bruce Payne, previously ran a chippie on the old Castle Market but baulked at the rents of the new one on The Moor. He has married into a chippie dynasty in Sheffield which dates back to the Fifties and the family has several shops around the city. Seafayre is named after a family venture downstairs in Orchard Square which ran for 10 years until 1997.

There is a takeaway section and a restaurant, done out in a coffee and cream livery so you half think Bruce didn’t bother to give the place a makeover after Pollards left. But no, he didn’t want to be typecast with fishy blue. I beg to differ: when it comes to chippies you can’t have enough of tradition so give me aquamarine, fish nets and glass balls any day.

The waiting staff are lovely, most of whom seem to be left-handed, check back your order sweetly, give you your bill before you’ve eaten and make sure if you have kids they get a lollipop. The menu is limited, cod, haddock, plaice, scampi, Sheffield fishcake and pie in regular, pensioners’ and children’s portions. The quality is good, the batter dry, crisp and crunchy, the mushy peas homemade with that lovely mealy quality. They don’t do starters but you can have a pudding, not guaranteed to be homemade.

Bruce used to offer gluten-free but got little call and when the fryer broke down that was it. His initial refusal not to serve fishcakes in the restaurant because they were not classy enough was overcome by customer demand. Initial thinking to offer sole and turbot has remained fish pie in the sky. Seafayre, with its mix of pensioners, families and couples, is not that sort of place. But it does have faint echoes of the atmosphere that was in the Harlequin so you could call it a chip off the old block.

We went recently with three picky granddaughters for a pre-panto meal. The previous year we went to a pizza joint, paid a fortune and they grumbled and left half of it. At Seafayre the bill for five of us, with pop and loose leaf tea* for two, was £34. And they didn’t leave a thing.

*Since this was written the loose leaf tea has been replaced with teabags in a cup and a teapot of hot water. Apparently customers, many of whom are pensioners, were whingeing the tea was too weak/strong but probably they had not got anything else to complain about that day. Loose leaf tea is still available at £1.80 but is not on the menu.

STOP PRESS: The place closed on Wednesday, December 23, 2015, because the prospect of redevelopment seemed nearer. Bruce and his wife Helen will re-open in the Moor Market by the beginning of February. “We’ll be a takeaway, which is what we were on the old Sheaf Market,” says Bruce.
The restaurant section has been a success but the couple say they are not restaurateurs. “We’re market chippies and will go back to doing that.”

Haddock, chips and mushy peas

Haddock, chips and mushy peas