Fish in the City: Fishworks Seafood Cafe, Marylebone High Street

“Always keep your hook in the water: where you least expect one, the fish will be found” (Ovid)

Thus it was that we discovered Fishworks Seafood Cafe last night on Marylebone High Street. The front section of Fishworks, in the manner of its Roman ancestor, is dedicated to the sale of fresh fish and shellfish. The aroma is almost opaque. You could spread it on toast. I’ve walked past here many a time without even realising that one can eat here. A small, unassuming white-lettered sign says ‘Seafood Cafe Open’ on the glass behind the fishmonger. The glass itself slides open to allow the freshness of the fish to be demonstrated to diners before they select it from the menu.

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We were seated (“You can have it for two hours”) fairly near to the fishier bit of the establishment, but our fears that the smell of the fishmonger’s would hang over us like the Great Stink of 1858 were happily just about unfounded.

We chose the fixed menu (£13.50), which offered a choice of whitebait or fish soup to start, followed by either moules frites or fishcake with wilted spinach and hollandaise. All very well, price-wise, but we were lured into ordering in addition olives (£2.95), a breadboard (£1.50) and the finest lemonade and apple juice (£.3.50 each). We declined the offer of aperitifs.

Tara’s meal: fish soup and moules.

Fairly filling was the fish soup, but quite tasty. I was impressed that it didn’t feel as gritty as fish soup sometimes can. It came with grated cheese and tiny toasts. After that mini feast I was quite glad I’d ordered the moules, only to find there were thousands of them! Lots of butter and garlic and chips in a little pot. Warm water with lemon provided for the cleaning of mucky fingers.

Dan’s meal: whitebait and fishcake.

The whitebait was tasty and carefully cooked, without the oily flavour that they can sometimes suffer from due to being deep-fried. Indeed they proved quite filling in themselves. The fishcake was essentially that: a sizable breadcrumbed fishcake adorned with hollandaise sauce which added some fine flavour to what may otherwise have been a fairly bland course. There was little on the side; I ended up pinching the chips that came with the moules; however all in all it a sufficiently hearty combination.

I think the conclusion we have to come to is that the fixed menu at the FSC is perfectly edible and very filling. However, one doesn’t really get a chance to appreciate the absolutely beautiful fresh fish that was available a la carte. Our fault for being abstemious, but it does suggest the FSC is missing a trick by not making more of an attempt to give diners a chance to sample proper fish on a budget. The puddings (£3 extra, lemon tart or chocolate pudding) were divine. The chocolate pudding was squishy and melty and the lemon tart subtly citric without being too acidic. Coffee came with tiny little bits of chocolate brownie. Yum.

The FSC is a comfy place, but with a definite air of sophisication. We were served very quickly and there was no point where we were sitting around wondering when the food was going to arrive. What was odd was that there was no sign to the toilets. They’re hidden behind a door that also leads down to the kitchens covered in the specials board. Do love cubicles with sinks.

Our total bill was about £55, including service. More than we were expecting to pay when we went in, but reasonable value for money.

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