It’s always puzzled me that a city which expects to sit down to haddock, chips and mushy peas (and a nice cup of tea) when it goes on holiday to Whitby or Brid doesn’t get the same thing back home.
How many traditional fish and chip restaurants do you know of in Sheffield?
We have some great chippies with some wonderful names – Codrophenia and New Cod on the Block – but you don’t sit down and eat.
Fish restaurants like Loch Fyne or the Mediterranean are, as you might say, a different kettle of fish.
While we have Whitby’s, already building a mini Empire from its base at Catcliffe, that is out of town. We have to go back to the Sixties and Hopkinson’s Capri on Rockingham Gate, chippy downstairs, restaurant above, to recall the kind of place I’m thinking about.
There will be some who fondly remember the Harlequin Fish Bar on Howard Street which fed students from the takeaway and pensioners in the café behind. It sold its last fishcake around 2003.
One man who reckons he knows why fish and chip restaurants are rare in the city centre is Bruce Payne. He says the council doesn’t want the smell. He should know. He’s just opened the 40-seater Seafayre chippie and restaurant on Charles Street.
Stand round the corner on Pinstone Street with your nose to the breeze and you won’t get a vinegary whiff of anything fishy, thanks to the extraction equipment Bruce has installed at no small expense. So much so that Bruce has put up a handwritten sign to guide the way. Seafayre is where Pollard’s coffee shop and café was.
Pollards quit when the area looked like being redeveloped before the Sevenstone debacle.
Bruce is taking a chance because despite the expense, including installing a fryer, he’s only got three months’ notice.
But he reckons by the time things start moving it could be at least three years.
Star readers will know Bruce. Their votes helped shortlist his Castle Chippy in the market as one of the best in the city last year.
He didn’t make the move into the new market on The Moor because he thought the city council was charging too much.
Originally from Leicester, he’s married into a family which has been frying Sheffielders’ chips since at least the 1950s and Seafayre takes its name from the family chippie which was in Orchard Square between 1987 and 1997.
Seafayre has a takeaway one side and dining room on the other and, against all expectations, it is the latter which is currently doing most of the business although it’s early days.
The décor is coffee and cream in a sort of homage to Pollards. Bruce reckons blue is too much of a cliché. You won’t find many pictures of fish, either.
Currently the menu is brief – offering cod, haddock, plaice or scampi, along with pie, chicken and vegetable lasagne – and for fishcakes you’ll have to go next door. Bruce reckons fishcakes don’t give the image he wants.
There are no starters so it is straight in. We had haddock and plaice with chips, both at £6.90, two portions of mushy peas (90p each) and because I like to do things properly, a slice of bread and butter (30p).
We also ordered a pot of tea for two (a very reasonable £1.20) made with loose leaves not a tea bag.
Both fish tasted pretty good, not watery, although Bruce promised even better flavoured haddock when his next batch came in.
The batter is firm, crisp and not greasy (although I could have done with a few more whirls and curls). Gluten-free batter is available.
He’d got the chips right, too: not quite the totally limp sort you can get and, of course, not triple cooked crispies but they retained a certain perkiness.
If you like proper mushy peas, not out of a tin, Bruce makes his own from soaked dried peas which gives them an appealing mealy quality.
My first ever meal out as a kid was at a fish and chip restaurant with those squeezy bottles of ketchup. I hit the ceiling.
At Seafayre things are posher, your sauce comes in a dish.
Bruce and his team are still feeling their way. He’s going to offer smaller pensioners’ portions – two customers asked for fish and peas without the chips while we were there.
The range of fish may be extended to include sole and turbot, although I don’t expect these will be deep-fried in batter.
Currently the place closes around 4.30pm although it has permission until 7pm and theatre teas are being considered.
You can get a sit-down fish and chip meal almost anywhere but isn’t it better from a proper chippie?
Bruce is bringing a bit of life back to Charles Street and cooking some very decent fish and chips in the process – but then you Star readers knew that anyway, didn’t you?
They also do coffee here but don’t tell anyone, it’s not Pollards.
We paid £17.10.
Charles Street, Sheffield S1 2HS. Tel: 0114 4383670. Open Mon-Sat 11am-4.30pm. Credit cards. Vegetarian option. Children’s meals. Gluten-free available. Disabled access. Street parking.