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Review: Fishworks Seafood Restaurant

BY Boon Koh
Published 11 August 2010
Our Review Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Coming from a family who absolutely loves seafood, I’m always excited when I come across a new restaurant specialising in seafood. One such place that I recently went to was FishWorks on Swallow Street, part of a chain of seafood restaurants across London where they not only have an emphasis on serving oysters, lobsters, and fish , but also having a fishmonger counter on the premises.

I came across the FishWorks restaurant group a few years ago while researching listed companies to invest and buy shares in. At the time the company was flying high, expanding, and I considered buying the shares. But since then, the company has gone into bankruptcy, but was rescued by a private equity buyer, and now seems to be surviving quite nicely as a chain of specialist seafood restaurant in London and beyond.

FishWorks is unusual in that most good restaurants for fish and shellfish in London have a good selection of other non-seafood dishes on the menu; naturally, you still want to accommodate customers who are not partial to fish. However, at FishWorks, practically the entire menu is dedicated to creatures that live under water, with the exception of risotto milanese for the vegetarians and grilled ribeye steak for those allergic to seafood or a non-seafood lover.

However, if like me you get all excited and start drooling (just kidding!) when you think about lobsters, oysters, and fish, then FishWorks seems like a dream come through. However, although it promises to be a seafood Disneyland, I found that that several aspects of FishWorks really disappointed.

First, the good points. The Swallow Street branch is located in a superb location, on a side street just off Piccadilly and Regent Street. Swallow Street also contains such notable restaurants such as Gaucho Grill and Bentley’s Oyster Bar. Inside, the décor is very sleek but not overly modern, and the atmosphere was relatively quiet. To the right of the entrance there is a huge fresh fish and shellfish fishmonger counter, where you can inspect your dish before it’s cooked, or even buy raw fresh seafood to bring home to cook.

However, above all else a restaurant is judged by the quality of its food and price, and unfortunately FishWorks doesn’t really completely deliver on either point. My starter of calamari arrived with more empty space on the plate than there was calamari, and at £8 a plate, was distinctly average, with some of the squid rings on the verge of being burnt. They would have been good at half price for £4 a plate, or if I had gotten double the amount it would have been worth £8, but price-quality wise it just wasn’t there.

My main course of Devon Ray (£14) looked promising when it arrived: a huge cut of a stingray, still with the bone/skeleton, topped with a caper sauce. It is quite rare to find stingray on a restaurant menu in London, and I was delighted to see it being offered at FishWorks. The ray was perfectly cooked, with a crisp outer skin, but it was extremely hard and messy to cut the meat off the bony skeleton, with the culprit being the tough crispy skin! Normally when I have had stingray, it has been either steamed with sauce, so that the skin and flesh are soft enough to scrape off the bone gently. The flesh itself also had a musty smell that was inadequately masked with the little sauce that was provided.

My partner’s monkfish fillet in a tomato-based sauce (£18), a special daily dish of the day, was better, with the monkfish served on the bone, and very tender and sweet. The sauce was rather tasty too, and all in all it was a good, if unadventurous, main course.

Coming back to a price-quality rating judgement, the main courses were also poor value, as neither main dish came with sides, and so a side of vegetables (sugar snap peas) was as extra £3.50, and so were a bowl of chips. Add it all up, and although pricey it doesn’t look too bad if the food was top notch to go with the location and setting, but unfortunately the food was rather disappointing. Perhaps the fault here though is with the cooking rather than the seafood itself, which itself was fresh and top quality. Maybe the recommendation would be to order dishes where little or no cooking is required, for example their raw oysters from Cornwall, lobster with garlic butter, Dartmouth crab, or sharing seafood platter (£60).

Service-wise, it started out very well, with a prompt seating when we arrived as well as a quick revisit soon after for drink and food orders. However, as the night progressed and the restaurant got to half full, service turned horrendous; culminating in a 20 minute wait for our main plates to be cleared, and then another 15 minute wait for the cheque. Perhaps it was the fact that we declined to order some expensive wine, or maybe because we were booked on a 50% off dining offer through TopTable. But the service was really the nail in the coffin for our experience at FishWorks. I am now feeling sad that having discovered a rare London restaurant specialising in seafood & fish, it will take a hell lot of convincing for me to go back again anytime soon.

Cuisine: Fish & shellfish specialist, in a European style, with very few options for non-seafood lovers.
Price: £5-10 for starters, £14-20+ for mains.

Address: FishWorks Restaurant, 7-9 Swallow Street, central London W1B 4DG (right next to Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill)
Branches: Marylebone FishWorks  (89 Marylebone High Street), Richmond FishWorks (13-19 The Market The Square)
Nearest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus Tube Station (5 minutes walk), Green Park Tube Station (10 minutes walk)

Booking/reservation tel: 0207 734 5813 or 0207 470 2462
Restaurant website: www.fishworks.co.uk (for online booking/reservations & pdf menus)