It is a peculiar fact of travel that you’re much more likely to visit iconic restaurants in cities that are not your home than when you actually live somewhere. And J. Sheekey (AKA Sheekeys), like Rules, has been on my list of “London restaurants I really must get to” for some considerable time. Finally, I did.
Sheekeys, as everybody knows it, first opened in 1896, and was a theatreland classic for generations: it’s on St. Martin’s Court, right in the heart of London’s West End.
Yet it acquired a new lease of life as a refurbed and newly fashionable classic when it joined The Ivy and Le Caprice in the roster of great London showbiz restaurants owned by Caprice Holdings in 1998.
Like other classic restaurants I’ve written about here (Pepe’s Fishing Club and Harry’s Bar spring to mind), this seafood joint is far from flash and the food is studiedly unfancy. The red leather fit-out could almost be an Angus Steakhouse, except for that indefinable air of class and mutedly charming service that lifts it to a level where such comparisons seem wrong. It’s terribly English, terribly timeless, yet also terribly modern, all at the same time.
I must confess, my order of the fish pie was a mistake. For me, that is. I ordered for research purposes, not from desire, since Sheekeys’ fish pie is internet famous. It’s certainly a damn fine fish pie, taking the British obsession with nursery food to the very next level: creamy sauce, textbook topping with perfect balance of smooth and crisp, oodles of prawns and salmon, succulent chunks of fish.
But, frankly, as someone who eats out in famous restaurants less often than I would like, I should have ordered oysters. Or possibly lobster, served simply with a flawless mayonnaise, with a rocket salad on the side (my host’s choice). Or plateau de fruits de mer. Or just conceivably gone the English route with an option such as Dover sole or potted shrimp.
For everything at Sheekeys is done exceptionally, mutedly, classily well, and their selection of British oysters is just outstanding, both in the Oyster Bar and the main joint. Whether you’re lunching or doing the pre-theatre thing, be sure to order the Billecart-Salmon house champagne: my host did. Pink or white is up to you.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 2565
28-35 St. Martin’s Court