I wish I was a fish. Sure, you’re pretty ugly and dumb, but that's me on a hangover anyway, and if I spout some gills I'd be able to eat seafood all day, every day, without having to worry about ‘vegetables’, or ‘proper nutrition’. But alas, my dreams of being Ariel (she’s a fish) can’t be fulfilled in this life, so I’ll just have to settle for London’s array of seafood restaurants instead. Like The Galley, the modern kitchen and bar in Islington whose menu made my eyes light up like a cat staring into a fish pond.
Venue and Atmosphere
I always thought that, when I eventually blossomed into the sophisticated twentysomething I've always dreamed of becoming, I'd be having cute meals with my gal pals in places like The Galley. The large front windows give a French brasserie vibe, but the blue-tiled bar greeting you as soon as you walk in reassures that it is a little bit naughtier. The L-shaped venue is split between the bar area, where people drink cocktails on the type of tables that force you to gaze into each other’s eyes – or at the bar to stare into the bartender’s – and the long restaurant, which has velvet booths and chairs lining the walls below a smattering of framed paintings. The semi-open kitchen has chairs lining it too, if you like to watch the action happen.
My friend and I visited on Wednesday for a midweek meal and it was not overly busy. While some tables were filled with what was obviously dates, attracted by the general cuteness of it all, there was a reunion meal or two going on, with the crowd pushing late twenties/early thirties.
Food and Drink
Scared by the amount of vowels, once seated I just pointed pathetically at a bottle of Granache/Viogner white wine (£23), to enjoy as our evening drink. It’s a fruity and fresh drink, which made it both wonderfully drinkable and a great companion for the seafood to come.
Having brought the type of friend that goes on "client lunches" (I know), we agreed to kick things off with oysters – the oven baked oysters (£3.50), to be precise, that arrived with tomato and crispy chorizo. And what an excellent decision we made right there, since tomato and chorizo are wonderful bedfellows with the excruciatingly amazing oyster. I’ve eaten oysters in a fair few places now, and these might be my favourite.
Moving onto the starter, my friend already called dibs on the seared Scottish scallops (£9.50), so I opted for the venison steak tartare (£11) instead (…don’t let my dad read that sentence). The scallops, coming with butternut squash, pancetta and hazelnuts, were perfectly cooked, with the squash puree and the hazelnuts creating a tasty little autumnal dish.
The venison was amazing. The quail egg is not a gimmick, but adds another layer of texture to the already interesting venison tartar, while not overpowering the rich flavour of the meat. However, I did taste coriander mixed in with the tartare - and can I just say, as part of the fairly significant portion of the population that genetically taste that devil's herb as soap, I feel like restaurants should give fair warning beforehand. But other than being Brutus'd by a tartare, a delightful dish.
Onto the main event; and we weren’t messing around. With a nod to each other, we ordered the seafood platter (£45) and, boy, was it worth it. Arriving on a candelabra of sea shells, it boasts prawns, clams, mussels, soft shell crab, shrimp and market fish, which was hake. The prawns were gorgeous; we devoured the mussels, scooping up the tangy broth it rested in; and the crab was wonderfully fresh. But the hake – oh my, the hake was delicious. The skin possessed that beautiful, 'mmohmm-my god' crunch that only well-seasoned, crispy fish skin has, and the fish itself was moist and delectable. I’d eat a whole seafood platter to get to the hake. I'll take out a payday loan if I have to.
We ended on a lemon and ginger cheesecake (£7.50), which arrived with adorable, tiny Italian meringues and a selection of cheeses (£9.50), two of which were strong enough to blow the doors of a safe. Well, you can’t eat that as a mermaid, can you?
Other than the chance of poisoning you, it’s pretty easy for restaurants to make seafood taste ‘fine’. But The Galley goes above that with a mastery of seasoning and skill in the kitchen. You have to go for dinner, but if you’re only around for drinks, eat some oysters. Then thank me later.