by Nick Harman - Tuesday September 22, 2020 5:09 pm
Unit K, Ivory House St Katharine Docks East Smithfield, E1W 1AT www.themelusine.co.uk
We can’t easily go abroad right now, but for a fine fish meal by the water the Melusine is catch of the week
How I miss sitting in a restaurant harbourside, the envy-inducing clinking of rigging ropes against the steel masts of the moored yachts, the aroma of grilled fish wafting about and glass of something cold close to hand.
Hang on, I did that last night. In London.St Katherines Dock is a world away from the day to day life of London. You leave the roaring traffic endlessly circling the Tower of London behind, the City skyline drops away and you’re walking by placid lagoons stocked with lovely boats.
And there are people here, unmasked people, sitting at (spaced) tables at various restaurants, basking in the evening rays of what has been a fabulously warm and sunny day for September.
The Melusine cosy in its Grade 2 building has put plenty of tables dockside to take advantage, we get one between the restaurant and the water and take a look at what everyone else is eating.Fish, shellfish and more fish.
This is a restaurant that prides itself on fresh seafood and a menu dictated by what’s come up from the coast that day. Which is just how it should be.
The menu features starters, small plates and big plates. Not too daunting, just enough choice.We can’t help noticing many people are sharing a big bowl of rosy prawns. so, we get some of those.
They’re wee little ones, always the tastiest, and they’ve been shown to the deep fryer unbattered.‘Eat the heads too’, advises our waitress. Hmm, well okay. We dip them in saffron- tinted potato aioli, I cheat by not eating them right down the eyes and popping that bit back into the bowl. Call me a snowflake.
The crunch of the shells versus the sweet, sweet prawns, is something of a revelation. Unusual at first, then addictive. The aioli softens the experience. A glass of Macedonian white from a reasonably priced carafe helps dislodge any errant bits of shell from the palate.
I once bought live razor clams to cook, and was so freaked out by the lolling ‘tongues’ I gave them to a braver neighbour. I do love razor clams though.Here they are not over large and not cooked to rubber either, both problems I’ve had in other restaurants.
Instead each chewy bite picks up the garlic oil the clams are bathing in, but the unique flavour of the clams is still front and centre. A sprig of watercress does more than decorate, it adds an iron twang to the overall flavours.
I know Italians who completely lose it when it comes to carbonara, they shout loudly about the wrong ingredients - pancetta? No pig cheek, basta!- so what they’d say about a fish dish called ‘mussels, girolle and king oyster mushrooms, smoked fish carbonara’ doesn’t bear thinking about.
Still tough luck for them because it’s really rather good. Smoked salmon does give out some of the flavour of pancetta, the pasta is creamy-coated, the mushrooms add some texture and the mussels are mussels.
It makes for an interesting forkful everytime, although I don’t think there were all that many mussels, unless P ate them without my noticing.
The dishes are rolling through at a well-timed pace and we have time to make inroads on a carafe of Cuvee Cyril, Tikves |
before scallops arrive.Scallops from the Isle of Mull, so not quite as local as some of the dishes, slow braised elephant beans, lime smoked salt.I love the ‘gigante’ beans, they’re mealy but not in a bad way, in fact they balance with the scallops perfectly as well as pad out the dish.That lime smoked salt cuts effectively into the caramelised scallops.
And to end, a fine red mullet simply grilled and served with a roasted Delica pumpkin and green olive tapenade. We shared this and while red mullet is no whale it is large enough for two people already loosening belts.
A slightly bony fish, Red Mullet’s high fat content means it’s one that responds particularly well to a simple grill. The taste is quite strong for a white-fleshed fish though, it tastes of the shellfish it feeds on, and so the tapenade was a thoughtful foil, as was the pumpkin.
We finished up with a blue cheese ice cream, which while nice I think could be a bit stomach-gurgling if overindulged in. It reminded me of the days the Fat Duck when the food was so clever it made you feel a bit sick after.
Great meal though, simple fresh fish flavours served up in one of the best al fresco eating locations in London, which looks like the only kind of eating we will be allowed soon (and only up to 10pm).