What: A large seafood restaurant in Soho’s buzzy Dean Street. Set in the listed Georgian townhouse that was home to Indian restaurant The Red Fort for 35 years, The Seafood Bar offers a menu of no-nonsense seafood dishes with a focus on fruits de mer platters, oysters, and fish and shellfish cooked on a plancha grill.
Who: Despite its generic sounding name, The Seafood Bar is a family-owned business. Its debut restaurant was founded by Netherlands-based fishmonger Fons de Visscher and his son and daughter Pepijn and Fleur in 2012 in Amsterdam’s Oud Zuid neighbourhood. Two further restaurants have since launched in Amsterdam, and the group has also expanded to nearby Utrecht. You might assume - as we did - that the Visscher family has taken advantage of depressed property prices in central London caused by the pandemic, but this is not the case. The Seafood Bar started looking for a central London location in 2018, signed for the Dean Street site in 2019, and were originally due to start work on it as Covid-19 took hold in March 2020. An inauspicious start, but at least the landlord has been reasonable: “He’s been flexible and did not charge us rent while we were unable to open, so we got lucky there at least,” says Pepijn.
The vibe: Spanning two floors the restaurant has 190 covers in total and sports the same neutral colour palette as its older siblings in the Netherlands. With its mixture of exposed brick and white tiled walls, marble tables and columns, white furniture and slogans on the walls, the space is premium and contemporary but rather chain-y in feel.
The food: Pretty much anything one would expect to be able to order at a Northern-European seafood restaurant can be found on The Seafood Bar’s brasserie-style menu, including crab cakes, calamari, caviar, fish and chips, and a wide variety of raw and cooked shellfish. Plancha-cooked dishes include salmon fillet with chicory, Tenderstem broccoli and beurre blanc; and king prawns with garlic and lemon. A range of vegetarian options are available on a separate menu, but committed carnivores should look elsewhere - The Seafood Bar is a meat-free zone. Given the postcode and the focus on high-quality seafood, prices are fair with nearly all starters under £10 and a platter of fruits de mer priced at a competitive £27.50 per person. A big part of the brand's success in Amsterdam is down to its determination to make seafood accessible in terms of how it is served and - of course - a relatively low price point. The brand has - by and large - managed to replicate this model in the capital, with its prices typically undercutting its most obvious competitors in central London.
To drink: The wine list isn’t going to win any awards for originality but is well-chosen, with a wide selection of seafood friendly wines including a fair few Champagnes (the emphasis is on Ruinart). The short cocktail list - meanwhile - has a focus on gin and tonic, with four different serves available.
And another thing: It’s fair to say it’s been a bumpy landing for the Visschers. On top of the pandemic, they have been shocked by the lack of staff in London (while there are some recruitment challenges across the North Sea, it’s nothing like as bad as here). And because of the Brexit vote and the deal that was eventually struck with the EU, The Seafood Bar is unable to make up the shortfall with staff from its Netherlands restaurants. “It’s completely impractical. A visa for a single waiter would cost up to £10,000,” says Pepijn. “It’s a frustrating situation for us as one of the big attractions of opening in London was the opportunity for our Netherlands team to spend some time in London, which would have been a big perk for them.”