Norwich: Loch Fyne
- Credit: Archant
A dislike of shellfish wasn't enough to put SIMON PARKIN off trying the dedicated fish restaurant chain Loch Fyne. Luckily he reeled in something he liked.
I have a confession, I'm not, and never have been, a fan of shellfish. This will be heathenary sacrilege to those who love it, but I've always thought it tasted like salty rubber.
It's also perhaps a bit perverse therefore to have chosen to dine in this restaurant belonging to a national chain that trumpets its dedication to the fruits of the sea.
But, though I avoid like the plague anything that has to be prised from a shell, I am a big lover of fish of the swimming kind, so fingers crossed we took the plunge.
And it came as a relief to scan the autumn/winter menu and discover my worst fears had not been realised. While there were plenty of oysters, mussels and scallops, there was also a lot more to tickle my fancy.
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A glass of white wine ordered, wine is the thing here, with a huge cellar to choose from, I set about studying the menu. It goes to great lengths to establish the Loch Fyne heritage.
The business started 30 years ago as a small oyster shack on the banks of the loch – a venture by Johnny Noble, the owner of the Ardkinglas Estate on the west coast of Scotland, and his colleague Andy Lane – a fish farmer and biologist.
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Both were oyster enthusiasts, and they began by growing oysters in the loch and selling them to restaurants. They then opened their own oyster bar in 1988 and, as the restaurant's reputation grew, tourists commented on how popular the concept would be 'back home'.
The chain now stretches to more than 30 restaurants, taking in places as far afield as Edinburgh and Poole, together with their home Oyster bar in Cairndow.
Despite the expansion they have, they insist, stuck to their original principles. They get advice from respected marine bodies regarding the fish and seafood they serve. Their ward-winning smoked salmon, for example, is sourced from RSPCA Freedom Food accredited supplies.
Where species are not plentiful they serve alternatives and they don't source fish caught by methods deemed harmful to the marine ecosystem such as deep-sea trawlers, beam trawlers or industrial long-liners.
Having gone to all that effort it would have been churlish to plump for a meat or vegetarian dish, although there was a smallish selection, so it was a choice of fish — and there was a veritable fishmonger's slab full.
From smoked salmon to grilled whole turbot with lemon and parsley butter; pan-fried bream with rocket pesto; lobster with garlic butter to poached smoked haddock with mash.
Starters too unsurprisingly dominated by produce from the fish market. Only the Charcuterie Plate, featuring ham, cured wild boar and salami, and the vegetarian selection of goat's cheese and butternut squash risotto were fish free.
I reeled in peppered mackerel paté with toasted bloomer (£4.95).
The paté was rich, creamy and so fishily fresh I could almost smell the sea. And the two slices were excellent as far as they went, I was just glad that I'd saved some of the contents of the bread basket.
With weather outside so cold it would have given even a seasoned trawler man the shivers, for mains I netted the traditional classic, a smoked fish pie (£9.95).
When it arrived though it looked a little underwhelming, sitting sparsely in a little dish. I was glad I'd ordered some green bean and (to be local) pan-fried samphire (£3.25/£3.45) to go with it. However, appearances can be deceptive, and once I'd let it cool and tucked in, hiding under the crispy, cheesy topping was a delicious stew of smoked haddock, prawns and vegetables. It was incredibly filling and just the job to warm up before venturing back out into the freezing fog.
The only letdown was the dessert of baked apple pie.
It was hot and had a caramelised apple richness but lacked something to lift it.
If you like shellfish you'll be in seventh heaven here, if fish is your thing the quality is generally very good (they do an excellent Fish, Your Way offer where to select a fish and the way you'd like it). If you're not sure, with the chain currently running a number of offers, including two courses plus a glass of wine for £12 at limited times, now could be the time to try.
St Giles Street,
Open: Mon-Fri 12pm-10pm, Sat 10am-10.30pm, Sun 10am-9.30pm
Prices: Starters from £4.95, main courses from £9.95, shellfish platters for two from £18.95
Vegetarian options: Limited
Wheelchair access: Yes