Regular readers will have noticed that I often lament the lack of a decent fish restaurant in Hull. Considering how much of the country’s catch was landed in the city from the year dot until the mid-70s, piscine cuisine is hugely under-represented in the HU postcode. Chippies and a couple of fish dishes on some menus is about as good as it gets in the former Fish City.
Callooh, callay then when word arrives that a brand spanking new fish restaurant is to open. There is less celebration that it’s to be found in the already over-eateried confines of the Fruit Market; the supposed “cultural” quarter of the city, where actual cultural types are only welcome if they can pay the newly-inflated rents or temporarily provide an artistic sheen to what many consider an unseemly and unwelcome gentrification operation.
Anyway, enough local politics, back to the plot.
Humber Fish Co is the latest offering from chef and front-of-house team James and Paula Stockdale who previously operated Stanley’s Brasserie near the city’s train station.
They’ve taken on one of the less historic buildings on Humber Street (they’re mainly old fruit warehouses but this is more of a modern metal shed) and tried to turn it into a comfortable, maritime-themed room.
But the food, what of the food? Well, it’s all right. Granted, we didn’t try the oysters or the lobsters or the seafood platters that take centre stage on the menu, so we may not have sampled any of the showstoppers but what we did have was all a little underwhelming. Not bad, but not special.
Take the nibbles. The “Captain’s nuts” we tried were just glazed nuts. Hard to see what made them captainy. Unless captains traditionally glazed all their food.
And when I saw Scampi Fries on the menu, I assumed it may be a witty, post-modern take on the popular cereal-based pub snack. Maybe tiny offcuts of fish fried in tempura or similar. No, these were yer actual cereal-based pub snack served in a bowl. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Scampi Fries as much as the next man but when I order them in a fish restaurant, I don’t think it’s expecting too much for them to contain some actual fish. Caveat emptor, I suppose.
After the bar snacks, starters proper consisted of sautéed king prawns in garlic, chilli and olive oil (they were OK but a tad rubbery) and burrata with basil pesto, balsamic and roasted red peppers. Now, I know burrata isn’t fish but I fancied something cheesy and I always find it a useful bellwether to take something that benefits from very little messing with and see how much a chef messes with it. Here, the pesto and the balsamic overwhelmed the burrata so that, instead of enjoying its subtle taste, I struggled to even distinguish it.
Mains brought little improvement. I had the soft shell chilli crab stack, a brioche bun filled with two crabs, leaves and sweet chilli dressing.
I’ll be honest, I ordered it only for the puckish reason that it was the first time I’d ever sampled a sarnie with two whole creatures in. I couldn’t finish it. It was intriguing for a bite or three but I soon found it too sickly sweet and something of a chore to chew my way through. Whether all double whole crab sandwiches are similarly hard work on the jaws I have no idea but I won’t be rushing to find out any time soon.
The other main was baked sea bass fillet with potted shrimp butter. Sat on a bed of samphire and new potatoes, the pair of fillets looked promising enough but proved to be somewhat skimpy when it came to flesh and the skin could have done with being crispier. It was all a bit limp. The samphire (which wasn’t even mentioned on the menu) was the best bit.
The fish-free desserts provided the most enjoyable course. A perfectly good sticky toffee pudding and a triple layered cappuccino cream cake garnered more lip-smacks than the rest of the meal combined and neither had seen even a sniff of the ocean. There’s irony.
I wish the Stockdales well with their new venture. They’re clearly throwing themselves fully into the job but, rather than leaving with the feeling that the £115 we spent was a reasonable price, we went away looking at the other restaurants on Humber Street and wondering if the money would have been better invested elsewhere.
And that’s the main problem Humber Fish Co will have; how can it stand out in an already crowded spot? Some tweaking will undoubtedly help but longevity may require a little more craftsmanship and innovation.
Humber Fish Co, Humber Street, Hull, HU1 1UD; tel: 01482 326136; www.humberfishco.co.uk; open: Wednesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 11pm, Sunday, 12 to 6pm.
Drink selection 3/5