After 10 years, J Sheekey’s relaxed, welcoming Atlantic Bar is still the place to go for seafood in Theatreland, writes Sophie Killip
Deep in the heart of the West End, there are two things that catch the eye on approach to J Sheekey’s Atlantic Bar. The first is the Noel Coward Theatre; images from its latest play are plastered on the wall, and a queue is beginning to take shape outside its front doors. The second is more of a dilemma: there are two facades on the same building that bear the name ‘J Sheekey’ – one is vibrant red, the other is an aquamarine blue.
A waitress stands in the divide between both colours. I ask her which one is J Sheekey’s Atlantic Bar, and she ushers us through the blue doorway. To my right, across an invisible threshold is the other, red J Sheekey – it’s all dark wood walls, table clothes and leather chairs. As we head into the Atlantic Bar, I think I prefer the atmosphere here. Stripped-back wooden tables fill the space; French jazz plays somewhere above our heads, muffled by the hubbub of easy chatter. Yes, I definitely prefer it here.
We order cocktails to start, while the guests around us opting for the pre-theatre dinner begin to rush. My companion tries the refreshing Highland 1801 - Chivas 12 years, brandy and citrus - whilst I order the bitter Golden Years - Olmeca Reposado and soda. An edible blue paint on the outside of my glass almost has the drink slipping out of my hand. Licking the passion fruit paint off my fingers, I watch as our first course arrives – and realise that I should probably get used to eating with my hands.
On a large round dish served on a platform, a whole Devon crab and a medley of fresh, native oysters rest on a bed of ice; they are accompanied by various sauces, lemons and tobacco. My dining partner has never eaten oysters before, so I show him how to do it by tucking into the juiciest offering. A bowl of small, spicy sausages offered with the oysters is supposed to act as a palette cleanser – and trying one, any doubts I previously had are quashed. Being so different to the fresh ocean taste of the oysters, the sausage helps bring out the individual flavours of each mollusc.
The large Devon crab is muscular, its shell breaking with satisfying cracks to reveal the juicy white meat inside. Claw shell splinters and flies off the table – but, looking around, no one seems to have noticed. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the Atlantic Bar invites guests to be themselves. As a result, we make a mess - it is worth it for that sweet, cold crab meat. When the empty shells of our seafood platter are swept away, it leaves the smell of fish lingering on our hands - but the scent is swiftly forgotten with the arrival of our next course: the sharing plates.
The first is hot seared octopus; tender, with a barbequed edge. It’s plated with capers, potatoes and roasted peppers, instantly evoking the summery Mediterranean. Next up is the Ahi Tuna Poke, more exotic still; it’s mixed with sweet mango which balances delicately with pieces of pickled radish and hot green chillies. Finally, the last and largest dish is a beautiful piece of sea bass, resting on creamy crab mashed potato.
A much more traditional dish, this was developed by chef Mark Sargeant as a J Sheekey special. Sargeant created the dish as part of the Atlantic Bar’s chef series, which this year is celebrating the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. The rich, steak-like sea bass has a perfectly crisped skin, whilst the buttery mash just teases at the flavour of crab. Herby mayo – also infused with crab – adds an extra tang to the plate, bringing the dish together delightfully.
After a short digestion-aiding interval, where we sip the last of our sweet Aphros Loureiro white wine, the dessert menus are brought out. Full, we protest – but reach for the menus at the same time. My dining partner opts for the honeycomb ice cream with hot chocolate sauce – as decadent as it sounds – while I choose the apple crumble profiteroles. A twist on a traditional profiterole, they are a divine, and unlike anything I’ve had before. Made with light, chewy donut pastry, the profiteroles are filled with a smooth vanilla crème, and are served with dollops of butterscotch and spiced cinnamon ice cream.
Having to loosen my belt is the only thing that stops me from ordering a second round of the profiteroles. Instead, we make for the exit, noticing the post-theatre crowd that are beginning to pile in for supper. Some of them raise glasses in celebration; part of me hopes that it’s to the Atlantic Bar’s continued success. After 10 years, the J Sheekey Atlantic Bar is still worth a visit – no matter if it’s for the seafood or the sweets.
Following the successful 10 year anniversary events with Simon Hulstone, Mark Sargeant and Bruce Rennie, J Sheekey Atlantic Bar will host a new series of guest chef supper clubs for the second half of the year, with an all-female line up including Lisa Markwell, Rose Prince and Lisa Faulkner. The first dinner will take place on July 3rd, please see the J Sheekey Atlantic Bar website for more details. https://www.jsheekeyatlanticbar.co.uk
Sophie Killip is the Editor of DesignCurial and a regular contributor for Spear’s