Why It Works – J Sheekey - William Murray

Every once in a while, the right elements come together in the right place, at the right time in fateful harmony to produce something that sparks the imagination, takes hold in the public subconscious, and, well, just works.

Restaurant dishes can have that effect. One minute you’ve dropped in a last minute idea to fill a gap in your menu plan, or had a moment of inspiration to perk up Wednesday’s a la carte. The next, it’s the darling of Instagram and hailed as your signature dish.

So, in the first of an occasional series, we’re taking a fresh look at the signature dishes, instant classics, and social media sweethearts of favourite eateries – new and old – to find out why it works.

And where else to begin but J Sheekey’s fish pie? Fish restaurant, J Sheekey, is what the phrase ‘London institution’ was made for. Making Leicester Square worth visiting since 1896, its timeless oak panelled interior is a comforting constant in an endlessly changing area.

And the passage of time has done nothing to dull its charm. In 2016, Harden’s Restaurant Guide, which collects 50,000 restaurant reviews from diners nationwide each year, reported that no UK restaurant had received more reviews than J Sheekey. People are still visiting in droves – and they want to talk about it.

Many go to Sheekey’s to enjoy the house fish pie. It keeps things classic, so you won’t find any surplus-to-requirements flourishes, or ingredients that push the envelope. It’s rich and comforting – but not too luxurious. No showboating with excesses like lobster here. Instead Sheekey’s opts for three types of fish – cod, salmon and smoked haddock to bring a smoky flavour dimension.

Its classic comfort lulls you into imagining it’s just how your gran always made fish pie, although you’d almost certainly be wrong. Because it’s the extra details that catapult the J Sheekey fish pie into signature dish league – the added extra dose of umami from the anchovy flavour hit, and the textural swerve ball of the crunchy breadcrumb topping.

If they ever take it off the menu, we’ll be first in line with our pitchforks and protest banners.

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