I’ve been looking forward to the launch of Seafood Shack in Cardiff for months. Le Monde (St. Mary Street) aside, I can’t think of any decent restaurants in Cardiff city centre specialising in seafood, so I was excited about the prospect of Seafood Shack opening. The restaurant officially opened last night, following a launch evening on Wednesday, and I made sure I booked a table in advance.
A nautical theme
Spread over two floors, the restaurant seats up to 200 guests when full, and the first floor boasts a classy champagne and oyster bar. The decor has a nautical theme throughout; the restaurant kitted out to make it seem as though you’re dining on the wooden deck of an old fishing boat, complete with a mast. In the middle of the restaurant, a traditional Victorian-style fish and chip bar is tiled in shades of green and blue.
The menu has been perfected with the help of David Sykes, an Irish chef who has worked in Ireland, Manhattan, Australia and China to name just a few locations. Although David won’t be based at the Cardiff restaurant permanently, he has played an important role in fine tuning the new menu. David has been assisted by sous chef, Scott Durham (formerly of Pier 64), who will continue his good work after he leaves.
At the moment, Seafood Shack is running a soft launch menu and the choice is somewhat limited, but the selection is set to expand within the next couple of weeks or so. Notably, you can’t order lobster currently unless you go for the lobster burger; a buttered lobster tail topped with crispy calamari, smashed guacamole, cucumber spaghetti and gem lettuce in a soft brioche bun. It sounds delicious, but I’m not sure its worth the £22.50 price tag.
All of the dishes are rather inviting – although somewhat overpriced – and it is reassuring to know that Seafood Shack has teamed up with the National Lobster Hatchery (NLH) to ensure that, for each lobster they buy, a baby lobster is released back into our waters. Furthermore, the fresh fish and shellfish is locally sourced from Celtic Fish and E. Ashton Fishmongers in Cardiff Indoor Market. I was surprised to discover that the restaurant also serves burgers, chicken and steak, as it’s name implies that it specialises solely in seafood.
We waited over half an hour for our starters before asking our waitress how much longer it would be. She checked with the kitchen and then confessed they’d had a problem with the printing system, and so our order hadn’t been processed. However, the restaurant was pretty quiet at this time of the evening and so I would’ve expected her to notice that we still hadn’t received our food and chased it up for us before we had to query it. We waited a further 30 minutes for our starters to actually arrive at our table, during which time we were offered a drink on the house.
A generous heap of mussels in a silky white wine, cream, garlic and chive sauce, teamed with a crispy, garlic-infused ciabatta slice (£7) had me thinking things were starting to look up. I couldn’t get enough of the sauce and I’ll hold my hands up to drinking the remains from the bowl when I’d polished off the mussels, although unfortunately the mussels themselves were fairly gritty and could’ve done with being left to soak for longer prior to cooking.
It was frustrating that I had to request a side plate for the shells and a bowl of water with lemon to cleanse my hands as opposed to this being provided when the mussels were served; especially as the guests dining next to us received these as soon as their mussels arrived.
In the meantime, my friend and her partner tucked in to chicken wings deep-fried in buttermilk batter, served in a smoky paprika sauce with a fiery kick which crept up on us slowly (£6.50). This was probably the best dish we tried all evening, but we did wonder whether five chicken wings would be a little too heavy as a starter, had it been just for one person.
A waiter began clearing our table before we had all finished eating our starters and, unfortunately, the bowl of water and lemon I had used to wash my hands after handling the mussels was left on the table for a further 30 minutes before it was taken away. By this time, our main courses still hadn’t arrived.
After another word with our waitress, our mains were with us in the next ten minutes. My friend’s partner ordered Shack’s 6oz burger, made from 100% beef, bourbon glazed and accompanied by maple smoked bacon, tangy cheddar cheese, baby gem lettuce and Shack’s relish in a soft white bun. This looked pretty good and, in his words, it was a “good quality, meaty burger”. All of Seafood Shack’s burgers are served with chunky, chip shop-style chips. Admittedly, the chips were a little starchy in the centre and could’ve done with a few more minutes in the deep fat fryer to soften them up.
My friend opted for the salmon fillet, which was seared on the ‘plancha’ (flat-top grill/griddle) to seal in the natural flavours during cooking and matched with more of those chunky chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. There was a choice of caper brown butter, salsa verde or white wine chive cream sauce to accompany the salmon. My friend ordered the salsa verde but she was given the caper brown butter sauce, which wasn’t ideal because she doesn’t like capers. In addition, the salmon was dry in the centre. We had waited so long for our food and we were all starving, so she couldn’t be bothered to send it back to the kitchen to have the sauce changed.
However, I was so disappointed by the sight of my main course that I really didn’t want to eat it, especially at a cost of £13.50. I ordered the deep fried cod in batter with homemade chips and mushy peas. Shortly before our order arrived, I saw what can only have been the very same dish I had ordered being taken to a gentlemen sitting opposite us, and it looked very promising – a large, crispy battered fish fillet – just what you’d expect for a traditional serving of fish and chips.
So, imagine my dismay when my plate was placed in front of me and I saw four broken up pieces of cod in a light dusting of batter sitting on my plate, mixed in with wilted greens and samphire, served with a limp side salad, chips and tiny serving of dried-up mushy peas. If it was any consolation to me, the guy opposite ended up sending his battered cod and chips back to the kitchen and leaving without eating, so his food can’t have been that good either.
After complaining to our waitress, she acknowledged that the restaurant is still ironing out a few issues after its launch. Apparently, the waiting team haven’t had the chance to sample the menu for themselves, and they haven’t received a great deal of training on the different dishes on the menu. Indeed, we saw several waiters and waitresses looking confused as to which table they were meant to be taking the orders to.
At one point, a waiter tipped a tray carrying a glass bottle of water and ice in glasses, there was a commotion and the ice cubes fell all over the floor. He was extremely apologetic to the table in question and we took pity on him because he was so nervous and it seemed as though he hadn’t received adequate training. No one thought to pick up the ice cubes from the floor, so by the time we left, puddles had formed. To be honest, we felt sorry for the waiting team because they were polite and friendly, and they did the best they could in the situation they found themselves in, but it genuinely seemed as though the training had been lacking.
We eventually spoke to General Manager, Andrew Baker, who kindly offered to take care of our bill after hearing our complaints about the food and the service. He explained that the restaurant has had a number of teething problems because it has opened in a bit of a whirlwind to meet pressures from contractors. I pointed out that the restaurant was actually meant to open back in April of this year and I believe the launch has been delayed again since then, so I’m not really sure why things have had to be rushed last-minute. Judging by the answers I got from him, and a conversation I had with Operations Director, Terry Rogers on my way out, it sounds like both the managers and the owners of Seafood Shack are already aware that there is room for improvement in several areas. I really hope to see them take action on this as soon as possible, as I know I wasn’t the only one in Cardiff who was excited about the launch of this restaurant and I would like to see it grow into a a success.
I have been invited to return to Seafood Shack in a few weeks, when the restaurant has found its feet and the new menu is in place. I have agreed to do so, on the condition that my visit will not be pre-arranged, and I will arrive unannounced. To be continued…
5A High Street
029 2167 5746