Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Sunday Delight in Essex - Simply Seafood, Leigh-On-Sea

Sunday’s were once the domain of the family lunch, however this old tradition has become something of a rarity in recent times, especially in our family. As I’m reluctantly creeping into my late twenties and even the ‘baby’ brothers are blossoming into young men rather than boys, we find that we all have busy lives and finding any day at all where we’re all free is proving increasingly problematic. This coming Sunday (17th April) happily, we will all be in London together for one of our own traditions - watching the marathon together, and will then be going to dinner for the first time in a while together, so we are all looking forward to that.
While these opportunities of full family togetherness are rare, we do snatch lunch or dinner together, when it’s just 2 or 3 of us around too and a couple of Sunday’s back me and my mum, Vicky did just that. Making the most of the spring sunshine, we pulled out our shades and journeyed a mere half hour down the road to what I like to think of as the Costa Del Essex – Leigh-on-Sea. This little gem is a stone’s throw away from the ‘Benidorm’ of the Thames Estuary, Southend, and whilst that does offer certain delights that cannot be denied, Leigh is like it’s slightly more upmarket cousin.
Synonymous to locals with seafood stalls or what are called the ‘cockle sheds’, and long-established fish and chip shops, Leigh is becoming ever more cosmopolitan with it’s rising choice in restaurants, all specialising in locally caught fish and seafood. As a family we have tried a few of the offerings, however, as our jaunts ‘down the A13’ are usually spur-of-the-moment trips inspired by a rare ray of sunshine, we have often been turned away from some due to not booking ahead. So it was to our delight and astonishment that we were granted a table in Simply Seafood, in their outdoor terrace – and this is where the fun really began.
The restaurant itself is a converted cockle shed, quite compact, glass-fronted and inhabited by quite smartly dressed diners. We were on the covered terrace, which was also heated, and were one of three tables occupied. The other two were couples – pensioners were one of the couples, and a 50+ man and his lady companion of a similar age. I wouldn’t normally go into detail about fellow diners, however I feel I must, or else neglect to share our lunchtime entertainment – but more of that shortly.
The waitresses in the terrace area clearly weren’t designated to that area, more they popped their heads in as and when they thought necessary when they weren’t running around in the main run of the restaurant, they were however friendly and informative.
We opted for a tasting plate to begin, as couldn’t decide on a starter each from the rather extensive menu. We were rather concerned when it arrived, as it was enormous, however we somehow managed to squeeze most of it in. It consisted of delicious olives and crostini, a tuna carpaccio, a smoked salmon pate, rocket and Parmesan salad, Thai fish cakes and prawn bruschetta.
The prawn bruschetta was unfortunately a complete disappointment, the prawns were overcooked, rubbery and flavourless, and the tomato and basil which accompanied them on the toasted ciabatta were also limp and lacking in any taste at all. Also there was four big portions of this, which was annoying, we dumped the prawn mixture and used the ciabatta to host the smoked salmon pate which, in contrast, was well seasoned, creamy and quite frankly delicious. Similarly the tuna carpaccio was perfectly seasoned and melted in the mouth with a farewell kiss to the tastebuds, and worked so, so well with the rocket and Parmesan. One other small gripe was that the Thai fish cakes, were distinctly lacking in fish, they were made up mostly of potatoes, with a little flaked salmon, and white fish. That said, they were very tasty and certainly got eaten, so it is indeed a minimal complaint.
It was whilst waiting for our starter that the aforementioned “entertainment” began. The younger couple, (who weren’t young by any stretch of the imagination), were seated directly in front of me, they were seated side-by-side, rather than opposite each other and the reason for this soon became clear. In normal dining circumstances they were seated sufficiently far enough away for us to enjoy private conversation of our own and vice versa, however this couple were loud and proud and happy to be heard. It became apparent, very early on during lunch that these were a relatively new couple on maybe their fourth or fifth date. It also became common knowledge on the terrace that this pair had not yet consummated their relationship, however were keen to do so, and fast.
Whilst my mum and I found the amorous antics of this couple quite amusing, it was also vulgar and inappropriate at the least, and it soon became clear that the older couple were unimpressed. The gentleman of the pensioners, was heard loudly stating how ‘disgusting’ certain behaviour was and that he was utterly disappointed in this, the worst meal he’d ever endured in that particular restaurant. To our slight shame, his anger, simply added to our merriment, and we were really quite enjoying ourselves. I must mention that at this point, aside from the language used, there was full-frontal kissing, cuddling, and at one point the woman had her arms around the man’s neck and was resting her head on his chest.
Anyway back to the food – for a main in Simply Seafood you are able to choose between a small or a large plate. This is great for lunch and for those with a smaller appetite. Once again the menu had countless options, but my mum went for a tian of crab with mixed leaf, and I chose sautéed scallops with butternut and parsnip puree and spinach. My mum’s was, a bit like the prawn bruschetta, a little bland and flavourless, and she didn’t really manage to eat much of it, but she was quite full from the first course, so it wasn’t a massive issue.
My scallops were cooked perfectly and were succulent and juicy, releasing delicate flavours to the dish. The butternut and parsnip puree was well done, and as you might imagine, a very sweet side, to the scallops. The spinach was overcooked, and released quite a bit of excess water onto the plate, however it was well seasoned and in all, the dish was very pleasing, and presented beautifully.
By this point we wanted to get back out into the remaining sunshine, so we opted out of dessert. Also the tension in the room was building – the amorous couple had upped their offensive game, and I kid you not, had moved onto finger-sucking, which had actually resulted in a burst of loud laughter from me, but the other couple were clearly annoyed, and we were quite glad to be getting out of there. The waitresses although nice, were completely oblivious to any tensions or wrong-doings in the terrace.
Our meal on the whole wasn’t bad, although we both agreed we’d had better in the area. There were some really delicious elements to the meal, such as the tuna carpaccio, the salmon pate, and my main course dish as a whole was lovely. There were a few disappointments too, the flavourless prawns, and the unappetising crab. We agreed that we would maybe try the restaurant again – as it did show some promise, and if we
weren’t bowled over by the food, we hadn’t had such a funny lunch in ages.
Lunch for two at Simply Seafood came in at around the £45 mark with an array of soft drinks.
To find out more about the restaurant or book a table please visit: www.simplyseafood.co.uk

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