Food and Drink: Good sauces and service; shame about the fish: Emily Green finds a dash of the bad old days in a seafood menu that makes a little stretch too far

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A DAUNTING number of dishes are assembled on the menu of Walsh's, a new fish restaurant in Fitzrovia, central London: 21 hors-d'oeuvres, 37 main courses, two specials. It could be the offerings of a hotel dining room between the wars. It could be a Wheeler's. It is meant to look substantial and reassuring, but there is less to all this fish than meets the eye.

Menus such as Walsh's stretch a few types of fish and shellfish a long way. Take lobster: the list includes cold lobster, lobster Florence, grilled lobster, lobster Americaine, lobster Thermidor, poached lobster. Trout is given three treatments, plaice another three, Dover sole 12.

The resemblance to Wheeler's, a chain of 12 seafood restaurants throughout the South-east, is deliberate: Walsh's was opened early this year by the family of Elaine Emmanuel, the grand- daughter of Bernard Walsh, the founder of Wheeler's.

From the style of the place, Walsh's could be a chain restaurant: the fittings are handsome enough, but have a job-lot feel about them. Yet there is only one Walsh's so far and the service, if not the cooking, bespeaks extreme care.

An oyster bar at the entrance gleams. Linen is starchy, glasses delicate. During my lunch, this sparkling room was sparsely populated, but what it lacked in numbers it made up for with media types. Michael Grade, of Channel 4 fame, gossiped about the BBC, luxuriated over a big cigar and departed well primed for Sir David Frost's annual garden party.

A hostess is backed by a handsome fleet of waiters in ministering to the customers. She not only welcomes and waits, she also flatters. Order a kir and she murmurs 'delicious'. A request for crab salad is approved with a 'wonderful'; trout gets a 'lovely'.

When it came to the trout, the kitchen did not agree and she returned confessing that it was not so lovely after all. My companion chose grilled turbot ('delicious') instead. In fact, this was neither wonderful nor delicious, but, to the credit of the staff, it was served as if it was.

The rest of the meal harked constantly back to the bad old days. An avocado pear with crab or prawn salad is far from a trendy dish, but it can be a good one. Ours came in a precarious assembly. A handle-less sauce boat sat on a plate covered by a paper doily. The boat was filled with lettuce. On top of the lettuce sat half an avocado pear. Piled in the pear was a sweetish crab salad in what was supposed to be piquant sauce.

A special of seafood salad was better, with bits of fish and crustacea. But the excellent pickled mussels were best. Main courses were consistently greasy: 'grilled' turbot was battered and oily, but its bearnaise sauce was good. Bream, too, was battered and oily. Vegetables included pureed carrot and broccoli florets. The only seasonal addition to a fruit salad during this month of abundance was raspberries, served with kiwi and orange segments.

The wine list contains some big players with high prices in the Cheval Blanc league. The modest offerings are pleasing enough. A brouilly was perfectly chilled. Filter coffee was good of its sort. Cost: about pounds 30 per head, including wine, coffee, service and VAT.

Walsh's Seafood & Shellfish Restaurant, 5 Charlotte Street, London W1 (071-637 0222). Open lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cards.