Restaurant: A fishy tale

Livebait is a Last Resort for Tracey MacLeod. Brightly dressed and leery-looking, Jonathan and his cohort stood out from the otherwise sombre clientele like two bookies in a ballet school

When I called Jonathan Ross to invite him to lunch, I was going to suggest we meet at the Capweece, figuring that if Pizza Hut can build an advertising campaign around his inability to pronounce his "r's", I may be able to milk it for a review. I even toyed with suggesting The Orrery. In the end, though, we opted for the new Livebait in London's Covent Garden, easily pronounceable and conveniently close to the studio where Jonathan was in pre-production for the one-off revival of The Last Resort.

Livebait occupies a large corner site in the same block as the Lyceum Theatre, currently home to Jesus Christ Superstar. It's a spin-off from the original Livebait in Waterloo, a dream of a neighbourhood restaurant in a converted butcher shop, which has won a devoted following by serving fancy fish dishes in a no-frills setting.

The new branch is roomier, but the decor is similarly utilitarian. Formica tables, tiled walls and booth seating give it the air of a pie-and mash shop in downtown Manhattan, and you enter via an attractive bar specialising in British beer and seafood. Jonathan arrived with his Last Resort cohort Dr Martin Scrote, aka Roland Rivron. Brightly dressed and slightly leery- looking, they stood out from the otherwise sombre clientele like two bookies in a ballet school.

We were seated next to a crustacea bar that resembled the mortuary of a particularly adventurous aquarium. "I don't want to scare you, but I think I've just seen a human head," said Roland as he studied the display. Then, pointing at the scallops, he added "Look! They've put all the ashtrays down one end!"

Despite the themey feel of the decor, Livebait's menu is challenging and idiosyncratic, offering a daily changing menu of fish dishes. There's also a tariff of simple seafood, including cockles, whelks and winkles, in a pleasing throwback to the old market days of Covent Garden.

Jonathan was delighted to discover "cock crabs" on the menu, and, each time a new member of the waiting staff came to our table, he amused himself by asking if they'd ever had them. Unaware of the double entendre that was being perpetrated on her, a helpful waitress brought one over to our table and showed us the shiny flap covering its undercarriage, which lifted like the cover of James Bond's phone to reveal whatever it is that separates the cocks from the hens in the crab kingdom.

The Atlantic prawns that came as an unsolicited palate-teaser were so flavoursome we ordered another half-pint to start, plus a bowl of winkles, which Jonathan said he wanted to try because "being a pearly king-in-waiting, I should really have sampled them once". Both came in huge portions - the prawns jammed head-first into a glass in an elegant nosedive formation. The winkles came with a corkful of pins to dig them out of their tiny shells. Happily for any future pearly subjects, Jonathan liked the winkles, enthusing, "You get a lot of taste in a little package - like Ernie Wise." But Roland was soon bored with the amount of work required to free each pungent spiral. "It's like trying to eat a pomegranate with a pin," he moaned. "They should be shown to us, then taken away and de-shelled by a team of Filipino winklers."

The main courses were more complicated. Each dish seemed to contain at least one element that put you off ordering - here a soft-boiled egg, there some sesame-seeded swede or a mussel and prawn sauerkraut. The only meat on the menu was kangaroo tenderloin, which came paired with roast fillet of brill, like a lunatic's notion of surf 'n' turf.

I opted for one of the marginally simpler starters as a main course - pan-fried fillet of turbot served with truffle potatoes, anchovy escabeche and a son-in-law egg. Apparently an Australian speciality, this turned out to be an egg dipped in flour and deep-fried, which, as Jonathan said, "sounds like something Elvis would eat". The turbot was fantastic, plump and fresh, with a piquant counterpoint of fat silver anchovies, but the knobbly purple potatoes tasted much less interesting than they looked.

Jonathan ordered his main course despite the fact that he thought it sounded like a whole day's packed lunch if you were putting out to sea. It comprised - and I'm quoting from the menu here - baked fillet of cod rolled into couscous with fisherman's soup, palourde clams, potatoes, roast carrots and parsnips, a soft-boiled egg and mayonnaise. These ingredients arrived stacked like a tall tower. A jug of fishy broth was provided to pour over the pile. Jonathan dutifully did so, but he wasn't happy. "No wonder the menu changes every day," he said. "The chef must choose the ingredients by tombola."

Inevitably, Roland opted for the kangaroo/brill combo, saying hopefully "maybe they'll put the fish in the kangaroo's pouch to present it?" When it came, we identified two squares of brill, but the kangaroo appeared to be absent. We summoned our waiter, who peered at the plate and said "I think it's in..." "...in with the emperor's new clothes!" shouted Roland delightedly. A contrite chef emerged to explain that she'd forgotten it, and took away Roland's plate to add four slices of rare kangaroo. "Mmm, the kangaroo is brill," Roland murmured, then found himself at a loss to describe the brill.

By now we were feeling a little ambivalent about Livebait. There was no doubting the inventiveness of the cooking, but it seemed to be trying too hard. We couldn't imagine what out-of-town audiences straying in from Jesus Christ Superstar next door would make of the food, though, given their fondness for embellishments, the kitchen would easily get 120 covers out of two fishes and five loaves of bread.

Our puddings went some way towards restoring our enthusiasm. My black cherry and pear sorbet was intensely fragrant and suffused with cinnamon, and Roland addressed himself to a first-class plate of cheese, served with a yellow liquid that I confidently identified as pomegranate coulis. "Er, it's piccalilli, actually," corrected the waitress in the nick of time.

But though Jonathan powered his way through a mixed-nut pie, he had lost faith in Livebait, and continued to complain about what he perceived as the unnecessary eclecticism of the cooking. "We're laughing now, but in two years, there'll probably be a Livebait cookbook, then a TV show," he raged. "Personally, I think the way ahead is for celebrity chefs to eat each other. Marco Pierre White should cook Ainsley Harriot, and I'd like to see Nancy Lam served barbecued on a platter with a yam in her mouth." I managed to hustle him out, past the long-suffering waiting team, weary but still cheerful though it was now gone 4.30pm and getting dark.

Our lunch came to pounds 114.75, and because that also included three bottles of Pinot Grigio, I didn't notice until later that we'd been charged for two dishes we hadn't ordered. A pre-opening promotional offer meant that we got a 20 per cent discount on our bill, though as Jonathan said, "they should have taken 20 per cent off the food as well - I could have done without that egg for a start"

Livebait Restaurant & Bar, 21 Wellington Street, London WC2 (0171-836 7161). Lunch 7 days, 12pm-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 5.30pm-11.30pm. Pre-theatre set menu 5.30pm-7.30pm, pounds 14.50. Vegetarian meals available if requested in advance. Wheelchair access. All major credit cards

The world is their oyster

The Cow, 89 Westbourne Park Road, London W11. Being one of the few pubs in London where you can down a pint of Guinness and a dozen oysters, The Cow, is understandably packed most evenings. Choose from either seafood platters, pints of prawns or less fishy alternatives such as Toulouse sausages and mash with onion gravy or smoked salmon, creme fraiche and potato cake. There is an area at the back of the bar reserved exclusively for diners but be prepared to prop up the bar for a while as there are no advance bookings. Approx pounds 12 per head.

Poseidon! Poseidon! Telephone 0171-289 3266, mobile 0411 385692/0958 314864. Self-proclaimed artists in roistering and oystering, Jasper Baird- Murray and Duncan Geary have set themselves up as a mobile crustacea bar. They arrive, armed with oysters, shallot vinegar, lemons, black pepper and most importantly, superior oyster-opening abilities. Minimum order for oysters is 100 which works out at about pounds 1 an oyster. So far, delivery encompasses London and the home counties. Aoife O' Riordain

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices