Accent on fish
Fish restaurants in London are so rare, a new one is well worth celebrating – and funky Danish-flavoured Snaps + Rye is a cracker, says Jennifer Sharp.
London isn’t big on fish restaurants. The capital has fallen in love with messy food like ribs and burgers from street vans or tasting menus from experimental chefs. Fish restaurants have retreated into prosperous postcodes with fancy prices (Wilton’s, J Sheekey, Bentley’s) or small chains like Loch Fyne and the oyster specialists, Wright Brothers.
So it’s a happy surprise to find Snaps + Rye, a funky fish café and shop in North Kensington. Owned by husband and wife team Kell and Jacqueline Skött, it opened in November last year with a distinct Scandinavian aesthetic in food, drink and décor. Kell has Viking good looks and a passion for foraging while Jacqueline has created a light-filled interior with oak counters, pine flooring and Danish design classics.
The Skötts have other successful businesses in the area but they’re not cooks and they recruited Tania Steytler to take charge of the kitchen and interpret their vision of a Danish eatery. She’s done it perfectly.
Tania (pictured below) has the sea in her blood. She was brought up in Cornwall and her father, a retired engineer, goes fishing every day. Taking his retriever and his rods he walks the coastal paths of the Helford river and the Fal estuary, fishing from the rocks for pollack, sea bass and mackerel. Tania herself worked in restaurants on the coast and more recently as head chef at the prestigious Severn & Wye Smokery.
It didn’t take long for her to understand the essentials of Danish food, traditional curing and salting and the dependence on the herrings that grow fat in the cold rich waters of the Baltic. Tania makes a pickling liquor of cider vinegar, apple juice, peppercorns, onions and allspice, and for a short ceviche cure she uses lime and lemon juice with pickled ginger and just a hint of chilli.
Her fresh, seasonal menu for Snaps + Rye includes authentic dishes such as house-cured herring with radish, smørrebrød open sandwiches with various toppings on rye bread, frikadelle or fishcakes made with hake and cod, or smoked mackerel with pickled beetroot and caper berries, along with freshly baked Danish pastries for breakfast.
She lets her imagination run free on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, when the restaurant stays open for dinner with a different four-course menu every week for a modest £35 a head. Dinner was originally one night only – on Fiskefredag, or Fish Friday – but it proved so popular that the extra nights were added. Tania delights in foreign spices, sauces and techniques to enliven the top quality fish on offer. You may find warm salt cod soup with pickled mussels, or Cornish sardines with cumin chermoula. King prawns may be dressed with a tomatoey Béarnaise and served with fennel, shallots and tarragon, while cod fillet is enriched with chicken sauce, crisp skin and scorched lettuce. There’s a dish of hake with asparagus and Parmesan crumb, or prime halibut with lemon olive oil sauce vierge, edamame beans and potato mash.
Tania’s main collaborator for fish supplies is her old colleague from Severn & Wye, Clive Rowlands (pictured above, left; Tania’s father is on the right), a Gloucester-born fish expert. He’s also the man with his finger on the pulse of fish markets around the UK and Tania calls him every Wednesday morning to discuss her dinner needs and what’s available. Clive may suggest turbot, Dover sole or line-caught sea bass landed by day boats at Brixham. North Sea trawlers land cod and hake at Peterhead in Scotland while halibut from Greenland comes into Hull. There’ll be a whole range of shellfish (lobster, clams, crab, oysters, scallops and mussels) in Teignmouth fish market and, in the very short season it’s available (now over), Clive will be looking for sea trout from the river Usk in South Wales.
One of the mainstays of Tania’s menu is Var salmon from the Faroes where the fish are reared in deep water and very strong currents of the North Atlantic. This is without doubt the finest farmed salmon the world, highly prized by the Japanese sushi market and the UK’s top restaurants who buy smoked salmon from the Severn & Wye Smokery. At Snaps + Rye, Tania has devised her own cure and Var salmon is used extensively as a starter served with beetroot and horseradish, and for the ever-popular smørrebrø.
I less than a year, the Skötts and Tania have created a destination restaurant in this increasingly fashionable part of London. With the light, streamlined Nordic interiors and shelves holding niche Danish books, home accessories and gourmet specialities, it’s not surprising that the Nordic ex-pat community is drawn here. There’s a wide range of beers, snaps or akvavit and dangerous cocktails as well as soft drinks. Try Sealand Birk birch juice, highly valued for antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, or Iskilde, artesian spring water from the Mosse Conservation area. Wines are available by the glass, carafe and bottle and the quirky but well-chosen list includes Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington State, USA and an Argentine Tilia Malbec that goes remarkably well with herring.
Snaps + Rye, 93 Golborne Road, London W10 5NL. A meat main course option is now also available on the dinner menu. Reservations: 020 8964 3004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. snapsandrye.com
Jennifer Sharp is a journalist who writes about restaurants and food for a broad range of glossy magazines. She lives in London but her heart is in the country.