Shorty suggested Sheekey’s because: a) he thought I’d get a hick-style kick out of them having a doorman; and b) he’s trying to get out of the Square Mile to spend his bonus so as not to draw attention to the latest seven-figure sum in his account. “I could sit in Sheekey’s in a SS uniform and get less angry comments,” is how he put it although, judging by the number of elderly clients there, that may be stretching the truth. Heck, a good third of the diners were old enough to have babysat Churchill, let alone fought for him.
But, in much the same way some think a lot of Chinese people eating is a sign of a good Chinese restaurant (even though that usually means they just sell the bits of the chicken the good Lord meant for walking, talking and making other little chickens), I saw this as a positive. This range of diners – young to old, normal to famous, tall to short, thin to, well, me – means Sheekeys are doing something right. And there’s money here, for sure: always a good sign in my books. While I’m happy to go elbow-to-elbow with any man – and I have the bbq sauce stained clothing to prove it – sometimes you want to lunch with the great and the good, and there were a couple of diners that made Loretta look like that Lohan girl, and Lord knows that what Loretta’s spent on her wardrobe could have saved Lehman Brothers. Twice. And that’s not counting the shoes.
Shorty likes J Sheekey because “every table is a corner table”. That sounded like he was telling this farm boy a load of hogwash but goshdurnit if he’s not right. Every table IS a corner table. You’d think that would make the inside a pentagram but it doesn’t, it just looks normal. The philosophy is, I’m told, that couples should sit at right angles to each other so they’re touching, and business associates should sit opposite so you can see the whites of their eyes. It’s academic for yours truly – with this stomach wherever you sit we’re going to be touching, even at a neighbouring table. Rather than look like business colleagues attempting to get better acquainted, two public schoolboys having Eton flashbacks or having him and a waiter trying to prise me out of my seat at the end of the meal (now there’s a story I should tell y’all sometime) Shorty and I opted for the Oyster Bar.
Downside? This ol’ boy isn’t really designed for stools but these were as wide and padded as this ol’ boy and, once the food started coming, you could have chained me to a rodeo bull and you couldn’t have stopped my fork action. Platters of oysters were hoovered up as quickly as my elbows allowed: We opted for a dozen Strangford Lough to start, a couple of dozen more as a palate cleanser and another dozen for a pre-dessert. “Strangford Lough?” mused Shorty. “I think I was up at Oxford with him.”
The other dishes come in what I’d guess you’d call “tapas” portions, although I figure Sheekey’s will kick you for saying it. Nah, of course they won’t they’re very British: they’ll throw you a steely gaze and write a stiff letter to The Times. But thankfully, they don’t call it tapas or small plate dining – like that’s an attractive quality in a restaurant – and it just means you get to eat a lot of dishes. Parma Ham and Shrimp Fritters slipped down in crispy, salty style. Squid and Wild Boar Cassoulet is no combination that Mother Nature intended but proves that sometimes Mother Nature gets it wrong. The stand out for me was the Steamed Mussels. These little critters get steamed in Hebridean sea water which Sheekey bring down specially. Pretentious? Maybe, but dang it works. There’s not many places that would leave me this eager to mop up what was basically sea water, butter and wine soup at the bottom of the bowl but Sheekey’s encouraged it with a smile and more of their fantastic crusty bread. A restaurant that turns a blind eye to diner foibles. My momma would approve and praise doesn’t get much higher than that. She wouldn’t have approved of the buttery stains on my shirt but heck, whatever Loretta might argue, you can’t have everything. CECILE B. HUNTER