Formerly Smiley’s Plaice, fish and chip shop Sea Pearl on Bedminster’s East Street has had a bit of a facelift in recent months. If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting here thinking that – surrounded by pound shops, charity shops and Miss Millie’s – it’s not a location where you’d necessarily expect a decent meal out.
And, as I was, you’d be wrong.
I’d go as far as to say that our recent meal at Sea Pearl was one of the best fish and chip meals we’ve had in Bristol to date – and we’re already planning a return visit!
From the outside, I’m not going to deny that it looks like nothing special, with signage that looks a bit half-hearted and dated neon above the front door.
Step inside, though, and you’re transported into a nautically-themed restaurant that’s surprisingly spacious, decked out with wooden model boats on the windowsills, rope-tied sea lanterns on the ceilings and a natural wood and stone feel that runs through the entire restaurant, which sits a little at odds to the more traditional chippy-style gleaming steel counter, Pukka Pie signs and Union Flags.
We were treated to all sorts of European music (Bulgarian and Greek, we were told) throughout the evening, and discovered that the kitchen is staffed by Turks, which may explain what turned out to be probably our favourite item on the menu…
The menu, by the way, won’t be found by looking at the website…at the time of writing, at least, it seemed that they’d left the website’s template menu up instead of updating it to their own. We took a seat at the table of our choice and started to browse, before heading to the counter to order our food.
On the drinks list, there’s a nod to local brands with Carwardine coffee and Miles tea on offer, alongside the usual array of soft drinks plus a small selection of bottled beers and ciders.
The food menu’s mostly your standard chippy fare: plenty of fish options sit alongside chicken, pies, sausages, burgers and a few veggie choices, along with the traditional sides. There are meal deals available too – and, we were VERY pleased to see, the option of battered halloumi to order as a side dish…
For me, the choice was simple: a portion of battered haddock (£8.90), accompanied by a free pot of tartare sauce, along with a regular portion of chips (£2.65), a pot of curry sauce for us to share (£1.50), and a slice of battered halloumi (£1.20).
The verdict? Overwhelmingly positive. The batter was beautiful – light, crispy and full of flavour without the excess of oil that you find in some chippies, encasing a fish fillet that had been beautifully steamed in its batter crust. The chips weren’t your standard chippy fare: the Sea Pearl team steer well clear of frozen chips and use no preservatives, and these had a lovely crisp outer and a fluffy middle – with the requisite small, super-crispy pieces thrown in for good measure.
The curry sauce? Pretty standard, but tasty enough, and the tartare sauce was sadly a bit of a letdown – far more mayo than capers/gherkins/parsley, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The real star of the show for me was the battered halloumi (have I ever mentioned that I’m obsessed with halloumi…?), coated in a thin layer of the same batter as the fish, and cooked just enough to soften its texture to a cross between the slight crumbliness of the cheese when eaten raw, and the rubberiness of the cheese when eaten cooked. I could quite happily have eaten an entire plate of this stuff…
Chris’ appetite was a little bigger…he went for the large cod fillet (priced at around the £8.50 mark) – again with a regular portion of chips. Look at the batter on that bad boy – just as tasty as my plate of food, the fish again beautifully cooked, and with a lovely delicate flavour.
With drinks as well (a Diet Coke for me, a beer for him), our bill came to under £40 – a perfectly respectable total considering the extras we ordered, the quality of the food..and the fact that we each got a little chocolate alongside the bill, something that we weren’t expecting in a fish and chip restaurant! There was a lovely atmosphere in there too: with other couples enjoying sit down meals and people popping in every now and then to pick up takeaway orders to go, the atmosphere was lively and welcoming, and we certainly didn’t feel rushed.
Would I go back? Absolutely. Perfectly cooked fish, decent chips, a great atmosphere….and battered halloumi. A winning combination all round…