Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Stepping off St Clements, the revolving glass door deposits you on the deck of Fishers. When underwater creatures are on the menu, it's tempting to stray too far down the seafaring theme route, but Oxford's only independent fish restaurant has managed to avoid going overboard (couldn't resist) and opted for a subtle take on the theme. Striped tablecloths and a few strategically wall-mounted life rings give a nod to all things nautical, but the only area where the sea dominates is the menu.

The culinary offerings at Fishers change daily, making sure that what's on the menu is seasonal. In addition to very reasonably priced lunch and early dining offers, diners have a choice of 11 starters and 13 mains, encompassing all manners of pesceterian delights. Hot and cold shellfish platters are also available for seafood lovers with a decent dining budget (a hot platter for 2 is £42). For those concerned about the origins of their meal, Fishers supports sustainable fishing, and there was plenty of UK fish on offer on the night I visited. And although the food focus is firmly on creatures of the deep (as you would expect), there's always a vegetarian option and a meaty main course for those accompanying fish fans.

Eating a la carte hits the wallet significantly harder than the offers: but then I expected it to, as fish isn't exactly our country's cheapest commodity. Fish starters ranged from £5.50 for deep fried calamari to £8.50 for 6 Irish rock oysters, served with gherkins, white wine and shallot vinegar. Also on offer were a vegetarian soup, a tiger prawn, fennel and olive salad, grilled sardines and smoked haddock and mustard tart, among other options. Not feeling particularly flush, I skipped ahead to the mains.

Main courses at Fishers are largely a classic British affair, with a few more adventurous options such as the tasty-sounding bouillabaisse with pesto crouton, parmesan and rouille (£11.95) thrown into the mix. Tempted as I was by traditional haddock fish and chips in beer batter with mushy peas and gherkins (£11.50 - they sure seem to like their gherkins at Fishers), I branched out and opted for chargrilled swordfish steak with samphire grass and a tomato, caper and garlic dressing (£15.50). I could have told you what J would choose before we even saw the menu: as the person who taught me how to eat France's favourite mollusc properly on a holiday to Normandy, J is something of a mussel connoisseur. Sure enough, she ordered a kilo of River Fowey mussels in a white wine, garlic and shallot sauce. The majority of Fishers' dishes come with either chips or new potatoes, with side salads and seasonal vegetables available from £2.50.

While we waited, we polished off the basket of homemade bread provided free of charge. We didn't have long to chat over our glasses of wine: Tuesdays aren't exactly any restaurant's busiest night. Both our dishes were well-presented, with the silver pot the mussels were served in receiving particular praise from J.

Chargrilled swordfish with samphire grass

Kilo of mussels

I wasn't asked how I wanted the swordfish cooked, but at first bite it tasted medium: slightly pink on the inside, but not scarily so. The marinade was light and fresh, although the described 'dressing' was decidedly chunky - and all the better for it, as it added more substance to the dish. The samphire grass (a sea vegetable, in case you were wondering, as I was) was an excellent complement, adding to the dish's summery feel. As I neared the middle of my substantially-sized steak, it took a turn for the rare, which wasn't to my taste. On the plus side, the new potatoes were rich and buttery, and on the whole it was a simple and tasty take on swordfish.

J's mussels went down a treat: she rated them as high quality, with only one closed mussel in the kilo. They were plump and well cooked, the sauce adding flavour without overpowering the dish. Although she rated the taste of the chips, she did point out that they were the wrong style for mussels, which are usually served with skinny french fries rather than chunky chips.

With a wide variety of good quality fish dishes on offer, Fishers has rightfully secured its corner of the market. The choice and emphasis on seasonal and sustainably-fished dishes is commendable, but comes at a price. I'd like to return one weekend when there's hopefully a little more atmosphere - and when I've got a bit more cash to splash so that I can sample some of their starters too.

Rating 7/10

Fishers is at 36/37 St Clements, Oxford OX1 4AB. Tel: 01865 243003.

For more places to eat fish in Oxfordshire, please listen in to Jo Thoenes's show on BBC Radio Oxford at 1pm on Friday 29 July, when I'll be discussing this topic.

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