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May 30, 2010 02:18 PM

what happened to j sheekey?

we've been going to j sheekey for years(at least 10), and it had always been something to look forward to in our london visits, but this time 'round it felt corporate--the service perfunctory, the food mediocre, the whole experience regrettable. is this something everyone else's noticed and we were out of the loop? did we hit an off night? the place was packed and we had to wait for our 10:30 reservation but i can't understand why, and we certainly won't be going back

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  1. That's disappointing. We had a good dinner there in March. The oysters were amazing and the dover sole was perfect. It was packed as well when we were there, but this has always been the case for me. I did think the bread wasn't as good as last time around, and the desserts are nothing spectacular.

    1. Unfortunately I have to agree with arpretzels's comments. We have been going to J. Sheekey for the last nine years and it has always been our "go to" place in the West End after going to the Theater. We particularly have always had superb service. Last time (about a month ago) we found the service lacking. The waiter was impatient with answering our questions about the menu and curt with his answers. Moreover my wife's Dover Sole was not up to previous standards. She found it dry and overcooked. We too have decided that it will be a long time, if at all, before we return.

      1. My wife and I had our first visit to J Sheekey and were pleased with the food and the service. I couldn't resist trying their signature fish pie, which I found quite enjoyable. My wife was very pleased with her filet of plaice; simple and very fresh. With 6 oysters, a bottle of sauvignon blanc, a side of excellent creamed spinach and two coffees, the bill came to L111, including 12.5% service charge).

        1. Threads like this always amuse me. Someone has one less than satisfying experience with one waiter and one so-so meal (after multiple good experiences/meals over the years) and they wonder if something has "changed."

          Restaurants are not industrial plants. You are dealing with human beings, who are not going to be perfect every time. Maybe the waiter had just broken up with a girl friend or maybe his father had just had a heart attack. You could say the same for someone in the kitchen.

          You can also say the same for the food you are being served. It is from nature. Its' taste and texture is never exactly the same.

          Financial Times article from February, 2013 on J. Sheekey.

          17 Replies
          1. re: DavidT

            Don't be too harsh on apretzel, David, as he or she was only expressing disappointment at being let down by J Sheekey.

            I think all of us have every right to expect a certain level of service from the wait staff, who should also be professional enough not to let any personal distractions affect their work.

            As for the food/cooking, we also should expect a certain level of consistency at J Sheekey:- that's what distinguishes a "good" restaurant from run-of-the-mill ones, don't you think?

            1. re: M_Gomez

              Well, I can understand why someone may be disappointed in a given meal. I just find it a bit funny when it gets translated into some "macro trend," such as a restaurant has gone "downhill." The reality is we are all human beings and there are some days when we do our jobs, whatever those jobs are, better than other days. If one has been very pleased with dining at a restaurant over a multi-year period, I find it regrettable that one would abandon that restaurant based on one less than satisfying experience.

              I have dined at J. Sheekey on a couple occasions, but not for several years. I found the service there to be professional in the best sense of the word. The fact that it is one of the busiest and most successful restaurants in London (as per the FT article) speaks volumes for what a good job they are doing.

              1. re: DavidT

                I've only dined at J Sheekey once, and our food was fine, but our server was playing favourites. It was very difficult to get his attention throughout our dinner, and difficult to get his attention to bring our bill, yet he was found a lot of time to chat with another table in an otherwise nearly empty section. I'm not sure if the other tables in our section were regulars or bigger drinkers than we were, but we felt ignored.

                The manager couldn't have been nicer, and the other servers in other sections were very pleasant, when we arrived and when we left. We just happened to end up in a section with a server who wasn't as professional as he could have been. Maybe it was an off day for him.

                Despite the service we experienced, I'd still be likely to return. I liked the food and atmosphere, and I have a feeling we would have had a very different service experience if we had been seated in another section. I wasn't impressed by the fish pie, which I found very plain, but I did like everything else we ordered.

              2. re: M_Gomez

                I think you hit the proverbial apple on the head when you used the word consistency. A top level restaurant that charges fairly high prices should provide that when it comes to the food AND the service, regardless of personal problems of the staff etc.

                Unfortunately, we do tend to base our judgements on perhaps just one meal and that influences future returns to a restaurant. That's human nature.

                1. re: zuriga1

                  J Sheekey was re-opened by Corbin & King around 1999 / 2000 when they had the Ivy and Le Caprice; nothing else.

                  It was sold at some point in the mid-noughties to Richard Caring's now vast - and ever expanding - empire. Given consistency is easier to monitor and administer at a more intimate level there's a very good chance this may have something to do with it.

                  1. re: marcusj

                    Marcus - was it closed before the Caprice Group purchased it? I thought it had been going since the 1890's.

                    1. re: marcusj

                      I don't know the restaurant's history at all, but wasn't Mark Hix once the chef at J. Sheekey? Could it be his moving on to other spots also affected the food? I'm not at all sure if he ever did leave or not. :-)

                      1. re: zuriga1

                        It was a bit like The Ivy before Corbin & King re-invented that; a famed establishment that was deemed to have gone past its sell-by date. They replicated the model basically and were the ones responsible for the way it currently looks today.

                        Mark Hix was the executive head of the whole group when Corbin & King had it. They all went their separate ways when that got sold (although Mark did stay on for a wee bit to oversee the transition I think). C&K went on to launch the Wolesely, Delauney, Zedel and, most recently, Colbert, whilst Mark has his Hix venues and the Tramshed in Shoreditch.

                        Careing has his hand in just about everything these days. The latest push seems to be the rapid expansion of the Bill Granger chain, 'Bills'.

                        1. re: marcusj

                          So, Corbin & King are to the London dining scene today what Terence Conran was in the 1990s and Marco Pierre White in the 2000s.

                          1. re: klyeoh

                            Actually Conran's empire was bought by a company called D&D who have - to give them credit - managed to maintain and retain all the venues he established in the 90's; a remarkable achievement when you consider how many other high-profile restaurants and chefs have come and gone over / within the period.

                            1. re: marcusj

                              Agreed - it's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

                          2. re: marcusj

                            Thanks for the history marcusj. I think that's one problem. People went to these restaurants in the 'old days,' and now the food doesn't maybe live up to their memories and perhaps rightly so as it's not the same chef etc.

                            1. re: zuriga1

                              Sometimes, they do take a turn for the better, June. When I lunched at the Criterion in 1990, the food was awful - cold and stodgy. 10 years later, I went back again when Marco Pierre White had taken it under his wings - the cooking there then had taken a quantum leap for the better. I went back yet again a decade later, and still enjoyed it very much more than my 1990 experience.

                              My introduction to fine dining in London was back in 1982 - Michael Quinn helmed the kitchens at the Ritz then, and everyone (including Egon Ronay) raved about it. I had the best steak I'd ever tasted in the UK ever, at the time. But, by and large, dining in London remained pretty unexciting in those years.

                              The London dining scene had improved by leaps and bounds in the last 2 decades - it had started in the early-90s, when chefs started sourcing for fresh, local ingredients and cooking became more inventive - though the dining scene in London then still remained generally conservative. Before then, my annual visits to London are generally to catch up with relatives and old school chums, before we cross the Channel for "proper" food. Even as recent as the mid-90s, I went on driving-cum-eating holidays across France, seeking out Michelin-starred restaurants. To attempt a similar feat in the English countryside then would have elicited guffaws of derision & incredulity ... from the English themselves.

                              Fast forward to the present day - Paris had grown somewhat complacent, whilst the dining scene in London has become more exciting than ever before, with a better choice of cuisines and new cooking techniques, even as old faithfuls like J Sheekey, Rules, Wiltons, Simpsons on the Strand, Geales and Scotts, remained popular as ever before.

                              So, June, you *are* in London at the right time, right now :-)

                              1. re: klyeoh

                                I don't know if any of you read the Financial Times article on J. Sheekey. Tim Hughes is a Director of Caprice Holdings and essentially the head chef for their restaurants. Other Directors of the company are Jesus Adorno, Andy Cullen, Fernando Peire, Jane Revell, Frances Dore and James Sherrington.

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  Yes, certainly in the right place at the right time. I was lucky to be near NYC during some good years, too. My first trip to London was in about 1990 or so, and we were underwhelmed to say the least.. and had done copious research. I think our best dinner was at a wonderful hotel near Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a very British meal and a revelation for us. We also stayed at The Priory in Bath, but that was way before its heyday. I can't remember much about that dinner at all, but it might have been quite good.

                                  I think there are some terrific places to eat in Paris, and I think many new chefs are helping what may have been complacency, but I've always enjoyed eating there. But that's for another board. :-)

                                2. re: zuriga1

                                  June - I think you also need to remember that many of these restaurants were not chef driven but more places to be see or be seen. I think its coincidental that Hix was Exec at Caprice Holdings, although he did lift it's game and in turn gave him a platform for his solo projects - peple didn't flock to the Ivy because it was Mark Hix behind the burners. And with Sheekey, Rules etc the restaurants have the added cachet of their history etc.

                                  To me the good news is that he dining scene in London is so vibrant the companies that now run these places have to get good chefs and lift their game on the food, so hopefully the history, nostalgia and decent food - Quo Vadis springs to mind (despite mixed reports).

                                  Picking up on Klyeoh's comment about The Criterion, it was really the place to be seen when it re-opened in the late '80's but they ruined it by focussing on the food rather than the bar...! I also remember when Oliver Peyton opened the Atlantic ...but sadly never ate there as the bar was the main attraction....I wonder how good it was given how Peyton's stature has grown - it probably was because Richard Sawyer was head chef and he went on to resurrect Rules.

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    I think the model of a good all round restaurant that isn't chef driven is far more accessible for most people and probably the reason why they endure.

                                    Another restaurant that falls into the 'Ivy' ilk is the recently opened Balthazar (Careing again). Interestingly they have Robert Reid in charge of the stoves who was MPW's head chef at The Restaurant and Oak Room when they held 3 stars. That man can seriously cook.