The Livebait restaurant in London is part of a small chain of 4 restaurants – in Waterloo, Covent Garden, Leeds and Manchester. It specialises in ethically sourced fish of all types, from oysters, to lobster to haddock and cod. I first went many years ago, and as a non-meat eater, really enjoyed the unusual experience of being able to choose from anything on the menu. Returning some years later, I was slightly disappointed to find that the prices had gone up, but the quality of the food seems to have gone down slightly.
Located in The Cut, within two minutes walk of Waterloo Station, the Old Vic and Young Vic theatres, the restaurant is both central and ideal as a pre-theatre venue. This branch is the original Livebait restaurant, having opened in 1995 as one of the first fish restaurants in London.
The unusual décor really makes this restaurant stand out, and is totally appropriate for a fish restaurant. It is covered with black and white tiles, much like a fishmongers and is divided into two separate rooms. It was originally two shops which are now connected but still remain separate. One side is filled with a fantastic display of seafood on ice- the other is mainly seating, and you can choose from a cosy booth or a small table. The bustling atmosphere and the café style furniture make this a lively and relaxed place to eat out in London.
~~ The Food ~~
It is a real delight to find such a huge range of fish dishes all on one menu. All of the fish appears fresh, and although many of the dishes are very basic, they are also very appealing. Livebait does not try to create fancy, difficult dishes, but specialises in basic fish pies, casseroles and risottos, with more expensive shellfish served very simply for those who want a treat. The food is hearty and filling. Although the menu is primarily for the fish lover, there is one chicken dish and one steak dish on offer for the dedicated carnivore.
A basket of bread with anchovy butter is put on every table when you sit down, and this is added to the bill. Starters include mussels, Bouillabaisse, and whitebait, but I chose Gravalax with mustard sauce for £10.15, which was delicious and came with a couple of slices of rye bread. My husband had scallops for £11.50.
Main courses include oysters £8.50 or 11.95 for 6, depending on the quality, crab for £13.95, or lobster for £39. We decided to go for the cheaper and less exotic option of smoked haddock on a bed of mash potato with an poached egg (£14.50) and Livebait’s seafood casserole with Sardinian couscous (£15.50). My main course of haddock was less enjoyable than my starter – good, down to earth food, but nothing memorable in terms of sauces, flavours or presentation. My husband found that the whelks in his casserole were full of grit and very chewy, but unfortunately we did not have time to complain because we had tickets for the theatre. I feel that if we had mentioned it they would have happily replaced the dish.
The waiter was slightly pushy when he strongly recommended that I had the rather expensive sautéed spinach at £4.75 as a side dish – which he said would be perfect with my haddock. I actually found that it was less than perfect – slightly undercooked and really not needed with such a filling main course. Other side dishes were much cheaper, such as mushy peas for £2.25.
We drank wine and had a bottle of Pinot Grigio at £18.50 per bottle, or £6.90 for a large glass.
A set menu was available at £17 for 2 courses, or 3 courses for £20. Deserts included usual selection of sticky toffee pudding, crème caramel, lemon drizzle cake – all for around £6, but we did not have time for a desert course on this occasion.
The restaurant is fully accessible for the disabled, and we were sitting next to a lady in wheelchair who seemed to be seated very comfortably and discretely at her table. The toilets were clean and there was a disabled toilet available. The service was very good and very fast, which was essential for a pre theatre dinner.
It is very easy to book a table via the website using their online booking system. The full range of menus can also be viewed on the website.
I still love going to Livebait, but this is probably because I don’t eat meat and get over-excited when I have a large number of main courses to choose from.
The set menu is really very good value for central London, and overall I feel that I can still highly recommend this restaurant for the good fresh fish and excellent service.