You’ll have to forgive me, this was ripped completely from wikipedia: Originally, the Tattershall was a steamship built in 1934 as one of the last hurrahs of the William Gray & co shipbuilders. She was used as a passenger ferry to cross the Humber. The peak of the good ship’s career came in world war two; transporting troops and was tethered with her very own barrage balloon. After the war, she went back to ferrying goods and passengers before railways began a terminal decline in her boating services. Once the Humber Bridge was built ferries became archaic. She was officially retired in 1976.
The question is, what does one do with an aging boat?
You could say that the whole thing is a tourist trap. Plonked straight onto the Thames, directly opposite the London Eye by the Embankment. It is more informally known as “the pub on the Thames” and seems to have a life as that gimmick. The ship also has an exclusive feel with bouncers on the door who desperately needed to know what I had in my bag. The bouncers at the front radio mic’d the inside asking if they have a table. And there’s a drawbridge, so it’s nice to imagine that someone could just radio ahead and ask for the bridge to be drawn up while you’re cozy inside. The roof has its own bar and tables and for the colder months, heaters and blankets. Sadly both ends of the boat are obstructive so there’s no spot to recreate Titanic’s We’re Flying Jack scene. I can’t help but think the Tattershall is missing a major selfie opportunity there.
“. . . the baby carrots, which bursted with their own natural juiciness. . .”
The menu is very slim, confident and plays to the typical roster of pub kitchen’s strengths. Typical British food; fish and chips, etc with modernised flourishings as the Soul Food Bowl. Three different burgers are on offer too. And out of the two sandwiches on offer, I want to try the fish finger one. Chain pubs can verge on the cookie cutter, the same things on the menu, some roster of drinks. And the Castle is owned by the biggest pub company in the U.K. Usually you’d be forgiven that a large corporate entity, especially one that is a subset of a conglomerate that also owns the Slug and Lettuce and Yates brands, would make their pubs lose their individuality but happily the Tattershall balances the gimmick, the brand and the quality very well.
We came on a tuesday evening. Not a heaving busy time but if I could sum up the atmosphere the dozen or so times I’ve casually been here on weeknights, it’s “hushed polite energy”. The tables and chairs are dark oaks, which we shall refer to now as “doakery” and a black pinstripe carpet. It’s quite quiet here, which I think is what maintains that stillness. It’s not a party. But it’s nowhere near dreary as it sounds either. But more casual and laid back. The setting intrudes rather than takes mainstage. The London Eye so close to you that it steals attention away, creeping into your peripheral. The lower deck, where we were seated has a wall of windows so you can see the Thames and the Eye lapping up at you. Sometimes a boat full of tourists drives by, or a lifeguard ship. For some people that’s pure nightmare fuel, what with the colour of the water but for us, it’s just as enjoyable a scenery as you can get in the middle of the city. (And I did catch one of the staff staring out, too!)
A little bit of a communication problem started off the night. While boarding, the bouncer explained I wouldn’t need the app, so when we were shown to a table I had to sit there for a good twenty minutes without so much as an acknowledgment. You know the feeling of insecurity that creeps into you when you go out and all your friends go to the loo in order to gossip about you? That’s how that felt. And not even a head nod. That creeping anxiety. After that wait, we used the app to order our food and everything was right as rain after that. And it wouldn’t matter much unless in COVID times using the table relied on to table orders from the app. The waiters were doing their job, they presumed we were clued in. It screams miscommunication. A mistake, in our opinion, should be measured in its ability to be repeated. Did that bouncer tell everyone he spoke to boarding the ship about this? That would have caused a hella backlog in the kitchen’s lines. A simple bit of communication could have easily solved this.
” . . .everything works with this gastro-pub curio. That peppery sauce. That bread. That unashamedly fat filled breadcrumb laden fish-flesh. The rocket and tomato slices fight it together in your mouth to determine which side of moistness you’ll get. . . “
Bringing the stuff to the table, the staff needed me to hand the plates off their trays. They also gave mayo sachets and a fork and spoon but no ketchup. No salt and pepper either. Or knife. Presumably out of prevention in case a pirate gets the wrong idea about the establishment and organises a mutiny.
Truth be told I usually hate what is considered normal British food. Too bloating, too bland (by reputation), too stodgy, too much boring all at once. And London has spoilt me for alternatives. Yet I chose the Steak and Ale pie with mash (£14.50) specifically because it’s not the sort of thing I’d usually order. But thank goodness I did. Picking up the plate and holding it up to my nose, the pie and mash smell was gently “balmy”, a steaming hot plate with a pleasing aroma. The pie crust was soft to touch and a thick hide to cover the gooey innards, hot and filling and easy on the tongue. The beef was tender and velvety svelte, with morsels of onion mixed into the gravy, and peelings of something green that looked like leek.
Mash just has to be one of the perfect comfort foods, so filling and warming and carby. Perhaps a spoonful of wholegrain mustard would have taken the flavour up a notch, or some roasted garlic pulverised into it. Nevertheless this had creamy flavouring to it and the fork goes right through it just as easily as. And the vegetable medley; a fresh combo of spring green beans, cauliflower and baby carrots was perfect, perfectly crisp, perfectly seasoned in a very sparse but beautifully used buttery herby sauce. They flooded the mouth with perfect moist flavour. Especially the baby carrots, which bursted with their own natural juiciness. Where they steamed? Roasted? I can’t tell to be honest but whatever they did, it worked. Such a simple thing as well.
This dish came with a pot of red wine gravy, which was oh so sweet and delicate, not too thick and not too thin and not enough to completely drown out any other flavour on the plate. Complimentary, adding some rich darkness to the lightness of the vegetables and potato. Carefully drizzling the pot over all three portions of the pie and mash and veg was the most delicious topper.
For a side, the fish finger sandwich (£9.00) had lightly toasted brown bread – the app gives you the choice of white or brown bread – I know this because I couldn’t help doing the classic trick of running the fork on the surface of the bread, feeling the slight harsh grating along of the toast. Now if I could give one piece of advice it would be to eat it quickly. As soon as it lands on the table. The pleasant toasty warmness held it all together and the rocket (?) tastes marginally different with the fresh slices of tomatoes, bringing the freshness. Having said that, everything works with this gastro-pub curio. That peppery sauce. That bread. That unashamedly fat filled breadcrumb laden fish-flesh. The rocket and tomato slices fight it together in your mouth to determine which side of moistness you’ll get.
The calamari strips (£7.75) served its fried, breadcrumb’d purpose. With that inner flesh tasting slightly stronger than cod. It’s a decent enough kind of side to share with the table. They give you a nice big pot of garlic mayo sauce which wasn’t an overpowering accompiant, and a slice of lemon to jazz it up. But perhaps some pepper or something else mixed into the breadcrumb/batter to bring out the flavour could have really made it stand out?
But after all that goodwill, we’ve had to save the worst for last, the fries just plain sucked. Pale. Anemic, quick to get cold, no crisp, no flavouring, thin and annoyingly pale. Nothing to them. In comparison, Honest Burger and Five Guys season their house fries with variables such as rosemary and sea salt, or frying them in peanut oil and seasoned with cajun spice. It’s kinda bad that a pub kitchen can’t nail a side order of fries.
The atmosphere is gorgeous. Beautifully quiet. Why would you turn up the jukebox when you have the gentle dulcet tones of the Thames lapping at you? Spliiiiiiissssshhhhhhhhhhhh it goes. Splaaaassssshhhhhhhhhhh it goes. For that reason alone I’d recommend coming at night. Seas, just like all dates, have their beauty infinitely magnified in that semi darkness. Who could resist the charms of a rolling shore twinkling in the darkness? Plenty of the customers snatch a selfie there, with the London Eye forebodingly in the background. And you do really need to have your sea legs on you, balancing is indeed an act here. And there’s always that one wave that hits the boat at a 15 – 20 minute interval and everyone feels the gravity pulled out of level.
I happen to think, personally this is a perfect atmosphere for central London. I hesitate to write about it out of fear it blows up. Like Hawksmoor and Zedel, they have managed the impossible of tasks here, something I have referred to as “a quiet rumble.” The perfect place for a midweek getaway. But unlike the former two, there’s no real sense of grandiosity here. It’s humble and hushed.
“I’m not gonna finish this in my booking time, do you want me to go upstairs?”
“Oh, you’re more than welcome to stay.”
So I did, there in the rumble of afterwork suits. Life slowly trickling to normal in central London.
In recent years, with the rise of blogs such as yours truly, youtube channels, Instagram and other social media platforms making it easier to share and connect to the things you love to eat. Well why not tell the world how much you love your local’s atmosphere or your favourite takeaway? As a consequence, it’s become unavoidable to deny that in the words of Sean Evans, that ‘everyone is kinda a foodie nowadays’. If there is one benefit to that happening hopefully it means people will be more appreciative about the behind the scenes of commercial culinarianism. Especially with the rise of the celebrity chef and memoirs such as Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, it’s become far more apparent how much of our food is sous-vide and sauteed with blood, sweat and tears.
Running a restaurant isn’t easy, running a bar on top of that doesn’t make it easier. Running a bar-restaurant on a boat on the Thames must be an utter nightmare. Faced with the prospect of opening a pub-restaurant, on a ship, on the Thames, in the aftermath of the COVID lockdown and attempting to break even with a numbers capacity with an abbreviated menu is playing life on hard mode. And after all, there are worse usages for an ageing boat.