From starting the morning off with a big pot of freshly brewed Monmouth coffee and the Sunday papers, to Bloody Marys in the French House, Sunday lunch in Soho and a leisurely stroll home; Sundays done well are the perfect way to round off the weekend.
Classic Sunday roasts with all of the trimmings are tradition, but sometimes, and particularly in January, we look for something lighter and brighter to help us set sail into the week.
Lucky for us, the spritely seafood shipmates at The Mussel Men pop-up have created their very own version of the classic British Sunday lunch, the Sunday Seafood Roast, at their current home on Kingsland Road to shake things up.
Any hint of January melancholia gets swept away in The Mussel Men’s peculiar sense of fun. The staff (or sailors) are friendly and laid back and all wear a uniform of nautical stripes, and the place itself is adorably quirky – from the hand-painted sea-inspired mural to the life-size prints of owner Robin Dunlop’s sailor “grandfather” haunting the place.
And their Sunday Seafood Roast shows they are dedicated to their goal of ‘serving seafood to the masses’. It is served in a grand-looking tiered stand filled with mussels, clams, razor clams, prawns, battered soft shell crab and langoustines alongside buttery sautéed wild mushrooms, creamy mashed potato, mushy peas and gratinated cauliflower, for a taste of the traditional. Guests also have the option to add fresh lobster, and the “roast” is additionally served with mariniere, hollandaise and beurre blanc sauces in seashells as well as gratinated oysters topped with nuts instead of breadcrumbs – a real delight.
Although the roast is more than enough for two people, our greedy side got the best of us and we ordered their famous mussels and chips served in a brown box. The mussels were perfect, plump and meaty, cooked with fresh parsley and white wine and served with a good wedge of lemon. The chips were more like skinny frites: salty, golden and crispy and perfect for dunking into the sauce from the mussels.
I am always rather hesitant about drinking Prosecco, as I think it difficult to find something worthwhile, but at The Mussel Men this just isn’t the case. We enjoyed a bottle of the Colfondo, an organic wine and the lightest Prosecco I have ever tried – It worked brilliantly with the seafood, managing to cut through the butteriness and allowing the flavours to sing.
Growing up in the west coast of Scotland and working on his family’s oyster farm from a young age, Robin’s gusto for seafood runs in his blood, and his passion for fun and accessibility makes The Mussel Men truly unique, ‘we want people to enjoy our seafood but also have a laugh. It’s a combination that keeps people coming back.’
Heading up the kitchen is fellow Scot Sean Arnot, who hails from the five-star Balmoral Hotel with Michelin-starred dining in the heart of Edinburgh, and whose enthusiasm for seafood matches Robin’s. ‘I have an unconditional love for seafood…there is so much freshness in it, and you feel like you are in contact with the sea when you use it. It is often served in its own little plate and there is a speed of cooking to preserve the freshness of the flavour, and you can translate that sea feeling onto the customer’s plate.’
The Mussel Men mostly source their seafood from Scotland but not exclusively, and as well as receiving orders from their suppliers, three times a week Sean visits the brilliant Billingsgate fish market, which he calls ‘a spectacle of shellfish’.
Trends-wise, Robin tells me there is now a lot more drive for lesser-known fish since television programmes like ‘River Cottage’ have helped to expose them, and sea urchins, which are hugely popular in Japan and very expensive, are gaining interest here – though mussels will always be their main game.
The Mussel Men estimate that they will stay in their current space until the end of February or March and then open another pop-up for 3-6 months, but have hopes of eventually finding a site that is more permanent. But in true pop-up fashion, nothing is for certain, so I advise experiencing the best shellfish and sailor chat this side of the channel while you can.