FFirst, let’s take on the name Saltie Girl, which, frankly, sounds less than delicious. Which parts of it are salty? her armpit? her toes? Her choice of language? The phrase is old Maine slang for mermaid, Saltie Girl’s owners say, and they’ve opened branches of this seafood-focused restaurant in Boston, Los Angeles, and now London. Here, the name is a bit weird and sexy, but then, when you sell lobsters on waffles at £36 a throw, it’s not just the name that will keep casual passers-by away.
The Saltie Girl has opened its London branch on North Audley Street in Mayfair, a stone’s throw from Selfridge’s in an area home to Apricity and Bibi, two restaurants I’d recommend going to everyone if time, money and occasion were right, both outstanding examples of modernity. Creative food and upscale service. Saltie Girl, on the other hand, is an expensive American import that sells shrimp cocktails, canned fish and seafood towers, is backed by the people behind Rocca and Zuma, and is aimed at wealthy but not massively privileged audiences.
It helps that the prices are missing from the online listing, which is strange, because even the Rolex website lets you know how much the 18k gold Datejust 31 costs that you can’t afford. I certainly remember the price for lobster on a waffle was £36, because when it arrived, I remember thinking, for a restaurant that would make such a song and dance to excellent seafood cooked by experts, it felt like a travesty to just dip the tail in chunky batter and serve it on an ordinary bun . This was the kind of waffle anyone with a waffle iron collecting dust at home could make. And the lobsters were not battered by a light, delicious layer of tempura, but rather a thunderous coating that distracted me from the precious meat underneath and made me very sad about the futile demise of this glorious creature. For that amount of money and hype, this waffle should come in the shape of a mermaid and the lobster should be frosted with seasoned tempura and served with some delicious sweet sauce, not some. Forgotten hot maple syrup. The £18 shrimp cocktail is also a must, and is little more than shrimp strung around the rim of a bowl and served with fruit drizzled on Thousand Island dressing. A small head of cauliflower seasoned with vadovan was properly delicious.
It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and recently I decided to leave restaurants like this and simply WhatsApp a picture of a highwayman wearing his mask to signify paying the bill. However, in Saltie Girl’s defence, the service is delightful, the room is lovely and they do some interesting things with tinned fish, which means the £31 box of premium bonito comes with freshly baked bread on a slab with three lines of salt and some chopped lime. If you’re a fan of John West’s canned anchovies, sardines and mackerel, there’s no doubt that this jump in quality for suppliers like Ortiz, Olasagasti and Groix & Nature will enhance life. This is the Rolls-Royces of the world of canned fish and the epitome of simple pleasure. But Salty Girl simply opened the ring draw and won by a large profit margin.
Still, there is something snarky about this place that sits awry with the prices and location. The dessert menu had a sticky toffee sundae for £12, which really should be great for that price, but instead it was a dull little glass filled with mainly toffee sauce, some ice cream and some dry bits of sponge. We Brits have a illustrious tradition of adoring sticky toffee pudding; It’s our downfall, and it flies off every gastropub menu in the land. Even Toby’s Carvery, with its mint sundae and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, all served in Yorkshire pudding, has more gift and pure imagination.
Some of the “baked to order” cookies were sticky baked in places and tweety in others. Edible, yes — tasty, even — but the method of sending cookies warm and half-cooked seems to be becoming increasingly popular because proper pastry chefs have fallen victim to cost-cutting.
A word of advice: the neon pink LED display in the ladies restroom is charming and will encourage you to take a sweet selfie for Instagram next to the name Saltie Girl, but you’ll only invite dozens of smutty pranks from your mere acquaintances about your personal hygiene. The irony is that I only took a shower recently and it smelled. Only later, when I looked at the bill, did I feel decidedly salty.
Salty girl 15 North Audley Street, London W1, 020-3893 3000. Open dinner only, Monday to Saturday, 5pm to midnight. From about £70 per person plus drinks and service.