We first heard about Fingers and Thumbs Sea Food Shack walking past The Arch Gallery on Bethnal Green Road one night. The windows were all steamy and there was a lot of clattering and drunken gobbling noises coming from inside and we thought – what is this magical place and how can we eat there. A quick Google later and we came up with a Facebook page – Fingers and Thumb Pop Up, the event: Sea Food Shack.
With only a paltry hundred or so likes it’s fair to say this is a word of mouth event. Intrigued, we booked seats for the next session and watched with salivating delight as menu posts popped up in our feed: Six Colchester Rock Oysters for £12, followed by a shellfish bucket for two with mussels, clams, razor clams, king prawns, potatoes, veg, bread and lemon rouille, cooked in a choice of regular or spicy broth.
If that wasn’t enough shellfish for your shack, each bucket was topped with either lobster, king prawns or Cornish crab claws, with the price ranging from £44 to £36 respectively. Home made ice cream was for dessert – the flavour a mystery, although the pictures belied a strong likelihood of fudge (we were right).
On the night in question, The Arch Gallery glass was satisfyingly sauna-like as we arrived – an erotically ominous bald man greeted us outside (I think he worked at/ owned/ raconteured the gallery itself). Inside, we were greeted by frantically steaming chefs pouring out shellfish into big buckets. The gallery itself is a cavernous arched space cut in half by a makeshift bar and long benches, rammed with trendies ramming shellfish into their mouths. One particular enthusiast had taken to raucously hitting the tabletop with his mallet (for the shells) and declaring “hear, hear!” like a fishy Tourette’s sufferer. It all added to the bonhomie of the proceedings.
We were booked on a table with a party of twelve but thought it might be best to leave them to it, especially if mallets were involved. Instead, we plonked ourselves on the squishy leather armchairs where unreserved diners waited for a space – and were promptly forgotten about. After some persuading, they decided to serve us – oysters to start with the crab bucket followed by the home made ice cream and a nice bottle of Sauv Blanc.
The bucket promptly arrived with all the necessary accoutrements – nutcracker, pokey stick thing, mallet, a mountainous pile of napkins and cloud-soft white bread. We tucked in hungrily – the stack of fish was so mammoth we could barely get to the broth beneath (regular flavour – we weren’t offered spicy despite it being on the menu). This did mean that after a good twenty minutes wrestling with crab claws, the broth finally revealed itself – a little shallow pool with a few floating potatoes and carrot chunks looking rather sorry for themselves. It was also stone cold. Still delicious – our only solution would be to provide the bucket of fish in something other than a bucket so we could dig out the broth sooner.
The crab claws – ah, sweet, delicious, flakey crab flesh, made all the more delectable by the hard, messy work gone into detracting it – was simply divine. Clams have never been my fave and after attempting one particular muscular hunk I left them to the boy and sneakily snaffled all of the mussels and king prawns, which were scrumptious – juicy little bites that tasted as if I had just scooped them out of the ocean by hand.
The whole feasting experience must have stretched well beyond an hour. We asked for extra bread, extra lemon rouille and a whole new pile of napkins. Perilous shards of shell flicked across the room, onto the floor, between the cracks of the sofa. Flecks of fish juice squirted up our arms and down our chins. It was a glorious, uninhibited gorging of fish flesh – so I’d strongly recommend you don’t bring a hot date here. This is for the we’ve-been-together-so-long-I-don’t-give-a-damn type couples only, or your non-judgemental mates.
The next Seafood Shack is from the 28th to the 30th March at babble.jar on Stoke Newington High Street.