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The jewel of the Tyne

Fish and chips is what Colmans in South Shields is famous for, but at its newly opened beachfront Seafood Temple a few miles down the road, things have been taken to a whole new level

I don’t know who was anticipating the opening of Colmans Seafood Temple more, us in the trade, who were treated to a sneak preview last week, or the general public who, ever since the giant floor to ceiling windows were installed four months ago, have been pressing their noses up to the glass, eager to catch a glimpse of what lies within.

“It’s like being in a fish tank, as everyone keeps coming up and popping their heads through,” says owner Richard Ord Jnr, who has been on site here every day since the build started six months ago.

And now that it’s open, you can certainly see why it’s commanding so much attention. The stone bandstand, which dates back to 1931 when it provided seating and public toilets and which is fondly referred to as Ghandi’s Temple, has been restored to its former glory and tied neatly into a stunning extension, housing a bright and airy 78 seater restaurant complete with cocktail and oyster bar.

The finish and attention to detail is second to none and almost everything that makes up this informal family seafood restaurant is bespoke, from the circular cocktail bar set in the old temple, to the leather booth seating that runs centrally down the length of the building, to the quirky ceiling lights overhead which include 732 individually hand sculptured porcelain fish, plus an 18 carat gold-plated fish gently glistening in the background, because, well, quite simply, why not?

“It’s a family thing,” says Richard when he’s asked about the high-spec of the restaurant. “We’ve always been brought up to pay attention to detail, every little thing matters. If you cut corners, you’ll never get the best results.”

It’s that same ethos that has been applied to the menu too. Focusing on quality rather than quantity, a dozen or so dishes such as lobster, scallops and steak sit alongside the star attraction, Colmans’ fish and chips. And, as is the case with its Ocean Road restaurant and takeaway, here as much of the produce as possible is sustainably sourced and, where feasible, locally sourced too. Its shellfish, for example, is caught by local days boats, as is the fish that appears on its specials board, while the steak is prime quality Lakeland Beef from Carlisle, just 60 miles away.

Interestingly, the menu prices haven’t been over-inflated. In fact, they’ve been deliberately kept in line with Colmans Ocean Road, albeit some of the portion sizes have been tweaked slightly. Crucially, what this means is that despite its high end feel, the Seafood Temple is accessible to all, something Richard was adamant about from the start.

“We wanted to cater for everyone and I think we’ve achieved that," he says. "Customers can come in and have a few plates at the bar if they want an inexpensive dinner, or they can come in and have the full on three courses if they wish. I wanted to charge prices that are affordable but at the same time I want customers to feel like what they are getting for their money is great quality.”

Step back outside and there’s a compact takeaway downstairs that opens onto the beach and which is just as stylish as upstairs. Featuring all the mod-cons that the Temple’s brigade of 11 chefs needs, it includes Adande undercounter fridge drawers, a lava grill, a plancha and a five pan Kiremko high efficiency L-shaped range complete with two 1m wide pans which will only serve to maximise volumes during peak periods - like the impending summer season.

With a budget of over £1.5million, this project has not just been about restoring a historic building for generations to come, or in fact building a high specification fish and seafood restaurant, but also about handing over the reins to the next generation of friers. Because, while Richard Snr and wife Frances have been at the helm at Ocean Road, it’s been Richard Ord Jnr who has lived and breathed every aspect of this project since it started five years ago.

“It’s been my baby and it’s so overwhelming to see it from where it was to where it is now," he enthuses. "It’s a thousand times better than I thought it was going to be. I never imagined it to look like this. It just never gets old, going upstairs and looking out of the window.”

With the restaurant fully booked for the next six weeks, it seems the people of South Shields clearly feel the same. 

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