Here's how to spot you're eating at a fake seafood restaurant

Here's how to spot you're eating at a fake seafood restaurant

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When done right, few foods are as exciting as seafood. Whether you’re chowing down on chowder or shelling out for shellfish, fresh fish should be a real treat. However, thanks to limited availability and the skill needed in cooking, seafood often commands a premium. This has created a market ripe for exploitation, where restaurant sharks can easily take advantage of clueless customers. In order to make sure that you don’t end up as live bait, here are a few things to look out for. It may be the difference between enjoying a prize catch and reeling in a tiddler.

Seafood Platter Credit: Phu Quoc City

Everything’s fried

Fresh, well sourced seafood will always taste delicious by itself. Therefore, as soon as you spot a menu that’s burying their catch beneath layers of batter and breadcrumb, you know something’s out of plaice. According to aptly named executive chef Jonathan Gill, “If (you) go to a seafood and all the fish was fried, you know it probably came in frozen”. Therefore, you should look for a menu you that allows the produce to speak for itself. If it’s all about oil, the chef probably can’t hake it.

Plate of fried fish Credit: Martha Stewart

Shellfish look the same

Thanks to complicated harvesting techniques and the need to be eaten fresh, meaty shellfish such as scallops and oysters can cost a clam or two. However, while you can expect your pricey plateful to taste perfect, the warning lights should start flashing if they look as pristine as they taste. Since many premium molluscs are hand harvested and come in an array of shapes and sizes, a uniform look may be an indication that they have been cut from other, less desirable produce, such as shark, and disguised as the reel deal. If you can detect a strong fishy smell from your scallops, that is a good indication that all is not whelk.

Scallops in a pan Credit: The Splendid Table

The prices seem too good to be true

Unfortunately, quality seafood should be expensive. If you stumble into a joint offering premium produce at suspiciously low prices, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s something fishy going on. A good way to check whether what’s on offer is all it’s cracked up to be is to ask your server where the food in question was sourced from and when it was caught. If you don’t get a straight answer, you should seriously consider netting the hell out of there.

Fish for sale Credit: TripAdvisor

There are lots of weirdly specific buzz words

Restaurants have long known that an easy way to get customers hooked is to use lots of important sounding phrases on the menu. This should immediately set alarm bells ringing. If you can spot choices like “farmed Chilean seabass” (not a thing) or “wild Atlantic salmon” (endangered and very difficult to sell legally) there may be somefin strange happening beneath the surface.

Chilean seabass on a plate Credit: Big Chin Kitchin

The labelling is just wrong

It might come as a shock, but even upscale eateries can be guilty of fish fraud. In restaurants all over the world, cheap fish are constantly incorrectly categorised in an attempt to charge customers full whack for something that probably cost next to nothing. According to seafood experts Oceana, almost 30% of all seafood sold in restaurants and supermarkets over the last decade has been intentionally mislabelled. In order to make sure you end up squids in, try to brush up on your seasonal seafood knowledge so you know what should and shouldn’t be available. You never know when you might come across a susfishious character.

Bounty of the seven seas - fresh fish now available in Bradford, at the new 7C Seafood Store on Barrie St. MIRIAM KING/BRADFORD TIMES/SUNMEDIA Credit: Ottawa Citizen

The confusing world of seafood can seem a little daunting. However, by being unafraid to ask for a little more info about your next meal, you could ensure that you avoid being catfished by unscrupulous characters. If you run into any difficulties, don’t be afraid to let minnow. We’re glad to offer you our kelp.