Monday, 22 November 2010
The Fish Place, Battersea
As I've often mentioned on this blog, it's a good idea to be deeply suspicious of anywhere that, for whatever reason, doesn't have to try too hard to attract custom. I'm not just talking about West End tourist traps like Aberdeen Angus or TGI Fridays, either; anywhere that can rely on a captive audience (airport bars, motorway service stations) or a celebrity endorsement (any number of terrible Marco Pierre White joints, and certain Ramsay gaffs) can also easily fall into the trap of convincing themselves popularity = quality. I was reminded of this rule while suffering a truly diabolical novelty Christmas "pizza" at Fire and Stone Covent Garden last week, consisting of a tasteless semolina flour base, salty (possibly packet) gravy replacing tomato sauce, and a number of ill-advised toppings attempting to emulate a roast turkey dinner. I have many issues with restaurants nakedly courting the pissed-up office Christmas party crowd, but this pizza was just so bad, so completely and utterly disastrously ill-advised and cheap tasting, that the fact the room we ate it in was rammed made my stomach heave with sadness even more than the toppings on the pizza. Definitely not recommended.
But for every Fire and Stone or Frankie and Benny's or Garfunkels there are, at the other end of the scale, restaurants not gifted with the capital to afford a prime West End spot but which nonetheless bravely attempt to attract custom by just cooking nice food. Sometimes these brave outposts of quality and value attract hoards of paying customers to their remote, undesirable locations and end up becoming local legends - think Sushi Hiro all the way out in Ealing, or Pearl Liang, tucked beneath a windswept office block somewhere near Paddington. Of course, it doesn't always work - Bacchus was great but the wilds of Hoxton were a step too far for the fine diners of London and it eventually closed - but there is no reason why an odd or slightly remote location cannot still host a popular and decent place to eat.
And then there is the Fish Place. To call this area of Battersea remote would be somewhat of an understatement. It's almost as if they don't want to be found - typing the postcode on their website into Google Maps points you towards a backstreet near Clapham Junction but in actual fact the restaurant is buried inside a desolate riverside development near the London Helipad - handy for international superstars or heads of state perhaps, but not for anyone else. I spent a good ten minutes pacing nervously around deserted, badly lit footpaths until I happened upon a tiny laminated sign pointing me down an unlikely dark alleyway between two buildings. It was quite a relief when I found the front door of the restaurant and settled my nerves with a glass of house white.
It's early days at the Fish Place so to criticise the house bread for being toasted instead of fresh is perhaps a bit harsh, and there was plenty of it. An amuse of scallop ceviche was fantastic though - citrusy and sweet without losing the distinct flavour of raw seafood.
Dorset crab ravioli was even more impressive. Bringing to mind some of the superb seafood pasta dishes at The Square, fresh crab, excellent pasta and a rich herby cream/seafood sauce sat on top of al dente cabbage. I imagine there would be some people not unlucky enough to possess my battered tastebuds that may consider it rather aggressively seasoned - however, I thought it was perfect.
As an experiment to see if the kitchen was as happy with meat as with fish, I ordered venison for my main, which came with very seasonal (and very nice) roast pumpkin and a little fan of some kind of dauphinoise potato. The venison itself, if I'm going to be picky, was perhaps not the gamiest tasting protein I've ever enjoyed, but the flavour of the meat was secondary anyway to a completely brilliant truffle sauce which was just about the best example of its kind I've had in years. I could just not get enough of it. And yes, in case you're wondering, that is a slice of pear providing sweet counterpoint to the other savoury ingredients.
Just before dessert arrived a very sharp palate cleanser of gin and tonic sorbet, headily (and excitingly) alcoholic and so cold it made the spoon stick to my tongue on every bite.
The biscuit and couli and sorbet elements of this blackberry mille-feuille were very good, but I'm afraid the blackberries themselves were rather bland. I'm wondering, in fact, whether raw blackberries could really ever sit well in a dessert on their own, as unlike raspberries or strawberries they don't seem to have the flavour or sweetness to stand out. However, they are at least seasonal and it's all credit to the Fish Place that all the ingredients made perfect sense for late autumn, and the attention to detail (Sainsbury's teabags aside perhaps) I'm sure went a long way to explaining why it all tasted so damn good.
So, some very good food, then. But none of the things that are wrong about the Fish Place have anything to do with the food. The first thing that may dissuade you is the price - at £45 not including service for three courses this is a restaurant in a very odd location with no particular pedigree to speak of that has, from the get-go, priced itself alongside long-established neighbourhood favourites like Chez Bruce or L'Autre Pied. Sure, it's top quality cuisine - Michelin star standard I'd say - but there's a certain arrogance in assuming that people are going to travel here when there are a number of other places offering these prices (and indeed less) for cooking of at least a similar standard.
And then there's the location. Again, I know it's early days, but there were only three tables of two occupied all night, and although the views from the first floor over the docks were pleasant enough, the journey here and the rather stilted atmosphere in the clinical new building were not. I hope there are enough people nearby with £60 a head to spend on good food to keep the Fish Place in business, as it would be a crying shame for cooking of this standard to go unnoticed, but if I live in Battersea and find the reward of eating here only just worth the effort required to find and pay for it, then I wonder how the rest of the capital feels. For now though, I will have faith that excellent food will find an audience no matter how unlikely the location, and wish the Fish Place the very best of luck.
I was invited to review the Fish Place