Monday, 12 September 2011
Two Brothers, Finchley
It is a cliché, repeated so often (mainly by Northerners) that it has almost become an accepted fact, that there are no decent fish and chip shops in London. This is rubbish of course; there are some good fish and chip shops, there are just lots and lots of very bad ones. But there are also lots and lots of very bad restaurants of all kinds, and just because there's a Bella Pasta on every road in the West End doesn't mean the likes of Zucca and Trullo and Polpetto get overlooked. It's something unique to chippies, this idea that unless they're all good, they all simultaneously get dismissed as bad as one homogonous bunch. And it's also vaguely patronising - why shouldn't producing a top quality battered haddock and chips be just as difficult as a nice Osso buco or Fritto Misto? Good food is never easy, particularly so fish and chips.
So put to the back of your mind the pallid, curled-up bits of fish kept warm for hours in your local takeaway, and brace yourself for the long tube ride to Zone 4, where Two Brothers restaurant has been serving lucky Finchley locals for the best part of a decade. At 7:30 on a Friday night you'd expect anywhere even half decent to be busy, and there was certainly a pleasant buzz about the place, but we were still seated immediately; most of the trade seemed focussed on the takeaway counter next door, which is either a sign of the current economic times or just that sitting down in a smart restaurant with a bottle of wine is still anathema to chippy-fanciers. We were happy for the table, though, despite the premium - I don't think even the most pristine cod & chips would have made it back to Battersea in any kind of edible form.
Usually starters are a mistake in chippies - there's food enough in a single main course portion to keep you sated for a day - but actually the deep-fried battered cod's roe was interesting enough to be worth a shot, denser and more subtly flavoured than I was expecting, and served with an earthy dollop of pickled beetroot. House bread was just supermarket baguette but you have to love the lack of pretension in the accompanying mini plastic cartons of butter.
And before I get onto the main events, I should pay special tribute to the house pickles, sweet and fresh and bouncy, and what seemed very much like a homemade tartar sauce. It's the little details, you know.
I don't know whether I should technically still be ordering cod - in fact I'm fairly sure I shouldn't - but if they taste as good as this I'm afraid you're going to have to come up with a very convincing argument to stop me, possibly involving the imminent cessation of all life on earth and the return of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It was fantastic - a crispy (beer we were told) batter, not too thick and not too thin, containing flaky bright white very fresh fish. The chips were, well, I hesitate to use the word "perfect" but I can't for the life of me think how they might be improved upon; cooked simply in vegetable oil, once doused with malt vinegar and salt they were evocative and nostalgic and just plain delicious in the way all great food is.
Two Brothers do a matzo meal option instead of batter for an extra 50p, and my friend's haddock fared equally well in this coating, fresh and firm and tasty; I preferred the normal batter, but then I am a bit of a Northern traditionalist - I'm prepared to believe that each coating style can find an appreciative audience.
All this only goes to prove that, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, there is decent fish and chips to be found, you just need to do a bit of research. A bit like oh, I don't know, the kind of research any sensible person would do before parting with their money literally anywhere. It's not rocket science, just don't rock up at your nearest kebab shop and expect anything decent, do be prepared to travel and - most importantly - keep an open mind and don't dismiss every chippie in London on the back of a sad, lazy majority. There may be a dozen purveyors of dried out old haddock and oily chips for every Two Brothers, but that just makes the places like this all that more special.