Friday, 28 June 2013

The Fish and Chip Shop, Islington


The cliché is that you can't get decent fish and chips in London. This is, of course, nonsense - Masters Superfish in Waterloo is very good, as is the Golden Hind in Marylebone, and Kerbisher & Malt in Kensington, and I'm told that Poppies (Spitalfields and Camden) are worth a try too. What is true to say, is that for a city this size and given the obvious demand for good fish and chips, there aren't nearly enough places where you can get it. So you can imagine my delight when I learned about The Fish and Chip Shop in Islington, bringing (we were promised) proper battered cod, haddock and plaice to a part of town not hitherto blessed with options in this field. Or in many others, come to that.


It didn't start well. Not realising you could book, we'd turned up earlyish but still the only available space was at the bar, an area of the restaurant designed in such a way - seats too hard, counter too small and too high - not to encourage lingerers. Still, staff were friendly and some powerful, ice cold Beavertown IPA soon appeared and we settled in to browse the vast menu.


First ordered, and first to arrive, were the mysterious "London particular fritters". For whatever reason I had envisaged some kind of crunchy snack made with beer batter, but instead we were presented with three croquettes, generously proportioned and full of a rich pea and ham hock filling. They were nice enough but for £6 not exactly what I would consider a bargain. Compared to what was to follow though, they were positively delightful.

Let's get the Mushy Pea Rant out of the way before we go any further. I understand that for various reasons, none of them good, fish restaurants in London - particularly the snobbier ones although this is not always the case - have a problem with serving proper marrowfat mushy peas. Ignoring for now the question of whether they taste better than garden peas (of course they bloody do) or whether they're more appropriate to serve with fish and chips (of course they bloody are), the fact is, most of the time all you will have available is crushed or whole garden peas. OK, fine, whatever, your funeral.


But if you DO insist on only serving garden peas, DO NOT CALL THEM MUSHY PEAS ON YOUR MENU. Ordering a side of mushy peas and receiving a sad little tin of crushed petits pois is like ordering a lobster sandwich and being given a frozen prawn cocktail. They're not the same thing AT ALL and not only are you possibly in breach of the Trades Descriptions Act (1968), you run a serious risk of demonstrating to your customers that you don't have a bleeding clue what you're doing.


Fish and Chip Shop do not have a bleeding clue what they're doing. Plaice in batter, the one thing as a Fish and Chip Shop you are not allowed to cock up, was a disaster - anaemic, grease-heavy batter stinking of old oil, encasing a fish so overcooked it had lost any bright flakiness it may once have had and was now a mushy, sickening mess. Chips were fine, but were too thin (at least they weren't frites, but proper thick chip shop chips are as integral to the chip shop experience as brown sauce in a bacon sandwich), and curry sauce was too runny despite having a decent flavour.


Lemon sole wasn't quite the tragedy the plaice was, but still was overcooked and had none of that lovely firm texture you should get from sole. Done correctly, you should be able to lift the flesh off the bones in satisfying firm chunks, but this poor beast was closer to mashed potato. The skin was nicely seasoned with tarragon and you could tell that it had once been a good fresh fish, but it was not otherwise enjoyable.


We would have liked to have tried just one "wally" (gherkin) and one pickled onion but were told in no uncertain terms that it was £1 per type of pickle, not £1 for the lot (there was also egg) and so we reluctantly ordered the two portions. What arrived was a plate of three massive gherkins and three huge pickled onions. Why on God's green earth anyone thought forcing three times the amount of required pickles on customers was a good idea I don't know, but there they were anyway, perfectly OK as pickles go but just way too much of them. Would £1 for a gherkin, onion and egg on a single plate really have been that difficult to organise? I can't imagine so.


With a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (annoyingly kept in a non-insulated bucket lined with a couple of inches of crushed ice - great if you like the last half glass of your wine to be ice cold, not great in any other respect) this catalogue of irritations, pains and downright calamaties came to a whopping £90. I realise this is North London, and fish costs more than it did, and all those etched mirrors and carved wooden details have to be paid for somehow, but even if the food had been good, that is still a lot of money. The mistakes with the cooking and mushy pea-gate just added insult to injury.


I have to entertain the idea that perhaps the Fish and Chip Shop had an off night, and that at some other time someone who knows how to operate a fryer may be working in the kitchen. There is that possibility. But I can only speak as I find, and while I do know plenty of people who've really enjoyed their time at the Fish and Chip Shop, I'm afraid I don't have the stomach, or the funds, to give it another go. Not even if they started serving proper mushy peas.

4/10

The Fish and Chip Shop on Urbanspoon

EDIT: A friend has swiftly been in touch to inform me that actually, North London has plenty of great places to eat. I'm happy to put the record straight on that. It does, but unfortunately they're all in North London. I am therefore going to start a campaign to get John Salt, the Drapers Arms, Trullo, Assiette Anglais, the Pig and Butcher and Trangallan to move to SW11. That'll teach him.

21 comments:

Hannah BurgersAndBruce said...

that's a good mushy pea rant right there!!

Helen said...

'The London Particular' is the name of a pea and ham soup, which explains the name of the fritters. You may have already known that but if you didn't, there you go.

The food looks bloody awful. What were the pickled onions like? I get very angry over a poor pickled onion.

Chris Pople said...

Helen: Pickled onions and gherkins were both fine actually, I just couldn't understand the weird ordering system. Why would anyone need THREE massive pickled onions in one go? Wait, don't answer that...

Donald Edwards said...

Maybe they're trying to ape the glamour and exoticism of ordering dim sum with their pickles coming in the lucky number of three?

Donald Edwards said...

I reckon it's either that or they're referencing Goibniu, Creidhne and Luchta the three pre Christian Irish gods of crafmanship. In fact I'm pretty certain that must be what's behind their decision to serve pickles in threes.

Helen said...

I think they're trying to tell me that kittens should always come in threes and I therefore need to get another kitten.

Ben said...

I have a wine bucket like that. Doesn't need to be insulated: the double all acts like double glazing and keeps the bottle pretty close to the temperature it goes in at. The wine needs to be served cold for it to work, of course (I take it yours wasn't).

Putting ice in this kind of bucket is so annoying because it means the top pokes out and gets warm, utterly defeating the object. Plus the bottom gets far too cold.

Sarah said...

I can vouch for Poppies at Spitalfields-definitely worth a try, and nowhere near as expensive! But perhaps a bit gimmicky.
There's a really good chippy on Stoke Newington High St, Sutton's. They sell proper mushy peas too...
Being from Yorkshire and having eaten fish supper for tea almost every Friday throughout my childhood, I fear I overdosed on marrowfat peas somewhere around the age of 15 and actually prefer crushed garden peas with my fish and chips. Scandalous.

Richard Kelly said...

I too can recommend suttons fish chips in stoke newington. The fish is lovely and they even do gravy (as a Northerner I will never get my head around southerners not having it with their chips).

Caroline said...

There's a British pub in San Diego that serves decent-ish fish and chips. When you order them they ask you if you would like mushy peas or garden peas. They have both. If you can get them here in California they should at least be an option at a place claiming to be a fish and chip shop in London.

Sarah said...

I live near the new Poppies but I haven't managed to persuade anyone to go with me yet. Fancy another trip to north London?

Last night I had northern fish and chips, (in Alnwick), taking a visitor who had never eaten British fish and chips. The fish was the best I've eaten.

SarahC said...

Thank you for the mushy pea rant. Hear!Hear! You didn't mention my particular hate, which is the addition of mint (flavour) to the squished up peas/petits pois. So wrong in so many ways. Best fish and chips I've ever had in London was from Fryer's Delight, Theobalds Road.

jen725 said...

Actually I think seafish isn't at all bad - about 3 steps and half the price from Fish and Chip Shop. I too was disappointed - I ordered the lobster and it came with nutcrackers rather than proper claw crackers. When I asked for a lobster pick the sullen waitress looked at me as I was mad. The far better waiter did apologise and said "Oh yeah, I told them they need to get some". I realise "waah I don't have a lobster pick" is the definition of first world problems, but if you're serving it, at not cheap prices, provide the utensils - Cote up the road, or even Browns would. Husband had a fish pie which was fine, as far as fish pies go, but again not worth the price.

I do think you're harsh on North London though :(

Anonymous said...

It's in no way trendy or in a particularly hip neighbourhood but, for my money, you won't find finer than The Traditional Plaice on Leather Lane. Just don't get me started on how rubbish Fryer's Delight is, despite claims from many otherwise sane people to the contrary.

Lily M said...

You should come to Smiles fish & chip shop in Beaconsfield, which is half an hour out of Marylebone! Their mushy peas are a delight (though they don't sell onion rings, which makes me sad)

Anonymous said...

Spot on post. I found the place vastly overpriced and underwhelming. Also to note, I recently had delicious lemon sole in Hereford Road and 10 Greek Street both priced at around £15...so they are obviously taking the p*** to ask £24 for it...

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly some of the best fish and chips I've ever had was in a hole in the wall place on Polk Street in San Francisco. Both the fish and chips were cooked to order, the chips were double cooked and the fish was cold shipped in every day. Best of all you could have 3 pieces of cod and a large portion of chips for $7 with a can of pop AND they had proper vinegar. I used to travel over there once a week from my home in the east bay and every time I go back to the city's pay a visit

Univerz said...

Bottle of wine in a chippy? Flash!

Univers said...

Also, brown sauce on a bacon sanger? Is that a southern thing?

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

Why set up fish and chip shop down the road from a perfect little fish and chip shop like seafish - I wouldn't even go on principle!