It’s a treasured national dish as deeply ingrained in our culture as the monarchy, the BBC and complaining – fish and chips are truly part of what make us British. Growing up in the north, the local chippy was a regular haunt. Tightly wrapped parcels of The Yorkshire Evening Post encased a satisfyingly greasy but perfectly crisp Friday night treat. Doused in malt vinegar with a heart-stopping dose of salt, it was by far my most favoured takeaway (until I discovered the wonders of curry) and always tasted that little bit better on a cold, blustery evening. Finding a southern substitute that lives up to my childhood memories has proved fruitlessly difficult, that is, until now.
‘The Fish & Chip Shop’ is the first solo venture from ex Ivy head chef, Des McDonald and the latest restaurant to burst onto the booming Upper Street scene. The inventively titled establishment does pretty much what it says on the tin, although this is Islington darling – these are posh fish and chips. With chic 40’s inspired décor and a retro playlist this place is a far cry from your regular walk-in joint. In addition to floor tables, seating is split between a ‘raw’ bar at the front serving seafood and another at the back by the kitchen – an unusual layout but it works nonetheless. It’s small but perfectly formed with no more than around 60 covers.
Once settled into my plush leather booth I cast a weary eye over the cocktail menu in search of a suitable aperitif, it’d been a long day. I was pleasantly greeted with an adventurous list that genuinely excited me, a welcome break from the monotony of most drink offerings in London at present. The succinct selection showcased unique variations on well-loved classics; a kind-of Negroni shaken with marmalade (Lady Marmalade), a spiced Old Fashioned with pickled onion, dill and fennel (Where is Wally) and a pea and mint gin Martini (Pea Tini) – the latter of which was superb. Inventive, original and dangerously easy to drink these were not exactly your typical chippy thirst quenchers. I consciously avoided the temptation to glug only for the sake of politeness.
Further deviating from the traditional, the food has a few surprises in store too. Aside from the expected cod, haddock and chips the brown paper menus presented a range of alternatives delectable enough to distract you from the obvious. Hot and cold seafood starters were mouthwateringly tempting; rock oysters, prawn cocktail and smoked haddock scotch eggs. The signature ‘butties’ boast grown-up fish finger sandwiches and high-end lobster rolls and there’s fishy comfort food too with pies, curry and even salt beef for the fussy eater. And because caring is cool, all of this is of course sustainably sourced.
The north vs south haddock or cod debate fuels heated disagreements between my dining partners, prompting both to be ordered. The golden Camden beer batter loudly crunches to reveal the fresh, soft white fish gently steamed to perfection. Chips fried in rapeseed oil are slightly under seasoned but nothing a splash of vinegar and a shake of salt can’t redeem. ‘Mushy’ peas are in typical posh fashion, smashed and minted creating a vibrant and sweet paste ready to be loaded onto a lonesome forkful of fish. Little crisp nuggets of scampi were a delight as was a cheese-crusted fish pie. Gravy boats filled with garlic mayo, curry sauce, regular and spicy tartar provide tantalizing accouterments to the main event. Although the spicy tartar lacks heat (I’ve had hotter lemon and herb chicken at Nando’s) the curry sauce was spectacular. Spectacular might seem an overly enthusiastic word to describe curry sauce, but trust me, it was. I thankfully saved just enough room for ‘Burnt Chocolate Cream’ – imagine the Rolls-Royce of ROLO yoghurts with a hard sugared lid.
Don’t let the posh label put you off, The Fish & Chip Shop is a charming little restaurant that avoids the temptation to play too heavily on showy suppers, instead focusing on serving quality fish and seafood in humble surroundings. Prices are reasonable but understandably vary depending on what fish you order; battered cod is only £9 where as the lobster is £30, I can see the Ottolenghi yummy mummies and the John Salt yuppies flocking already. Staying true to their traditional routes there is, of course a takeaway option available – all that’s missing now is a scoop full of scraps and a can of Dandelion & Burdock. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire ey.