It wouldn’t be a Friday without a proper fish supper and after months of canteen fish and chips for Friday lunch, this week something very special caught my eye. The semi-finalists of the UK National Fish and Chip awards were announced this week and the only London establishment to make the grade was the Hackney-based Poppies.
At EastLondonLines we like to ensure all of the most important stories in the area are covered, so this announcement could only mean one thing. I would have to go and review the best fish and chips in London – in the name of journalism, of course.
Seafish, a seafood industry body and the award judges, named Poppies and nine other independent fish and chip shops as their semi-finalists. The ten stores will battle it out for the main title, which will be announced in January. The awards look at the entire businesses: premises, customer service and promotion as well as the product, selecting businesses that embody the best of that national institution the fish and chippie.
After a very small amount of persuasion I found a willing dining companion and off we went for a late Friday lunch.
This is, perhaps, the most suitable time to confess a conflict of interests in the fish and chip reviewing process. Born and raised in New Zealand, some of my fondest childhood memories are of waiting in the chip shop on a Friday night, number in hand, for that most precious of packages, wrapped not in gift wrap but the week’s newspapers. As something of a connoisseur, my dining and companion and I make for a tough crowd.
Fortunately, when you’re eating London’s best, you can please even the most discerning. Poppies did not disappoint.
Poppies had a large takeaway line when we arrived mid-afternoon so we opted to eat in the restaurant. The waitress, dressed in a fifties-themed outfit, was friendly and we were seated immediately. The décor throughout the restaurant also follows this trend, fifties memorabilia adorning the walls, blue and white tiles, a juke box. A little like an over-styled version of a traditional pie or fish and chip shop, it is a welcome nod to history.
The menu offers something for all occasions. Straight fish suppers form the majority of offerings, varied to include plaice, fish cakes or scampi. Starters were listed for those who wanted to make an occasion of it with the jellied eels and shrimp cocktail almost wooing us but we opted to dive straight in; it being mid-afternoon, we simply couldn’t wait.
After minimal debate we opted for a cod dinner and a haddock dinner, and shared – as kiwis, our desire for proportional representation sometimes gets the best of us. We also ordered gherkins, two – snspired, at least in my case, by a recent trip to a Jewish deli, where I discovered the pickle’s magical power to cut through mac and cheese like Cif through limescale.
Our meals arrived promptly. Too promptly for my liking: I prefer a cooked to order piece of fish, especially when dining in. When we tried the fish it suffered slightly form its period in the warmer waiting for our order, appearing and tasting slightly dry but fresh none the less. Lightly battered and obviously of fine quality the fish was very good (we were split on our preference for the cod or the haddock). The menu states all fish used at Poppies are sustainably sourced, not trawled, and you could certainly tell. Fish came with tartare which was excellent, if a little small portion-wise.
Chips, so often the weakest link in the meal, were of similar quality. Most of the portion was what you would want from a chip, fluffy inside with a slight crunch towards the ends. Condiments – ketchup and vinegar – were provided without being requested.
Pickles, two, and very fine ones, indeed cut through the grease and enabled our gluttony. I’m happy to say we polished off every last chip.
With a cider for him and an old-fashioned lemonade for me, the bill came in under £30. An very reasonable price for lunch for two in the heart of Shoreditch.
So there you have it. It’s fish and chips. It’s very good fish and chips. Were they good enough to be the UK’s best? I couldn’t possibly say without a quick trip to the four corners of the UK to try the wares of the other semi-finalists. What do you say, editor? Cover enough of them and little old EastLondonLines might end up accorded that highest of honours: printed out and wrapping chips. We can only hope.