Fish Cafe on Hampstead high street is part of the NW3 based Villa Bianca group. It sprang up a year or so ago and since then I've spent several happy afternoons on the pavement next to Waterstones scarfing a platter of oysters and too much white wine. Like this glorious day:
Imagine my disappointment then on my latest visit whereby the menu had been drastically slashed. Before there were things like Smoked Haddock Rarebit (really rich and lovely) and I recall a nice gratin of some description too - scallop maybe. None of these things are available now, and gone too were the oysters. The menu now is much more your standard fish and chip shop fare, plus a handful of salads for starters. Their specials board has always been quite good though, and there were options like gazpacho and some kind of exotic tuna thing to be fair. We started with an octopus, squid and prawn salad to share for around £10:
It was really tasty, nicely dressed and the fish had all been skillfully cooked - no mean feat when it comes to our rubbery squid friends - but still felt maybe a little steep for the price. The octopus was so good it just about made up for it.
I ummed and aaahed about something healthy for my main course - all the fish is available steamed, grilled or fried - and true, I was tempted by the sole but unfortunately as soon as I get proper fish and chips in my head it's like a drug and I literally *have* to have it. Sometimes the craving can last weeks until I give in, but ultimately it always ends the same way - me ordering an absolute feast to be delivered to my door from Oliver's in Belsize Park.
So, I had a haddock and chips (why is there never Rock on the menu these days?) and Rich went for a scampi. Scampi can be a massive massive con of some kind of rank reformed fishy offcuts, but the Villa Bianca group have a good rep, so we hoped for proper langoustine scampi.
Luckily it was:
You can see the reassuring shape of the individual tails, and they were served piping hot in a crisp, light and crunchy batter that meant paying over £10 was almost ok.
My haddock was also good and obviously served in the same batter. They have matzo as an option, but I'm never a huge fan of it.
The chips look anaemic here but I promise they weren't. They were middle of the road chip shop chips and could have done with maybe a tad more crunch, but that was all.
I'm simple in my fish and chip requirements and would NEVER put anything like curry sauce or, god forbid, gravy on them but I do like a soupcon of mushy peas to break up the beige. The ones that arrived to accompany this were middling but did the job perfectly well. Horrifically, Rich ordered himself a pickled egg, and a pickled onion to go with his. Look at it:
I find the entire concept baffling.
Something I do find 100% necessary to a fish and chip scenario is a pile of liberally buttered (absolutely not margarine ever) sliced white bread. It's something my Nan and Grandad instilled in me and they were fish and chip conoisseurs. It can't be a roll. And certainly not a small hard ciabatta, as I've been served here in the past when I've tried to seek out something with which to make the essential chip butty: upsetting.
Mourning the bread, I ate my feelings by ordering a children's portion of battered sausage and chips under the pretence of feeding it to Leo - who the staff were very charming to. For the record I'd never feed a one year old child something so far removed from pork - or sausage for that matter - but I am perfectly prepared to eat it myself and I utterly delight in how something so wrong can be so right. It's only available on the kids menu, so I had no choice ok? I shared my fish with him anyway.
It's almost impossible to even find a battered sausage on a chip shop menu round here (doesn't sit so well with the kosher) so this was quite a treat:
We left, about £60 or so worse off (bottle of white wine) but very full and mostly satisfied, knowing we'd have to walk the entire Heath to work it off.
PS. This week I am pleased to see oysters have made a return - there is hope