Sunday, 13 June 2010

Canteen Fish & Chips

I was invited recently to try fish and chips at Canteen in Baker Street.  As readers will know, I am a sucker for takeaway fish and chips when in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast.  But in London, since the demise of the wonderful Upper Street Fish Bar (sadly now a Nando's) and its charismatic owner Olga, fish and chips do not pass my lips.  In fact, there are very few fish and chip shops and restaurants left and those that there are often double up as kebab shops and even Chinese takeaways.   This is one of the sad legacies of overfishing.

Canteen started in Spitalfield in 2005 and is now a mini chain of four restaurants serving "Great British Food" at all times of the day.  Foreign visitors to London often ask me about restaurants serving traditional British food and I have to reply that either I never go to them so cannot recommend or the very few that exist must be so terrible that they will even exceed my foreign friends' prejudices.  So, we normally end up in the pub.

But, you don't necessarily always want to go to the pub and if you have young children, you can't anyway.  And very few pubs do breakfast.  The Canteen restaurants appear to actively encourage families and the menu includes fish finger sandwiches and Twiglets.  For slightly more grown up tastes there is the all day breakfast, devilled kidneys on toast, sausages and mash, various pies and roasts, treacle pudding and fish and chips.

Our group of bloggers were at the Baker Street branch to try out the fish and chips and to hear group executive chef and co-founder Cass Titcombe talk about his restaurants and his new book, Great British Food.  We learned that the fish used is sourced responsibly and ethically from south coast day boats and so the fish available changes from day to day.  We tried cod, pollack and plaice in breadcrumbs and in a light batter.  The batter recipes follow:
Cass explained that he prefers breaded fish as it's less greasy but his batter was certainly fairly grease free.  It lacked the beefy taste of dripping-fried batter like the one in Aldeburgh but he said he didn't want to offend non meat eaters' sensibilities; vegetable oil (he thought groundnut) is used instead.
Maris Piper potatoes are used for the medium sized chips which are blanched at 130'C and then rinsed and dried to aid crispness after the next frying stage.  The chips are then fried at 190'C for 3 minutes.  The fish is floured before being dipped in the batter (if using) which should have the consistency of thick double cream. The fish is fried at 170'C for up to 5 minutes according to the thickness of the fillet.
As a side we had traditional mushy peas except that these were not luridly wasabi paste green, more olive green and all the more appetising for it.  Cass explained that by adding bicarbonate of soda to the 12 hour soaking of the marrowfat peas these end up softer and less grey looking than they would   do otherwise.  

The tartare sauce is made in house which was a pleasant surprise; any pregnant women or Edwina Currie can reassure themselves though that the egg yolk being pasteurised is therefore listeria and salmonella free. I would have preferred more cornichon crunch to the sauce but that's my personal taste.
The (home made) breadcrumbs used for the plaice are white which helps judge the cooking time as they go brown in the hot oil.  All three fish we tried were caught the day before so were ultra fresh.  My suggestion that the fish may have a more pronounced flavour if either aged a bit longer (as with my cod experiment) or salted lightly and left to exude moisture (as they do in Greece) provoked interest but the assertion from Cass that fish does not improve with time.  I agree to differ, according to the fish: sea bass, for example is best eaten the day it's caught, in my opinion, and white fish benefit from a few days out of the sea.  Cass's favourite fish for fish and chips is haddock.
We drank a delicious Hooky Gold pale ale from Hook Norton brewery which had plenty of zesty, sharp hoppy flavour to wash away the fat and quench the thirst.

I was a guest at Canteen restaurant.  My thanks to Cass Titcombe and to Jenny Goss of Sauce Communications


  1. I haven't been fr years, but always enjoyed the finch, chimps and mushy bees at the Sea Shell on Lisson Grove. Handy for workers at BNP Paribas around the corner on Harewood Ave. Have you heard of it?

  2. Justin, yes, I used to go to Sea Shell when I worked in Primrose Hill and St John's Wood. I didn't know they were still going and must revisit. By the way, I wonder what British chippies would make of harina para freir; a halfway house between flour and breadcrumbs, don't you think? Curiously, neither Garcia & Sons in Portobello Road or José Pizarro at Brindisa have heard of it (his excuse is that he's from Caceres) but it seems to be the fish coating of choice in Andalucia. And I'd like to try it on calf's brains too!!

  3. I'm bad at following up blog post comments! Sorry to take so long to reply. Your Jerez fish-market post inspired us to have a go at some fish again. A "pescaito frito variado" - of sorts. We got some little acedias and salmonetes. Gave them a dusting in that harina para freir and into a pot full of hot-as-you-like EV olive oil. Seemed to work quite well. The harina was more like bog-standard flour than bread-crumbs but once mixed with the moisture on the outside of the fish it did develop a bread-crumby texture with frying. It would work a treat with calf's brains, I'm sure and would probably help out sweatbread's as well. Nice and crispy! I'll bring you a bag of it next time I come to Londres.

  4. Sorry about the apostrophes all over the place and shocking grammar. Sleep deprivation. I think you know why!

  5. I met someone somewhere the other day who'd met you at Vinoble. When will you post a new entry here?

  6. very soon; I'm still unpacking boxes and painting walls here in France but thanks for your interest! Why don't you come down and help me overcome my andouillette aversion? That would make for an interesting post or two