|Crunch Time at Kerbisher & Malt|
Jackie Lee tries the cod at Hammersmith's posh new chippie
Fish and chips is so quintessentially British and yet, sadly, so often done badly. It is not just a case of battering a limp, impotent piece of fish, shoving it in the deep fryer and calling a day - no. It is an exact science, a matter of selecting the best, freshest fish and sealing in the moisture with a batter that is then carefully lowered into boiling hot oil for a set amount of time and served up immediately, piping hot, crispy and golden on the outside and containing succulent flaky white flesh.
Fish and chips, really then, is an art. When asked whether or not I wanted to review Kerbisher & Malt, a "posh" fish and chip shop in Hammersmith, I admit my heart sank a little.
I love fish and chips but "posh" fish and chips? What did this even mean? Was everything going to be served to me on silver platters? Would I be offered a fancy wine to go along with me battered bit o' cod and chippies? I sincerely hoped not and offered up a prayer to the food gods before I stepped foot inside the premises... and I wasn't at all disappointed.
It was good; so good that I may even go so far as to say that Kerbisher & Malt could be the best fish and chips in London.
About a ten minute walk from Hammersmith Broadway, Kerbisher & Malt is relatively small. White tiled walls emblazened with black print tell you the need-to-knows: what's on the menu, that it's all freshly made-to-order and where the toilets are.
You will be forgiven for thinking you're on a boat; the wooden trench tables and minimalist silver stools coupled with those very white walls feel somewhat nautical and yet inviting. Clean. Orders are made and paid for at the counter at which point it goes out to the kitchen, you sit down and when your food is ready it's brought to your table.
Yes, this is a little more posh than your regular fish and chip shops but the menu favourites are the same: cod, haddock, plaice, chips, mushy peas; on top of that, the slightly fancier choices: battered calamari, fennel and dill salad, crushed potato salad; and as for the fish? It doesn't even have to be battered, with the option to have it grilled or fried in matzo meal (breadcrumbs made from matzo biscuits).
My companion for the evening was my food-loving Northern best friend, hereafter referred to as Northern Girl or NG for short. Originally from Scarborough, NG was of the opinion that you simply could not get good fish and chips in London and so had insisted on accompanying me this evening for dinner. Why not? If anybody knew their fish and chips it'd be her.
We ordered the calamari to share, then I the cod and chips, NG the haddock and chips and mushy peas to share. Our drinks - a Coke for me and Fentiman's Victorian Lemonade for NG - were given to us with a glass and we took our seats at the table by the window.
Despite the fact that all the food is freshly made to order, turn-around was fast and our food was in front of us within ten minutes. Even more surprisingly, the place was absolutely packed - we practically had to fight to claim our table, and all this with a reservation. This would not be a place to come with a large group of people - luckily their take-away service would solve that problem were you to have a fish and chip party at home.
Sadly the calamari was not great. Served atop a mixed leaf salad and with half a lemon, the batter was clumsy, soggy and flavourless. The actual calamari, however, was extremely fresh. With a little more seasoning and a better batter it would've been a real joy.
The mushy peas, on the other hand, served up in a white bowl as opposed to the little polystyrene cup we're all so used to, were superb. Just the right amount of flavour, texture and seasoning made these my favourite mushy peas in a long time.
So how about the fish, then? It was crunch time. Large white plates held the biggest portion of cod and chips I'd seen in a long time. We shuffled the plates and various condiments around our table in a futile attempt to make space and eventually gave up, simply shoving it all to one side so that we could get stuck in.
My fork encountered golden crisp batter that enveloped soft, white flaky flesh - it was moist and yet not soggy. The fish was fresh, the flesh firm the way only a daily catch can be. The chips were your traditional fat chips, a little on the crunchy side for me (I like them a little bit soggy and with plenty of salt) but right up NG's alley.
"My least favourite thing," NG told me through a mouthful of haddock, "is when chippies have soggy batter and dry fish. This is really crispy and moist - I'm impressed." My God, had she just given a London fish and chip shop her seal of approval?! "That calamari was a bit pants, though. We would've done it better back up in Scarbs."
September 1, 2011