"Fish, fish, the family dish!" went the catchphrase for New Zealand’s 1970s television ad. Clearly in those pre-sustainability days, the NZ government felt the need to actively market fish as an alternative to the meat diet of your typical kiwi.
But for a child, the only way to eat fish was battered. And with chips.
Several decades later, and along with burgers and fried chicken, ‘fish and chips’ has become fashionable, although not on the same scale as its takeaway peers.
Simply Fish, located in once-hip Shoreditch and perennially-hip Camden, is a small restaurant group ‘devoted to serving fresh, sustainably caught, British fish.’ Reading through the PR, Head Chef Sherif Hassan, and his team have pulled together a menu that celebrates all things seafood – from marinated chilli prawns and Cornish mussels in a Thai coconut sauce, to a Mediterranean fish stew, and a jerk sea bass dish. They even offer, somewhat disappointingly, meat options of a cheeseburger or a jerk chicken dish.
I was meant to be reviewing their new online delivery service, but a combination of logistical issues on their side, and a nervous Northerner on my side (takeaway fish, delivered on a bike, across London?) meant we decided to pop into their Camden restaurant and try it first-hand.
Simply Fish is all Scandinavian shades of brown offset with some yellow light fittings and the requisite exposed brick walls. It felt a bit Ikea, and was quiet on a warm summer evening in which it also had to compete with a certain football tournament for punters. The layout is a little odd: the tables and seating are positioned around the bar-cum-counter, which makes it feel cramped, although our view of the open kitchen and the charming waiting team more than compensated for any inconvenience. As did the food.
We started with the bread and mojo sauce – gazpacho-like in texture and flavor with a bit more of a kick, and delicious – and ordered the Cornish mussels in a Thai sauce, and the sea bass ceviche with pickled ginger and black sesame seeds, and chilli. The mussels were sweet and succulent, and the Thai sauce was subtle instead of overpowering – a lovely dish. The ceviche was very tasty, although the balance wasn’t quite right – by the end of the plate it had a vinegar-like acidity.
For mains, we tried the bream marinated in sumac and cumin, which was beautifully cooked and delicious. The accompanying tomato salad with rice and tahini dressing was a perfect complement. I decided to try the ‘pick your fish’ option and let them recommend a meal around that. So after choosing the hake, the waitress recommended that it be battered, with a tartare sauce accompaniment and a side of chips. Sound familiar? That’s right, I got a dish of upmarket fish and chips, which I have to say was superb. I tried the deconstructed cheesecake for dessert which was a little too sweet for my taste, and not really a cheesecake. But let’s be honest, you don’t go to a fish restaurant for desserts. Or to eat burgers and jerk chicken, for that matter.
What Simply Fish does best is what it says on the box, and I recommend sticking to the family dish.
4 Inverness St.
London NW1 7HJ
020 7482 2977