Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published May 14th 2013
A great fish plaice in London
The moniker of 'Best Fish and Chips' can be found emblazoned on many an establishment throughout this fair isle, bringing delight and despair in equal measure if the portion size, batter, chip crispiness, accompaniments and packaging exceed or don't live up to individual expectation. For some the consumption of this dish can only take place beside the seaside. But for those looking for a cityscape vista, or who just don't like getting sand between their toes, the North Sea Fish Restaurant in Bloomsbury could provide just the solution.
It first opened in 1977 and has been expanded over the years into a large restaurant and take-away. When London Taxi drivers are doing the knowledge, it is one of the landmarks they have to know. No surprises then that it's always been a haven for cabbies and offers them a discount. But patrons range from elderly ladies discussing the stock market, to groups of friends, couples, tourists. It explains its popularity by saying it's down to impeccable service and – no surprises – the 'best' fish and chips, in comfortable surroundings.
The service is friendly and fun. As for the décor, wooden furniture is complimented with red upholstery and carpeting, giving it an old-fashioned feel. Fish adorn the walls and shelves; we had a pike in a box that was caught in 1889 and a modern, large wooden flatfish for company. Laminated placemats give facts about different fish. You can eat most of them when you visit, as the menu is surprisingly varied. This is one of the differences between the North Sea Fish Restaurant and other chippies. As well as plaice, skate, haddock, cod and scampi, you can have rainbow trout, Dover sole, lemon sole, rock salmon, scotch salmon and halibut. If that's not enough, there's also a specials board, with offerings including tuna and a haddock pie. You could even go for a full on fish frenzy by ordering a starter. Prawns, mackerel, cod roe and sardines abound.
We skipped the starters, in view of the homemade puddings that were also detailed. Sherry trifle, cheesecake, tiramisu and crème caramel or an assortment of different ice creams and sorbets. But back to the fish. Your order your catch and then dress it as you wish. Chips are included, or you can choose boiled potatoes, but this was greeted with mild ridicule. Tartar sauce is homemade and it, along with ketchup, arrives in large pots. Chips are served in a basket, mushy peas on a shallow dish with a spoon. Salt and vinegar are already on the table. When you've applied all the condiments, there's proper cutlery waiting to help you dig in.
For me, the chips were winners; plentiful, chunky, not greasy. The battered fish was really good and roundly praised for not having a soggy bottom; the batter is quite light. A note though if you choose the seafood platter – everything on the plate (cod, haddock, plaice, scampi and sardines) is battered, which won't appeal to everyone. The trout was described as lovely, provided you don't mind being served whole fish or having to remove the bones yourself. Fishcakes were large and contained two or three types of fish. The tuna special came with a good salsa accompaniment and who can fault abundant scampi in a basket? The mushy peas were just right. I have it on good authority that the pickled onions hit the spot. The food was all washed down with decent wine from the restaurant's list that includes house offerings as well as eight whites, four reds, two roses and champagne for the celebratory. Typical other bar offerings are also available.
Overall, the meal was very good and all plates were collected clean. We never made it to puddings; even if you order the regular sized fish it looks like a large and with everything else, it was the right decision to forego starters too. Fish and chips will cost between ten and twenty pounds; peas, etc are extra. The North Sea Fish Restaurant is great for city dwellers with a craving for one of Britain's most traditional suppers. Embrace the happy quirks of the place and you'll have a fine feed.