If you have ever worked in a soul-destroying corporate job, you may have come across the term "praise sandwich", which refers to a trick played on an employee in a performance review. The boss starts by praising the employee, then slags them off for a bit, then finishes with more praise. This is supposed, by the moronic boss and corporation, to leave the employee highly motivated while conveying the necessary criticism. Both the concept and the term are, needless to say, idiotic, particularly as a "praise sandwich" would imply praise in the middle, not the reverse. You don't call a ham sandwich a bread sandwich. Anyway, I digress. Here at Foodie Islington towers we pride ourselves on supportive, constructive criticism as opposed to vindictive hatchet jobs on people trying to start or run a business, so let's consider this a constructive criticism sandwich. If anyone is reading.
While I've always felt slightly ambivalent about places that posh up working-class food - for many years the Upper Street Fish shop, just over the road from here, still spoken if with misty-eyed nostalgia by many old-time Islingtonians, with its red & white checked table cloths, slightly smug proto-Fromagerie staff and atmosphere, and fish cooked to order, seemed to embody an unspoken but uncomfortable class consciousness, the English disease in restaurant form - the first thing to say about this new venture is that it is a more than welcome addition to the area and is clearly well-intended with a focus on quality. It feels classy but more democratic than its predecessor.
The most important dish on the menu - battered fish - is great; perfectly cooked, with a delicious and impeccably crispy batter which has real flavour. At nine quid, it should be good, but a restaurant has to make it's money and when something is properly good, you can't argue with a price like that.
Now for a few constructive criticisms:
1. Lobster. When you advertise Lobster Rolls and include them on your permanent menu, you will have to expect some gutted customers when you tell them "no lobster" once they have rocked up salivating over the prospect of a lobster roll. Hopefully a one-off experience for this unlucky punter.
2. Chips. Sort it out, please. For a start, portions are too stingy for fish & chips, and for the price (£2.50). Secondly, call me old-fashioned, but for me, chips means thick and chunky in this context. These are more like Freedom Fries. When the restaurant has 'Chip' as part of its name, said chips should be triple-cooked, quadruple-cooked or whatever it takes to make them memorable. Room for improvement here.
3. £1 plus service charge for two small pickled onions is ridiculous. They need to be better than what you get from a supermarket jar at that price.
OK, back to the positives. I applaud anywhere that tries to have decent beer on the menu so we'll forget about the dodgy menu descriptions (OK, I'll mention them - Brooklyn Brown Ale described as "Brooklyn Brown Sugar", Beavertown 8-Ball described as "Indian IPA"). You can get good beer with your fish & chips here - I would request while they are at it they add a lower ABV Pale Ale such as Kernel Table Beer, but I'm being pedantic now.
Starters of oysters, pea fritters, and scallops were delicious, as was a delightfully bouncy, sweet and shrimpy shrimp burger. Music was brilliant on our visit, including Brenton Wood's 'Gimme Little Sign', The Velvet Underground, Dusty Springfield, John Lee Hooker, and the Rolling Stones. A better class of chippy music. The place itself is lovely and has plenty of two of my favourite things, bar seats (for couples and solo diners), and booths. Hooray for booths.
Some of the gripes above may well be due to first-week syndrome, but I couldn't wait to check the place out. My fault really. The positives are such that I'll definitely be back before too long, and I'm looking forward to it as well. Might phone ahead though, to make sure they have lobster in.
189 Upper Street
London N1 1RQ