The Fish & Chip Shop, 189 Upper Street, Islington, London

 

Des McDonald's name is legendary in the food business – the legends in question being Midas and Croesus. When Nick Lander published The Art of the Restaurateur last year, McDonald was one of its stars. An Irish baker's son, he opened two restaurants in the City of London by the age of 22 and become executive chef of Caprice Holdings, founded by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the chaps who triumphantly revamped The Ivy, Scotts of Mayfair, Le Caprice and J Sheekey.

When the company was sold, McDonald became a worldwide setter-upper for the new boss Richard Caring, opening restaurants from Dubai to California – but he never opened a restaurant that was all his own work, so to speak, until now. McDonald could have chosen any genre. He could have opened a sushi bar, an omelettes-only eaterie, a Galway-Fiji fusion joint, and the foodies would have flocked to check it out. So what did he go for? A fish and chip shop.

One's heart sinks a little. We are, after all, in north London here, not Whitby or Penzance. We'll have fish'n'chips when we're on holiday, thanks, sitting on the quay, eating it out of wrapping paper, not as the climax of an evening out in the metropolis. Learning that the place claims its produce comes "From boat to our kitchen to your table" doesn't fill you with confidence either (where's this boat? The Serpentine? The Thames Estuary?) nor that it serves tea and cake, and fancy cocktails. It sounds like someone's trying to be several things at once.

How pleasing, then, to report that I liked the F&C Shop the minute I walked in. You find yourself in a long, friendly bar, leading to two utilitarian dining areas, grey tables, blue wood panels, 1940s furniture. The windows and partitions have lettering inscribed on the glass ('Fish Supper', 'Fisherman's Breakfast') in a nod to the Quality Chop House.

There's a hectic buzz, and some quality folk music playing (can it be "Fisherman's Blues" by the Waterboys?). It's very old-fashioned, but nicely so – we could have walked into a backstreet café in 1990s Brighton or 1970s Havana. Above our booth, a huge dirty ventilator shaft hung from the ceiling, and industrial lamps illuminate the back-room bar – very MeatLiquor. It's artfully designed, but feels authentic.

Cocktails at £8 were excellent, especially the Grapefruit Picador, which involves tequila and something called velvet falernum (the barman gave us the bottle to try – it's Barbadian syrup with an undertaste of cloves and apple pie) and was heavenly. From the recycled-brown-wrapping-paper menu (very Polpo), the asparagus crab salad was a happy marriage of flavours that thrummed with freshness.

I tried the 'London Particular' fritters, attracted by the Victorian phrase for a 'pea-souper' fog, and got four golden tubes of crushed peas with ham hock bits, deep-fried and served with rose-marie and mustard sauce. A nicely thought-out dish, light on the fritter, vibrant on the taste buds.

The menu offers comfort-food dishes, such as fish finger or smoked saveloy butties, hot salt beef with wallys (gherkins), fish pie and shrimp burgers, but my eye went greedily to the 'Grilling Today' section ( a nice variant on 'Frying Tonight'). I ordered the Cornish Mixed Fish with Jersey Royals and found myself battling through a kind of non-liquid bouillabaisse: a gigantic tranche of sea bream, soft and light as a pillow, a single scallop reeking of garlic and chilli, huge tiger prawns, a nicely al dente sea trout, a meaty monkfish tail; it was all pretty faultless, but too much for one human. Angie tried the breaded scampi and pronounced it light and lovely: "Something new to me," she said, "melt-in-the-mouth scampi…"

We ended with a Knickerbocker Glory in a tall sundae – fresh raspberries, pear, cream, nuts – and an Irish Cider Jelly in which brandy cream and lime sorbet cut through the gelatin sweetness. Both were intensely satisfying, ending a meal that was a classic old-style blow-out from the pages of Dandy or Beano.

The cooking (the chef is Lee Bull, former head chef at Le Caprice) isn't exactly adventurous but it's very high quality, full of forethought and care. The personnel were chatty, friendly and knowledgable. Even the coffee was terrific, sourced from a special roast café in Old Street. Mr McDonald's choice of a Victorian retro fish'n'chip joint was an eccentric one for a first casting, but he's reeled in an undoubted success.

Food ****
Ambience ****
Service ****

The Fish & Chip Shop, 189 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 (020-3227 0979). About £115 for two, with wine

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

    Rebranding Christmas

    More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
    A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

    A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

    Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
    Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

    Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

    New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
    Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

    Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

    He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...