Tom's Place, Cale Street, London

Sustainable fish, moules marinière, home-made ketchup... Tom Aikens' new-wave fish and chipper is batter by far

Terry Durack
Sunday 16 March 2008 01:00
Comments

It's good that Tom Aikens has gone to all the trouble of sourcing sustainable fish, recycled take-away boxes and cornstarch cutlery for his new-wave chippy. It's great. The only trouble is opening it in Chelsea, where his customers come wrapped in floor-length black fox fur, clutching £1,300 Chanel calfskin totes, their black Range Rovers illegally parked outside. Talk about sustainable.

Clientele aside, there is plenty to like about Tom's Place. You have to whole-heartedly endorse a policy of buying mainly line-caught fish brought in by family-run day boats and focusing on less threatened species such as pollock, gurnard, megrim sole, mackerel and Cornish sardines. And someone has had a lot of fun putting this whole concept together. I like the tongue-in-cheek chippy references in the flecked easy-wipe tables and benches, the moulded plastic lipstick-red chairs and stools, and the bottles of Sarson's vinegar and home-made ketchup. Even the "blackboard" behind the takeaway counter has been reinvented in sexy red neon, listing the available types of battered fish, chips, big fat onion rings and battered potato slices as well as fish cakes, grilled mackerel with beetroot and potato, pan-fried, line-caught sea bass with balsamic red onions, and "bowl food" such as moules marinière.

None of this is particularly new to me, as Sydney's Bondi, Manly and Balmoral beaches did new-wave chippy back in the 1990s, inspiring Rick Stein and others to follow their example. Aikens has even sourced an Australian manager in Chris McNally, last seen at Sydney's Flying Fish, who is so can-do he probably has done by the time you finish this sentence.

Aussie fish and chips are all about freshness, with everything cooked to order and nothing kept in warming trays. That means two things: better eating and longer waiting. I settle in on the ground floor, which is buzzier than the low-ceilinged, 30-seat diner up the tin-shed-style spiral staircase. Tom isn't cooking tonight, but his twin Robert is, which, in appearance at least, is the same thing.

The gurnard's big ugly head may have saved it from being popular in the past, but it is so good deep-fried (£12.50) that its future may well be imperilled. The firm, sweet meaty flesh is encased in crisp golden batter that actually has flavour; while the chips are homely and thick-cut, served with some bland tartare sauce. Oi, where's the lemon? You'd be tossed into the deep end in Oz if you served any sort of fish without lemon. Mr Can-Do immediately does, and what's left of the juice goes into the tartare to make it more interesting.

As for the rest of it: mushy peas (£2) are green and sweet; fat little grilled sardine fillets on toast with an old-fashioned shallot chutney (£7.50) are tip-top; and a glass of 2005 Chapel Down Bacchus Reserve (£5.50) is crisp and clean without being in any way thrilling.

On the downside, breaded scampi is a waste of langoustine, crumbs and £20, the steamy little morsels bland and pale inside their thick sarcophagi; Aikens' new-found ecological evangelism seems heavy-handed when it takes the form of a documentary starring the man himself playing continuously on plasma TV screens (the volume turned down by staff); and while watching your food miles is a good thing, an all-English wine list is taking it a step too far, until global warming gets so bad that England can ripen her grapes in the sun.

I still think battering and deep-frying is the least appealing way to cook fish in the world, but if I have to eat fish and chips, I'll eat them here. Or I'll take them home: a subsequent meal of battered ray and chips and a tub of rich, thick bouillabaisse works almost as well. I might add that it was taken home on foot and by Tube, which, in these days of violent street crime, makes me the endangered species. n

15/20

scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Tom's Place, 1 Cale Street, London SW3, tel: 020 7351 1806 11am-11pm Sun-Wed; 11am-midnight Thurs-Sat. Around £65 for two, including wine and service

Second helpings: More fine fish suppers

Fish Club

189 St John's Hill, London SW11, tel: 020 7978 7115
Steve Orme and James Thompson's Aussie-style chippy serves everything from traditional fish and chips to sushi and steak and mash

Battered

5A Brewery Place, Leeds LS10, tel: 0113 243 5761
From the owners of gourmet-burger restaurant Oracle, this new-wave fish-and-chipper turns out the classics, king prawn linguine, cassoulet and lots more

Stein's Fish & Chips

South Quay, Padstow, Cornwall, tel: 01841 532 700
Next door to his deli, underneath his Seafood School, is Rick Stein's smart chippy, serving up excellent local fish, cooked in beef dripping. Expect queues

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in