Deep down inside, I know that I'm really quite dorky. It is no newsflash to my friends. After all, I unashamedly love kitsch things, silly humour, I even snort when I laugh sometimes (I'm so sophisticated). As for something else that's a little bit dorky that I simply adore? It's a theme. And when you happen upon a theme when looking for the best fish and chips in Sydney when you're helping to judge the SBS Feast magazines awards? Well that's just a bonus.
I asked facebook friends where the best fish and chips were in Sydney and many had put their hands up for The Fish Shop in Potts Point. Some had dined there several times and assured me that the food was indeed worth a visit for, beyond the three month enthusiasm that we Sydney siders seem to have for everywhere new. Formerly Lotus restaurant, the new Merivale venture has themed itself in every crook and crevice. There's the cabin look from the outside and inside the details are replete.
Hooks and nets line the walls, ships in bottles sit on shelves and the facilities are named "buoys" and "gulls." Even the staff are dressed as if they were going out for a day's cruising. There is an open kitchen at one side and there's little to no trace of the former Lotus fitout (although there is Lotus chef Dan's famous cheeseburger still on the menu). "Fish are friends and food" the paper menu tells us and this and the walls tell us interesting little tidbits about our friends of the sea. All written by reporter Sandy Plankton of course ;)
When Girl Next Door and I walked in at around 8:15pm there wasn't a table free. So we waited at the bar pondering the hooks and other decorations until a table becomes ready about 10 minutes later, just as promised. Staff are very friendly and personable and we are given a choice of where to sit and we opt for in front of the action at the bar facing the open kitchen.
A quick look at the menu showed us a neat selection of food items taking up one out of the four column inches, the remaining three for liquid refreshment. A sign on the wall indicates that they serve organic, natural and bio-dynamic Australian wines only. The market board provided seven more options and the waiter explained each one. By 8:30pm the mussels and another item had run out but it's easy enough to decide. Forks, knives and napkins sit in recycled diced tomato tins.
The food comes out quickly. With the deep fried dim sim a greasy spoon favourite, we were curious to see what their version was like. They tell us that theirs is made by their Singaporean chef that they've flown in to open their upcoming new Chinese restaurant. We ordered one steamed and one fried but the fried one isn't deep fried but more lightly fried-as in kissed by the pan so they really end up tasting much the same (although the 20c price difference is interesting, usually it's the other way around too). They are served with a squirt of Asian ketchup aka Sriracha and are delightfully meaty inside and lack the greasy mouthfeel that you can get from ones that you buy on the cheap or at take aways.
Our school prawns come with artfully scrunched paper for visual effect. They're small, perfectly seasoned, and come with a smoked garlic mayonnaise. This is quite smoked by itself but the seasoning and lemon on the prawn means that the smoked flavour takes a bit of a back seat. Girl Next Door wishes that there was a bit more smoke to it.
The fish in the fish and chips is flathead and comes are three pieces of puffy deep fried beer battered chips and dark cooked fries from the cottonseed oil that it is cooked in. The fish itself is good as are the fries although they're both a touch cooler than we want by the time they get to us and must have been sitting there for a little while so some of the batter has lost its mojo in places. Alongside this is a fantastic tartare which I just want to take home with me.
Girl Next Door has a spoonful of the eel dish and then whispers "this is lukewarm." Indeed it is, although the flavour of the rich, deboned smoked eel and terrific mash and surprise rasher of bacon between the two is great. But it really needed to be hotter in temperature.
The celeriac slaw has thin matchsticks of celeriac and cabbage and shavings of cabbage and red onion and hint of mustard. It's the perfect foil for fish and chips with the creamy flavour and crunchy texture and I think I ate most of this.
One last course and by now, it seems most patrons have left as it is a school night. There is a choice of an ice cream sandwich or a coconut sorbet so we opt for the ice cream sandwich. It has a creamy vanilla ice cream centre with a soft chocolate outer studded with cacao nibs for crunch. Drizzled all over this is a salted caramel sauce. I particularly liked the ice cream with the salted caramel sauce together although I could have taken or left the biscuit part as I am not a huge cacao nib lover.
And because they seem to love a theme as much as anyone, the bill comes, themed of course, in a sardine can lid!
So tell me Dear Reader, where do you think is the best fish and chips? And are you a little bit dorky or are you cool?
The Fish Shop
22 Challis Avenue, Potts Point, NSW 2011
Tel: +61 (02) 9326 9000