Yes, I appreciate that getting fish and chips in London sounds just like the sort of touristy thing I usually tell people to avoid. Walking into one of the tourist trap stands near one of London’s many landmarks is probably a recipe for disappointment and light wallet but it’s not unreasonable to expect there would be an awesome example of fish and chips in the capital of the country that created the dish. I love fish and chips and wasn’t going to leave London without attempting to find a great place.
There were two obstacles in my way. First, a lot of restaurants in London aren’t open on Sundays and secondly, the food blogger community isn’t as huge as it is in Vancouver. I don’t know if that’s true or if I just couldn’t find as many blog posts as easily but that was surprising for one of the world’s food capitals. I narrowed it down to five places after looking high and low on Google for the “best fish and chips in London”. Just one was both open on Sunday and reasonably close to where I was: Kerbisher & Malt.
Kerbisher & Malt has two locations, one of which is located in Hammersmith, a quieter, more suburban area of London that I’m actually quite familiar with already. My friends and I stayed there for two weeks at the Globetrotter Inn back in ’06 when we backpacked around Europe. We watched several World Cup matches in the pubs (after seeing one in person in Germany a few weeks earlier) and even met Top Gear‘s James May shopping for groceries at a Tesco. Getting there requires that you head into Zone 2 on the London Underground, which will cost you a bit more on your Oyster card but if you’re using it a lot, it’ll max out at something like £9 per day.
I have to admit, I was mostly drawn to Kerbisher & Malt because of the overwhelming number of positive buzz not from bloggers but London press. I saw at least five or six beaming headlines from British newspapers on their website as well as inclusion in many “Best of…” lists from popular travel guides. I had to check this out for myself.
When I arrived…”Huh?”. This is what Esquire calls one of the best “posh” fish and chips restaurants in Britain? What’s posh about mismatched lawn furniture and grabbing your knives, forks and napkins from a plastic bucket? But hey, I’m not one to judge a restaurant by its decor. I mean, one of my favorite restaurants (now closed, unfortunately) looked like a cross between a comic book pizzaria and the bathroom from Saw.
Kerbisher & Malt seems like more of a take-away place but there’s room for about 20. Small tables on one side for about four and a large, communal table on the other. Decor consists of their many positive reviews printed out, adorning each side of the service counter and a number of black and white photos. Look closely and you’ll notice that one of the pictures is not like the others – it’s actually a live video feed of the kitchen. It’s not as obvious as it looks in the pictures.
The menu is larger than I expected including five different kinds of fish (each available fried, grilled or in matzo), eight sides and, if you don’t feel like whole pieces of fried fish, a number of other options like calamari, fish nuggets and…what the heck is a butty because there’s two different varieties of it?
I couldn’t decide so I let the lady at the counter choose my fish for me. She recommended the haddock so I got an order of that along with a coleslaw and chips (fries, for everyone not in England).
Wow, I did not expect the fish to be this huge. It’s basically an entire half of a fish. I actually thought about trying another thing or two off the menu but I was stuffed after the fish and about half the chips.
The haddock (£6.60, ~$10.75CDN) is gorgeously cooked. Moist and tender, covered with a not-too-thick and very crispy layer of batter. For something deep fried, it didn’t taste oily, like really great tempura. The fish was fresh, firm and had a great taste all on it’s own but you’re going to want some of the freshly made house tartare sauce to go with it (a 50p option) along with some malt vinegar or lemon.
The chips (£1.80) are not the sort I usually like but they’re delicious as well. I prefer thinner, crispier fries but I found myself picking at these long after I thought I was done. I thought the coleslaw (£1.50), on the other hand, used too much mayo. I ate some with the chips but just didn’t want the rest of it. Totally should’ve gone with the mushy peas or something but was too stuffed after the fish and chips to order anything else. I felt like a beer (K&M is licensed with small selection of beers and wines) but didn’t have room.
Summary: I left Kerbisher & Malt thinking that this was probably one of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. They solve my biggest issues with most fish and chips places where the fish gets soggy or the batter is far too thick or the fish/fries are an oily mess. Kerbisher & Malt use fresh, local, sustainable ingredients and everything is made fresh to order. I love that they take pride in their food, that something as simple as fish and chips can be done with attention to detail rather than shortcuts. Yes, it takes a little longer but there’s no other way to say it other than that fish is perfect. A completely perfect example of the fish in fish and chips. The chips aren’t my usual cup of tea but they’re also fantastic. If you’re going to eat fish and chips in London, this is the place you should do it.