Address: 397 New Cross Road, SE14 6LA
Area: New Cross
Nearest Station: New Cross
Good For: Takeaway, Casual dining, Comfort food, Fresh seafood, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu
The past year has been pretty tough: sometime in May or June last year, our local chippie in New Cross closed up for renovation works and then never reopened.
Once patronised by Sir Paul McCartney (no, really), Sirius Fish & Chips was run by a lovely Filipino couple who knew me and my brother quite well – courtesy of our mum introducing us to them, without our knowing about it, not long after we moved into the area. Whilst the fish was not the best, it was decent enough to fill the fish-shaped hole that appeared in my life on the occasional evening, but certainly I enjoyed going there for the conversation and the friendliness.
So yes, with the loss of my favourite Filipino-run chippie, I think it’s fair to say that New Cross suffered heavily for it.
For where was one to go for good fish and chips from a proper chippy (I’m going to leave Sefa Kebab out of this discussion, and for argument’s sake the other places at the far, far end of New Cross that no one ever told me about)? The nearest one I could fathom then was Brockley’s Rock, but as the name suggests, that’s in Brockley, not New Cross and certainly not just down the road from us. The round-trip, including bus ride, ordering and waiting, and loitering at the bus stops at both ends, took at the very least a good 45 minutes, if I remember correctly.
The cod was absolutely delightful and crispy, the chips that perfect middle point between overly-crunchy and soggy and the mushy peas a great texture – but 45 minutes is too much effort for a ‘local’ chippy. Brockley’s Rock is a gem that neighbouring Brockleyites can keep to themselves – this New Cross boy needed something closer to home. Desperately.
And so, when the news appeared on the grapevine that the London Particular (brilliant café, FYI) would be backing their friend, Maddy Inoue, in opening a new fish bar venture in the empty shell that was Sirius, of course I was excited. There was even to be a Kickstarter campaign to help her purchase a state-of-the-art fryer. Although hesitant that a ‘fish bar’ might entail grossly-exaggerated prices, my cynical thoughts were over-ridden by a stomach desperate for some really good fish and chips. So my brother and I chipped in (haha!) and backed Maddy on Kickstarter.
That was in the last quarter of last year; Maddy’s Fish Bar officially opened a week ago Tuesday. Suffice to say, it has been a long and tortuous wait. One that was thankfully shortened by just a few days, thanks to our Kickstarter contribution and subsequent invitation to a ‘VIP’ tasting session (ballin’) during their soft launch. Over the course of an evening, set in their bright, clean-cut and rather utilitarian space, we were treated to a wide range of dishes from the proposed menu, which is meant to be a modern twist on British classics.
So what is on offer from Maddy, and how does her fare hold up as a neighbourhood chippy?
Rock Oysters: Not your average chippy dish, but certainly what you’d expect from a fish bar. I’m no fan of oysters, so I’ll defer to my brother on this one: “fresh”. So there you go.
Chicken Nuggets: These were delightful. Moist and tender pieces of chicken in a substantial coating (which admittedly could have done with being just a bit crispier), served with a home-made mayonnaise that was very more-ish. I can foresee these being a rather guilty treat.
Selection of Pickles – Egg in pickling broth and radish: The aforementioned ex-Beatle was apparently a fan of the pickled eggs of Sirius (no, really), so I’d love to hear his opinion on Maddy’s take on this classic dish.
Sadly, he was unable to comment, so I’ll blunder on. What we got here was a gloriously warm and soft-boiled egg that spilt its yolk ever so generously into the savoury vinegar-dashi bath that the egg found itself in; it was a real treat, and I can imagine that having one of these alongside your fish would be rather eye-opening. The accompanying radishes, on the other hand, were rather under-powered as a pickle and didn’t really add much to this course. Something to work on, I guess.
Salt and Pepper Squid: Continuing with the injection of Asian influences into a British chippy, Maddy is turning her hand to that favourite Chinese staple of ours, salt and pepper squid. She wasn’t so successful on this one – yes, it was crisp, had great texture and did not feel greasy at all; unfortunately, it lacked real bite and flavour. All I think it needs is just an adjustment to the seasoning – a much easier thing to improve upon than trying to rescue dead and limp fried squid.
Fish and Chips with Maddy’s Slaw, mushy peas and curry sauce: And here we have the pièce de résistance, the whole reason why I welcomed Maddy to New Cross with wide open arms: crispy crisp fishy fish. You can just see from the photo alone how phenomenal that batter was – light, fluffy and crispy, it covered all the bases. It’s good to see our Kickstarter money was used well! The whiting fish itself was cooked just right and was juicy up to the point before fish starts to fall apart. When I went back on opening day, I was able to have the panko-breaded plaice, which again was delightful and crisp – the picture below does not represent a one-hit wonder.
As for the chips – although Maddy did say that she had to go through several iterations of her chip recipe, I was fairly happy with where she’d gotten to that evening, for the chips were, like Brockley’s Rock, hitting that right balance between overly-crunchy and soggy. Really good chippy chips then, perfect for soaking up the delicious curry sauce accompanying the dish.
Maddy’s Slaw was a standard sauced cabbage affair, which adds some freshness and vegetable bite to the dish, serving its purpose adequately as a side dish.
The mushy peas, however, I was not hugely wowed by. Whilst the flavours were perfectly fine (good level of mintiness, even if I don’t like mint with peas too much), when I want mushy peas I want, well, a complete mush. Yes, mixing in whole peas with some mushed ones creates a pleasing contrast of textures, but… I’m just a stickler for a real mush of peas that I can scoop up with a chip. No doubt other people will like these peas – they are welcome to them.
Cornflake Ice Cream: You know that pleasing state, right at the beginning of your bowl of Frosties, where the coldness of the milk really brings the sugary flavour and crunch to the fore? That’s what this ice cream is all about. A shot of freshness, first thing in the morning.
I was able to confirm this initial impression on opening day, and discovered that Maddy had gone the extra mile by putting actual cornflakes on the ice cream. Winner winner ice cream dinner!
So, it all looks good, no? But I am sure you are wondering, “A chippy this fancy don’t come cheap”. And you’d be right in that this is no Sirius Fish & Chips – the standard meal of fish, chips and Maddy’s Slaw comes in at £8.50, and the portions are smaller (healthier!?) – but at the same time it is no pricey Fish and Chip Shop in Islington, which is what I feared the most for the local area. So yes, I think Maddy’s has done just about alright bringing these prices to New Cross… it’s a step up from before, but at least it’s a measured step and in the right direction.
VERDICT – A good place. Maddy’s Fish Bar is a more than welcome addition to the neighbourhood, not just because it fulfils the criteria of existing and being an open business, but because it brings some genuinely good fish and chips to the area. Friday Fishdays are back on!
Currently listening to: Battlelore – Beneath the Waves