Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Fish and chips come to SW19 - my review of Ocean's 11 chip shop
Leopold Road in Wimbledon is a place that has never be able to boast excellent restaurant or for that matter excellent watering holes. It is a collection of newsagents, off licenses, a butcher and a string of mediocre restaurants including an indian, a kebab shop, a chinese takeaway, a Turkish restaurant (with belly dancers) and a cafe that constantly changes hands because it can never drum up enough business to meet the overheads - after having one of their bacon sandwiches I can see why. In fact, most of the shops (especially the eating establishments) change at an alarming rate on this parade, and that’s been the norm even before the arrival of a large Waitrose on the adjacent road.
You would have thought that after 12 years of witnessing each one of the world’s cuisines come and go from Leopold Road that I would be quite apathetic to new developments. That was until a month ago, when the Moroccan - which had astoundingly stayed open for 4 years despite never having a customer - finally shut its doors and papered up their windows. However amongst the broadsheets, like a disappointing cracker toy, was a crudely drawn fish under which stated that the premises was to become a ‘fish restaurant’. I was quite excited and in my naivety was imagining something like a rustic taverna with grilled sardines, fresh baby squids and crusty bread. Alas...
I suppose that in the loosest possible terms that you could call a fish and chip shop a restaurant by filling it with more tables than there will ever be customers. It soon became apparent as the renovation of the establishment started that this was not going to be the Mediterranean fish frenzy that I had hoped for. Images of crunching down on fritto misto whilst sipping a chilled glass of Gavi de Gavi was immediately shattered as I witnessed mutt and jeff trying to force a chip shop fryer/counter/warmer through a doorway, taking most of the frame with it. Suspicions that this was not to be one of those charming if simple ‘1-knife-and-fork’ bistros found so often in the Michelin Guide were confirmed as I saw the chosen name for the establishment Oceans 11. What did this mean? Was I to receive the ‘rat-pack’ of the fish world, or perhaps a harmonised chorus of Big Mouth Billy Basses ironically mouthing Al Green’s classic ‘Take me to the river’? I couldn’t wait to find out.
Truth be told I missed the grand opening, it must have been very understated, and for a while I walk by casing the joint, judging the right moment to go and get my plaice, chips and mushy peas. The opportunity soon presented itself in the form of a fun but rather lacklustre game of football delivered by local team AFC Wimbledon at their ground in Kingston enjoyed in the company of an old school chum and former SW19 resident.
By the time we had made the grueling journey back from Norbiton to Wimbledon and sunk a couple of pints in the ever reliable Prince of Wales (although it hasn’t been the same since they got rid of the IT Box) we decided that a portion or two of fish and chips was the order of the evening. After a short walk we arrived and were initially relieved that there was another customer in the establishment a rare occurrence for many of the other restaurants on Leopold Road of a Saturday night. However, I was struck immediately by the distinct lack of frying, surely as a chip shop the place should be filled with the sounds of scalding fat on silken batter?
‘What’ll it be?’ Asked the rather burley if vacant looking chap behind the counter who looked like he had experienced a day of very slow trade.
‘One plaice, large chips, mushy peas and one battered sausage and chips’
‘Coming right up.’ He sighed as he called the order to his shorter, mustachioed companion who was tending to the fryer. And so 10 minute passed, which I felt was a rather long time to wait, then fifteen more. It was my turn to sigh before my friend's battered sausage arrived but no plaice. The vacant fellow turned to me and asked me what was having.
‘Plaice and chips.’
‘did you ask for that the first time?’
‘Yes.’ I was a little miffed, as I realised he had forgotten my order despite the fact that I had been standing by the counter for around 25 minutes. Now I felt like a fool.
‘Oh I forgot, sorry, I will get it cooked from scratch now, it will be another 10 minutes.’
‘Fine,’ I once again sighed in slight exasperation. Suddenly the small man snapped.
‘Don’t be so impatient! I am trying to cook it, you will have to wait until it’s ready. You should have been clearer’. Well that told me, had he really just said that? how strange! I spluttered and stifled my frustrations, I was too hungry to cause a a ruckus.
FInally I got my fish, over which my vacant server tipped almost the entire salt shaker -if you go in there yourself make sure you bring your own salt and do it yourself. Despite this, the fish was relatively alright (it was pre-filleted, probably from frozen), well cooked with a nice, home made batter (i saw him prep the fillets) but the chips were disappointing and I got the feeling that they hadn’t been chipped on the premises, nor fried in beef dripping. The mushy peas were certainly not homemade. Let’s say that it was passable but not excellent, certainly not anywhere near the league of establishments like The Laughing Halibut on Strutton Ground.
At the end of the day, It isn’t awful, but keeping consistent with most of the eateries on Leopold Road, it isn’t great.