The Fish Shop

Tel: +44 (0)20 7837 1199
Address: 360-362 St John Street, Islington, EC1V 4NR
Cuisine Type: seafood
nearest tube station Angel (NORTHERN)

The business cards proclaim “Alan and Olga Conway are back!” and they are – with another fish restaurant. Their previous venture, the Upper Street Fish Shop, was indeed on Upper Street, vying for attention amongst the plethora of eateries in the heart of Islington; this new Fish Shop (the St John Street Fish Shop obviously didn’t have quite the same ring to it), though a mere stone’s throw from Angel, is located away from the main shops and cafes. Spontaneous diners might not find it by chance, as most would gravitate towards Upper Street, but the reputation of the owners ensures that there is a healthy throughflow of destination visitors.

The décor is relatively plain and unfussy, and the split level format of the dining areas works well. Otherwise, there is little to detract from the menu, which is an unabashed homage to seafood. A whole section on shellfish includes rock oysters, prawns and a seafood platter, an impressive fruits de mer costing about £19/person. Other starters include seared scallops with chilli jam, smoked halibut with potato pancakes, potted shrimps and moules marinière, classically prepared or with a light curry sauce (£5 – £8).

As with the starters, the main courses (around £12 – £25) are simply prepared, minimally garnished and unobscured by fussy or superfluous ingredients, allowing the quality of the fresh fish, bought daily from Billingsgate, to speak for itself. The firmness of texture and all-too-often-absent flavour confirms that the fish’s journey to your plate has not involved a detour to the deep-freezer, a wholesaler and then a lengthy stay on a retailer’s shelf.

Pan-fried salmon fillet, skate wing with caperberry sauce, fillets of seabass, whole grilled bream, Dover sole or fish of the day, battered and fried – the menu reads like a who’s who of the sea. The only concession to diners who prefer food from animals with legs is steak – but why come here if you’re not going to have fish?

Uncharacteristically, I opted for the cassoulet (£13.95) of monkfish, mussels and squid with chorizo (I tend to avoid strong flavours that can overwhelm rather than enhance the relatively delicate taste of the fish). While the fish wasn’t swamped by the sauce, it was a tad too salty for my taste.

My foodie partner-in-crime had moules marinière from the starter menu (£5.75) as a main course. It came as a starter size but was a generous enough quantity that, with a side order of chips (£2.50), it formed an adequate main meal. The chips were good hot, but struggled to maintain their crispness towards the end of the meal.

Desserts (all £4.50) were patchy. The mango sorbet from a selection of “home made” ice creams and sorbets, was excellent – creamy and very fruity. Apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche was a let down – heavy chunks of undercooked, barely caramelised apples sitting on rubbery pastry that also have done with a bit longer in the oven. Other choices include cheesecake, treacle tart with whisky cream and a chocolate and hazelnut something or other – all seemingly safe options, but that’s no guarantee of successful execution, as proved by my tarte tatin.

A reasonable selection of whites on the wine list, as you’d expect in a fish restaurant, though not many at bargain prices. But what really astounded me was the price of water. £5.50 a bottle, which is more than in some Michelin-starred restaurants.

You may have reached the conclusion that I didn’t enjoy my experience at The Fish Shop. This isn’t entirely fair. You certainly won’t find many other restaurants in London offering such a wide choice of fish, with the guarantee that it is fresh and that the chefs know what they are doing with it, so unless you fancy driving down to Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow, you can’t go too far wrong with a trip to The Fish Shop.

– Tracy Yam, 6/2003