4th Jan 2017
Fish and chips. The go-to comfort food for all generations, possibly as popular as that other great Irish dish, chicken tikka masala, and now super competitive and trendy, fish and chips is gaining a new notoriety in some quarters.
Take John Long's tucked away behind Inst; it's now the most hipster chippie imaginable. And while John Long's may have been on the go since World War One, these days it offers healthy alternatives including gluten free fish and chips.
Now another chippie is doing this, and more. The newish kid on the block is Fish City in Ann Street. The people behind Fish City, a very pleasant family from Ballynahinch, have closely monitored our chip eating habits and concluded that what Belfast really needs is a proper, sit down, well lit, grown-up kind of restaurant but which still has all the hallmarks of a credible, valid and democratic chippie.
This is all the more a winning combination due to the extensive menu which allows you to go beyond your cod supper and enter the realms of posh dining. Prawn cocktail, glass of Chablis and quality wheaten bread feature. The new chipster is well catered for here. Gluten free Wednesdays is bringing in those families and groups who might not otherwise consider a fish and chip night out and the extended menu which somehow manages to stay within the realms of what is acceptable and appropriate is definitely a step away from tradition.
Take the portions, for instance. Instead of a one size fits all approach, Fish City clearly understands the need to offer different portions at relevant prices. So a small cod and chip will be substantially cheaper, if also significantly reduced in size. This marks the end of a tradition by small eaters of ordering a piece of fish in the hope that they'll throw in a couple of chips to take the bad look off themselves.
But this means you can actually indulge in other things. Among the starters are chowder, fishcakes, fried spiced squid, scampi, prawn cocktail and even grilled halloumi cheese with cabbage slaw. Chicken goujons come with sriracha mayo, for goodness sake!
There are chippie classics of course like battered sausage supper, pastie supper and crispy chicken curry. You have the option to have your cod and chips cooked in beef dripping or rapeseed oil, if you're that health conscious, although by this stage, that's probably an academic question.
Where Fish City excels, is in the extension of the conventional menu. The gourmet burger, for instance, comes with Jim Ferguson bacon, cheese, little gem, red onion, tomato and Fish City's own BBQ sauce, in a buttermilk bun. There is a Cuban burger (there's that sriracha mayo again and some jalapenos) and various vegetarian burgers and sharing platters featuring halloumi, hummus, roast red tapenade, mixed olives, sweet potato fries, onion rings and warm chef's bread. And it's all made there, including the bread and the tartare sauce.
The menu page marked "Slim" shows Fish City means business when they talk about being less of a threat to your arteries: the Fisherman's Curry registers below 220 calories, grilled hake with Abernethy dulse butter with superfood salad and Broigher Gold dressing is under 540 calories and the cod taco dish (strips of lightly battered cod, tomato, red onion, soft tortilla, herby yoghurt dressing and a side order) is under 340 calories.
Look out too for wholewheat pitta pockets with all manner of innards and a sandwich made using ciabatta. Coming back to the world I prefer to inhabit, the desserts are presented without the calorie count. Armagh apple crumble which comes with Glastry Farm ice cream is a knock-out. Also, the coffee is excellent. There is something corporate about the content and design of Fish City, but not so much that it loses the charm brought to it by those Ballynahinch folk. What this looks and feels like is the start of a mega chain. You can just imagine a Fish City in every town because they cover all the bases. If they can replicate the coastal character and shack chic of the Anne Street operation, this is what fish and chip restaurants will have to compete with in the future.
Belfast Telegraph – by Joris Minne Dec 24th