FoodIssue 17

Poppie’s Fish & Chips

Poppie’s Fish & Chips, 55–59 Old Compton Street, W1T 1DB

You come to him, on the day of his fish’s frying, and you do not even think to call him Codfather? How dare you. With an attitude like that, you just might find yourself swimming with the fishes. Fortunately, Pat ‘Pop’ Newman, Poppie’s founder and master fryman, isn’t one for chips on his shoulder. He’s only interested in those which come in a newspaper cone.
With nearly seventy years behind the fryer there was little doubt as to whether Newman would sink or swim when he decided to dock into Soho on Old Compton Street and open the third restaurant in his fleet of fish and chip shops. From cutting up copies of the Daily Mirror at dawn to peddling jellied eels on Rupert Street in the 1960s, Pop has swum upstream, against the current, and leaving other, lesser chippies in his wake.

When lowbrow goes highbrow, it’s often irksome. Not everything need be gourmet. Not everything need be gussied up. And whilst a chip shop in the heart of Soho with a brand name to back it could very easily verge on the offensively contrived, Poppie’s sails swiftly past and ends in the realm of the resolutely kitsch.

The cobalt leather banquettes, Anaglypta wallpaper (which I didn’t know really existed anywhere save my grandmother’s powder room), the disco ball and groovy Formica all feel genuine. Save for the ‘Press for English Sparkling Wine’ button shamelessly poached from Bob Bob Ricard it all feels like it landed here organically. It is wacky, certainly, but it feels like an old neighbourhood haunt of Pop’s reborn.

Pop proffers a fairly expansive list of seafood options, all sustainably raised and sourced from his pal T. Bush, a third-generation fishmonger at Billingsgate Market. For the gustatorially desultory, the hot seafood platter alleviates decision disquiet with a crispy mix of cod bites, scampi, calamari and whitebait. For the aquatically averse (though, if that is the case, I’m not quite sure why you’ve landed in this particular net), both the steak pie and the battered sausage are perfectly acceptable, and the rotisserie chicken is succulent with a lovely, golden skin.

But the perfect order if you’re looking to reel in some nostalgia, the reason you really came down here is, of course, the fish supper. Haddock or cod are the options: the cod is slightly moister with a fuller flake; the haddock is on the drier side with a finer flake. Pace Sebastian singing that “where it’s wetter, baby it’s better,” you can’t go wrong with either. Both wear their delicate, golden batter like taffeta party dresses – comfortingly familiar but still irresistible. They shimmer seductively with oil and crunch between the molars.

The chips are thick and floury and easy to pass over in favour of another mouthful of fish. A slick of tartar sauce, however, adds wanted tang and helps you forget they would’ve been better fried in beef drippings. If you dare, give a nod to Poppie’s East London heritage and gulp down an order of slippery jellied eels. The mushy peas are, in short, a revelation. Ten thousand leagues beyond any usual rendition – for this dish is often more like a soggy sea sponge – these peas are fresh and vibrant and smooth and just pretty great.

While spots to grab a fish supper certainly abound and I might advise casting a slightly wider net if you’re not inclined to empty your pockets, Pop’s really is, well, tops. If you hear of any better plaice, be sure to let minnow.

 

Monday to Thursday 11:00 am–11:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 11:00 am–11:30 pm
Sunday 11:00 am–10:30 pm
£25 / person