Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Poppies Fish & Chips, Spitalfields

I put it down to the Mad Men effect. The advertising-based story set in Manhattan seems to have inspired a new wave of retro in recent years that has made that era cool.

Everything from the clothes your parents wore to the furniture they bought has become de rigueur styling for the modern urbanite. This influence has extended to Britannia, as anyone who is watching the wonderful BBC news drama, The Hour, can attest. And this fond remembrance for the '50s and early '60s has spilled over into our eating and drinking, with the tea room renaissance in full flow, and that staple British diet of fish and chips getting the retro experience in the form of Poppies Fish & Chips.

Based in Spitalfields (where else?), this place has form. The family that own it have been serving fish and chips in the East End since 1945. In what otherwise might have been seen as a cynical marketing ploy, they have stuck to their traditional cooking roots, but embellished the experience with '50s styling. So the walls have pictures of British entertainers, a restored jukebox thumps out old rock 'n roll hits, and the furniture, interiors and uniforms of the waiting staff are all in keeping with the era. There are even cockney rhyming slangs on the walls which veer it dangerously close to being cheesy tourist rather then cool, but the East End punters save it from that fate.

But what about the food? Given I was dining with my usual partner-in-dining (a.k.a. the Northerner), I knew that Poppies was about to come under severe scrutiny. The best fish and chips we’ve had have been either up north or in our local chippie that is Olley's in Herne Hill – tough competition on the foodie front. We both opted for the haddock and chips (my serving being large) with a side of mushy peas and curry sauce. The first thing to disappoint us was that the fish and chips weren’t freshly cooked but served straight out of the warming cabinet. This is fine in your average street chippie, but not so when you’re paying from £9.90 to £11.40 for a serving. And while the fish particularly was nice enough, the chips were a little greasy and not salted. Mushy peas is a speciality of the Northerner’s mum, and unfortunately Poppies seemed like they were straight out of the tin rather then homemade. The curry sauce was also a little runny compared to what we’re used to up north. The texture was more gravy then curry.

We tried the house Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, which were good value at £2.90 each, and the service was sharp and friendly in the way the way that British Italians are. And the place is definitely popular, as the punters on the night we went were mostly Shoreditch hipsters. So it definitely has the cool factor. But I think it is a little let down by the cooking itself. Perhaps there are some things that are better left in the past.

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