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has been re-invented by co-founder Tony Allen
Louise Elgin went along to see for herself

But first a message from the Editor
What is it with chains? Why is it that, in spite of beginning with the best intentions, they mostly seem to end up sliding down the slippery slope to mediocrity? I asked these questions about eighteen months ago when we went along to try then latest branch of the highly successful fish! chain, located in Epsom's new Derby Centre, alongside Yates' Wine Lodge, Casa and Nando's, to name but three of the other chains represented in this bland new development.

This was how we found Fish! in Southwark
back in April 1999

One of the striking things about the fin de siecle London restaurant scene is the imagination of its entrepreneurs and designers - that of the chefs has become more or less accepted. Christian Delteil, the head chef of Bank, whose company has created the Fish! restaurant concept has applied his skills to this new venture in the role of Chef Director. [Bank and Fish became separate entities in 2001]

Designer Julyan Wickham has cleverly married high tech struts and stainless steel with the cast iron of  what was previously a  tatty old glass covered market shelter. The majestic, yet peaceful presence of the Cathedral close by, greatly adds to the general ambience - I imagine the terrace outside will be a most attractive place to eat in Summer.

At the centre of the space is the sunken kitchen area surrounded by a sweeping bar at normal table height. The regular tables and chairs look rather caff - giving the impression that you are not likely to want to linger. But we had good seats in the front row of the stalls watching the chefs working away at fever pitch under the hoarse voiced command of the chef. Christian Delteil himself was there to cast a critical eye over each and every dish before it was handed over to the waiting staff is the avowed aim of the restaurant to ensure that the all its fish have been properly caught on lines, or by hand diving. Scooping up all and sundry using great nets and dredgers is alien to their concept.

After a generous starter of devilled whitebait £4.80 (plenty of flavour there!) I had grilled skate wing with hollandaise sauce, a great combination that didn't obscure the subtle flavour of the fish. 

My friend had the best mussels I've hi-jacked for some time. She let me finish up her sauce, which was delicately infused with spices (caraway seeds were evident) and plenty of finely diced peppers and still crunchy celery. For rapid lunchers, such dishes alone would refresh you for another session at the dealing screens.

For her main course she had steamed organic salmon. The natural taste of the fish was strikingly vivid, and the foundation of wilted spinach and other stir fried vegetables was enough for us, but the chips looked particularly good if you still have room that needs filling.

I was saving myself for pudding, and I wasn't disappointed by the bread and butter pudding. I have to say that this was the best bread and butter pudding ever, and that's saying something! I'd better justify this claim: it was made individually, a perfect circular shape floating on some crème anglais. The bread on top was lightly golden, there were no bitter burnt raisins to mar the flavour. Lower down the texture was moist and gooey, held together with a custard that was all wobbly and full of little telltale grains of vanilla seed. That's how the perfect B&B pud should be.

Our three course lunch with two glasses of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a large bottle of mineral water and two coffees came to £45.05. Clifford Mould April 1999

Just over two years ago, I gave a glowing review to the original restaurant in Borough Market by Southwark Cathedral. It became the flagship of a chain of offspring, with some 14 branches. You can compare Louise's experience with the slightly abridged version of my original review, right.  The main course concept was excellent: There's a list of over 20 species of fish, with ticks against 12 or so - the ones that are fresh in that day. You choose your fish and whether to have it steamed or grilled. Then you decide if you want salsa, hollandaise, herb and garlic butter, olive oil dressing or red wine fish gravy. 

Anyway, somewhere along the line, things went a bit pear shaped - I'll pass over the rest of the sad tale of our meal at the Epsom branch. It was obvious that Deltheil's influence had quite withered away.  Tony Allen had left the group - but now he's back and has "reinvented the concept". If that means going right back to the quality in evidence at the original Borough Market venue, then three cheers for Tony!

Sorry!  Carry on, Louise...

Having endured an hour’s sitting on the hard floor of the Tate Modern listening to a classical concert, my guest and I were more than ready for some sustenance. As we made our way through the atmospheric streets of Southwark it felt as if we might suddenly stumble into a 1950’s Ealing Studio film set; a time warp away from the hassle of modern life just across the river.

Fish! is the architectural antithesis of all that surrounds it. A crescent shaped glass and steel structure - it is more reminiscent of a large and airy culinary greenhouse. The kitchen, (which is on full view) gave just the right impression of being run with professional well-practised ease. There were several bar seats facing straight onto it whilst the rest of the room was comfortably laid out for groups of diners. On the night we visited the place was half full but buzzing, the atmosphere relaxed and the customers casually dressed.

Fish! is quite rightly proud of its menu. Its owner Tony Allan is passionate about his business (and strives towards excellence in all his restaurants). His aim is to use the finest and freshest produce served at affordable prices to the consumer. He has decided to re-launch ‘Fish!’ bringing the concept up to date to suit the needs of the modern diner. As you might expect, fish and seafood featured highly on the menu and there was a cornucopia of choice. However, if you were dining with a confirmed carnivore or committed vegetarian they would still be well looked after.

The thirteen starters were all around the £5-£8 mark including Thai crab cakes with sweet chilli sauce, (£4.95), and calamari with rocket and lemon mayonnaise, (£5.50). One or two exceptions were higher priced but then lobster and caviar don’t come cheap! I began with one of the night’s specials, tomato and basil mussels at £5.50. They were terrific, a large serving, they were plump and tender with a kick of spice that hit the back of the throat. Once I had finished the mussels I was left with a delicious soupy gunk to finish. (A very good choice). My guest chose devilled whitebait at £4.95. He said they had a crisp coating, were light in texture but perhaps the devil had taken the night off as it lacked its promised spiciness!

Having tasted a sample of the house white, a Sauvignon from the Loire at 12.95, we felt it was too flowery to accompany the robust flavours that lay ahead. Instead we had a bottle of the crisp and clean Bodega Norton Sauvignon Blanc from Mendoza, Argentina at £16.95.

The choice of main courses was numerous and well thought out. There was everything from fish and chips with mushy peas, (£10.95) and classic fish pie, (£8.95) to whole grilled lobster with garlic butter (£27.00) or seared scallops with roast tomatoes, thyme and garlic (£14.50). There was also the added bonus of being able to select from a fish selection ranging from sea bass £14.95 to organic salmon £10.95. These were then steamed or grilled with the sauce of your liking, ranging from spicy salsa, hollandaise, herb and garlic butter to lemon mayo or salsa Verdi, a variation on a pesto theme.

My guest chose very well, ordering the sea bass (£13.95). He said the fish had an excellent texture and was well complemented by accompanying herb and garlic butter. His side order of chips (£1.95) were fabulous, remaining hot firm and crisp throughout the duration of his meal. Added to that he had a taste of long awaited spring in the form of some crisp and buttery greens, a fine accompaniment. Sadly, I had not chosen so well. Being a sucker for fish curry I had to try their version, (£9.50) but was disappointed. The jasmine rice was perfect but the curry was bland and lacked character.

The desserts all sounded tempting with a choice of nine all priced around a fiver. We shared a bread and butter pudding with rhubarb and a steamed orange pudding and custard. They were both very tasty, the orange pudding having an intense flavour with a very light sponge. The bread and butter pud combined well with the rhubarb, real comfort food.

My verdict? At a reasonable £80 for two this is a restaurant with its relaxed atmosphere and well-cooked fresh produce that I will definitely re-visit Fish! We had a great night! Thanks!

 Fish! Borough Market London SE1 Tel 020 7407 3803

Louise Elgin. March 2003

For a list of the addresses of all the fish diners and an online reservation service, visit their website:

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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