Battersea gets a slice of seafood heaven

The Fish Place

Vincentia Court Building, Bridges Wharf, Bridges Court Rd, SW11 3GY

FOOD
SERVICE
ATMOSPHERE

Cost per person without wine: £40

FOR the capital city of an island nation, London is shorter on first-rate fish restaurants than it should be. Sure, there are plenty of fishy dishes on some of the best menus, and more than enough sushi joints. But for dedicated specialists in good, old-fashioned, European – by which I suppose I mean French – fish cuisine, there are only a handful that are the real deal. The names of this club are well known – Scott’s, J Sheekey, Bentley’s, One-O-One – and most of them have been going for a long time. So discovering new names to add to the list can feel like something of a triumph.

I’ve found two. As it happens the first of them, Catch, which lurks in an inner sanctum of the Andaz hotel by Liverpool St Station, isn’t that new, but not many people know it’s there. Ironically – and possibly crucially – the chef is German, hardly a nation known for its seafood cuisine, but there’s a freshness in the approach here.

You can choose to have the catch of the day steamed, fried, roasted or grilled, and dishes like Norwegian cod with salsify fondue and sesame are sophisticated without being busy. My cod en papillote (baked in stock in a parchment parcel) oozed citric, buttery vibrancy. If the room’s slightly awkward – a converted inner lobby of the grand old hotel – there’s a picturesque seafood counter to look at, piled high with crab and langoustines. As you’d expect in the City, there’s a generous oyster provision. (See “fishy favourites in the City” below for more info).

SIMPLE IDEA
My other discovery opened in Battersea late last year, and it does rather take some discovering. Strange things have been rising along the banks of the river around Battersea and Wandsworth for years now – high rise apartment blocks, glassy hotels, helipads. It’s all rather architecturally impersonal and hard to reach.

But it’s worth reaching, and not just if you’re taking a trip in a chopper. Nip past the helipad, turn a corner or four and you find the Fish Place.

Simple name, simple idea: cook fish brilliantly. And it does. A trio of Dorset crab tortellini with roasted cauliflower puree and basil was exemplary – as satisfying a mixture of textures as it was of taste, and presented beautifully. Similarly stunning was my starter of grilled scallops sitting on little cushions of truffle mashed potatoes, artichoke and chicken jus. Scallops are all very well, but scallops cooked with this delicacy and complexity of flavour – the tartness of the fennel, the succulent joy of the scallops, the earthy richness of the jus, the, er, truffliness of the spuds – was divine.

My dining companion had skate wing for her main, pan roasted to soft, mouth-watering perfection with spinach, capers, croutons and roast potatoes, and doused in a silky, herby citric sauce.

My “pot au feu” of seafood was spectacular – I expected a fish stew of some order, but what I got was a combination of seafood elements brought together with risotto and a magisterial, chive-laden beurre blanc. Sea bream nudged against salmon, surrounded by prawns and mussels, the risotto oozing out beneath. Every element was cooked accurately, expertly and lovingly. This was an absolute celebration of seafood.

The puddings were as impressive – chocolate fondant delivered as chocolate fondant should, accompanied by a smooth hazlenut ice cream, while a blood orange cheese cake was a much subtler, more refined affair than it could have been.

Now, here’s the thing. The building in which the Fish Place sits is one of those dull, concrete-and-glass riverside high-rises – blandness personified. The owners have done what they can with the room (it’s pleasant, if unmemorable – I’d say table cloths would add a some warmth) and the floor-to-ceiling windows give splendid views of the Thames. It’s not ideal, and it’s not easy to find. But if you live in Battersea, or Wandsworth, or Clapham, or – quite frankly – Guildford or Penzance or Shanghai, hunt this place out. It’s worth it.