All reader reviews by The Professor

Fish in a Tie

Restaurant names are important. Usually, they tell you a lot about the place. Is it pretentious? Is it a dive? Are the waiters going to be dressed in suits which cost more than your house? Is it 'family friendly' and going to be stuffed full of overweight, screaming children who enjoy nothing better than running into the legs of your table and spilling your drink? Names can often give you a big clue about whether you want to spend your hard-earned cash in the establishment or if you would rather leave it well alone.

'Fish in a Tie', though, doesn't give much away. A brief examination of the restaurant's logo (a fish in a...erm...tie) doesn't help either. Glancing around the surroundings, though, doesn't fill you with confidence. Fish in a Tie nestles on the 'wrong' side of Clapham Junction station, flanked by looming, ominous-looking estates: the kind you see being raided in 'the Bill'. By the time you get to the restaurant, though, you've either acclimatised to your surroundings, or you're running so fast, that they've ceased to matter.

On arriving, my thoughts were as follows:

1. This had better be good to make all that worthwhile.

2. Why's that kid in the hooded top staring at me?

3. Maybe we'll get a taxi back

Huddling through the door as hastily as we could, however, we were not disappointed. The decor is, to say the least, eclectic, but charming. Most immediately surprising were the staff, though. In a smallish establishment like this, you would expect average service, but nothing more than that. At Fish in a Tie, the waiting staff were attentive, witty, knowledgeable about the food and wine and very eager to please. The atmosphere was laid back without seeming lazy and although the seating arrangements were 'intimate', to say the least, after a little while, this didn't seem to matter.

As for the food itself, I was quite taken aback. At the price, I expected average plates of MSG-infused slop, averagely cooked by a kitchen brigade imported into the country from Romania in the back of a lorry. What I got was one of the best plates of calamari I have ever had. Perfectly, unpretentiously cooked, piled high enough that this starter could have been a main course, it melted in the mouth.

Things were looking up.

The steak continued the trend. A tasty, rich source complemented a good cut of meat very well. The accompanying vegetables were nothing to write home about, but then I didn't care. I had paid less than £10 for it, so I wasn't in a mood to complain. The wine may also have helped in that respect...

Desert rounded things off perfectly. It was apple pie. It's hard to get apple pie wrong. But it's also hard to get it right. This one was bang on. Crispy pastry, tasty apples. You can't ask for any more than that.

Fish in a Tie served up some truly outstanding home-cooked food. It was friendly, fantastically cheap and the food was memorable. The area around Clapham Junction station does a good line in highly pretentious, overpriced restaurants, where you can happily pay £15 for your bottle of water alone. Fish in a Tie is the perfect antidote: tasty, hearty food, for next to nothing. For what it's worth, in the last two months I have eaten out roughly 12 times. The meal I had there is the only one I can remember.

Go there as soon as you can. Just make sure you have your running shoes with you...

Thursday, February 07, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 9 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 10


Lola Rojo

Until I visited Lola Rojo, I really believed that it was almost impossible to get Spanish food wrong. Lots of big flavours, vibrant colours and exciting textures partnered by rich, powerful Rioja can hardly go wrong, even in the hands of a dyspraxic baboon.

Lola Rojo, however, seem to have mastered the impossible.

When eating out, I always take an interest in where the food has come from: partly, this is barefaced, middle class food snobbery born from watching too much Rick Stein, but it's also a genuine interest (related to my own job) in the origins of what I'm eating, how it's been produced and so on. In the case of Lola Rojo, this game was as enjoyable as ever. However, rather than asking myself whether the olives were from Toledo or Valencia, I asked myself whether the chicken 'croquettes', which had the uninspired, mushy texture of mechanically reclaimed meat.

I'm also intrigued to know what part of Spain 'croquettes' come from? Could it be the 'France' region in the north? You may say, of course, that I was more the fool for ordering them. In hindsight, I would agree with you. But I was curious: here was an outrageously expensive 'tapas restaurant' serving chicken 'croquettes'. Surely they were going to do something interesting with them? Fry them in garlic and olive oil? Serve them with pepper sauce? Surely something? Surely not just get them out of the packet and put them on the baking tray next to the turkey twizzlers...

Other highlights of the meal included a plate of ham and cheese, which was very nice, as plates of ham and cheese go. The effort which must have gone into taking the ham and cheese out of the packet and arranging it neatly on the plate was certainly to be admired, especially given that the staff must have laughing so hysterically at the thought that this gullible Englishman was about to pay £8 odd for the pleasure of eating something he could have bought for £4 and put on a plate himself.

Then there was the 'manchego lollipop'. This was really rather witty. Deep fried manchego cheese in a wheel shape with a lolly stick stuck in it. Witty, maybe, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, it still tasted like deep-fried manchego. The only positive thing about consuming it was the hope that it might clog up your arteries and kill you before you had to pay the bill.

Even though the manchego lolly didn't quite kill me, the sight of the bill and the swift reassurance from my partner that, yes, it really WAS my turn to pay this time very nearly did.

There are plenty of tapas bars down and just off Northcote Rd. They are unpretentious, low key and welcoming. Every single one of them serves delicious, honest, plentiful and tasty Spanish tapas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Overall rating 3 stars
Food 2 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 4 | Value for money 0


FishWorks

A party of four of us recently visited The Fishworks branch on Northcote Road near Clapham Junction station. Given that we arrived early on a Sunday lunchtime and that there was hardly anybody else in the restaurant, having to wait 2 hours for our main courses (a wait which was, to be fair, punctuated after only 45 minutes by our starters finally arriving) seemed unacceptable.

The food, when it finally did come, was bland and overcooked. For a restaurant which specialises in fish, a basic knowledge of how long to cook it for doesn't seem too much to ask.

We were going to order desert but, by the time we'd finished, we just wanted to leave!

The meal was generally OK apart from that, although it certainly wasn't worth the high-end price tag which it came with. There wasn't anything on the menu I couldn't have cooked myself and what there was struck me as overpriced and bland.

The fishmongers at the front of the restaurant is a nice touch, but in the case of the Clapham branch, there is a market stall usually placed next door which has a wider selection and sells it cheaper.

All in all, don't bother, unless you have a lot of time and cash to waste.

Monday, December 17, 2007
Overall rating 4 stars
Food 5 | Service 2 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 3


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