Most of us have a sense of nostalgia about the food we ate when we were young. Whether it be a roast dinner, mac and cheese, pizza or congee, there’s usually a simple dish that stands-out and really takes you back. For me it’s definitely the humble fish finger sandwich.
To this day I’m likely to have a pack of Captain Birdseye’s finest in the freezer at all times, just in case. Obviously I wouldn’t touch most of their products with a barge-pole but this is different, we go way back.
We’ve of course made some tweaks to the sandwich that my 9 year-old self would’ve enjoyed. Things like using bagels instead of bread (preferably from Beigel Bake), adding a rasher or two of streaky bacon and especially our peculiar pink mayonnaise (Hellman’s mixed with HolyFuck hot sauce). It might sound unusual but trust me, this is one of our favourite brunch at home options.
A little while ago I was working in an office in Putney and due to an unfortunate string of circumstances, I ended up having lunch at Bill’s. You know Bill’s. They started to spring up in London a couple of years ago and are now spreading through our high streets like wildfire. There’s even one on Hoxton Square, luring in tourists and the confused (note: please try 8 Hoxton Square instead). Bill’s looks accessible, it’s not scary. I even know people who genuinely like it.
In such places I tend to look at the menu and try to identify the safest order. Bill’s hamburger? Surely you jest. Ribs, risotto, green curry? No. It’s a menu that sounds multiple alarm bells. Like a world buffet but without the generosity. Then I saw it, my knight in shining armour, “Cod fish finger sandwich with tartar sauce, rocket and ketchup on a toasted bloomer, with skin on fries.”
What could possibly go wrong? Even the Little Chef used to be able to cook a decent fish finger, a jumbo one at that, and that was over twenty years ago. Surely one of the fastest growing restaurants in the country could do likewise. Couldn’t they?
No. What came was something that even little Johnny would’ve scoffed at all those years ago. Two slices of flimsy white bread that were both burned and soggy (quite an achievement) with some sad looking rocket and one-and-a-half bog standard fish fingers inside. I suppose I’ll never know what happened to the missing half finger. It’ll just have to go down as one of those great unsolved mysteries. Move aside Shergar et al.
Some good came of this though. It strengthened my resolve at work and I successfully managed to veto all major-chain restaurants as venues for birthdays and leaving lunches for the rest of my time there. Just to clarify I don’t think all chains are bad. There are some great ones out there. I’ve got a lot of time for the Byrons, Hawksmoors and Meat Liquors of this world. And yes, in a provincial high street or shopping centre, bereft of decent independent restaurants, the likes of Nandos, Wagamamas and even Bill’s can come into their own (sigh).
A few days later I was still bleeting about Bill’s sandwich on Twitter. I just wanted some kind of acknowledgement from them. You know, for them to admit that it was crap and let me move on. Instead of which, another restaurant got in touch – Fish & Chips by Des McDonald. “Would you like to try our fish finger sandwich?” They asked. Yes, I said. Yes I would.
We’d had a good meal at their Islington restaurant The Fish & Chip Shop shortly after it opened so I was keen to give their newly opened city branch a shot. This was no repeat of Bill’s-gate.
Their fish finger buttie contained four sizeable scratch-made cod fish fingers, enveloped by two slices of lightly toasted, thick white bread; topped-off with a dollop of excellent tartar sauce and some mushy peas. It was everything that Bill’s wasn’t: generous, comforting and above all bloody tasty. It was cheaper too at just £8.
Fish and Chips by Des McDonald – I thank you. Bill’s – no thank you.