Two Italians walk into a restaurant in London, and order one of Britain’s most iconic dishes while Ryan Adams’s New York, New York plays in the background. A funny coincidence that, alone, would make it a meal to remember; the feast that ensued, however, was simply too fulfilling to forget.
The restaurant at issue is Kerbisher & Malt: one of London’s fish and chips institutions, with restaurants in Hammersmith, Ealing, Clapham and Mortlake. The iconic dish is a gigantic platter of battered haddock, served with the most plentiful portion of chunky chips I ever caught sight of. As for the song, I like it too much not to mention it; eating to the sound of good music is one of life’s pleasures, especially when said music is loud enough to be heard, but low enough to not feel intrusive. Had it been Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind, blasted at full volume in a chain fast-food joint, we’d be having a rather different conversation.
I walked into Kerbisher & Malt’s flagship restaurant in Hammersmith with mixed feelings and muddled expectations. On the upside: glowing reviews from all sorts of publications; the convenience of going out for dinner a short walk away from home; and my partner’s double-whammy enthusiasm, for we were both on birthday dinner duty, and giving ourselves a long promised treat (“We’ll celebrate my new job with fish and chips”, I once said. That’s a masterpiece of procrastination right there). On the downside: my long-standing wariness of fish and chips, stemmed from far too many dodgy experiences with pub fare. I was prepared to either leave delighted, or forever swear off the stuff; Kerbisher & Malt brought my appreciation of fish and chips to a new, vertiginous high.
The restaurant will perfectly suit your need for a quick meal or a cheeky takeaway, rather than a fully fledged sit-down dinner. The few tables available to diners are neatly arranged on the sides of the small floor, leaving a corridor large enough to host the queue of customers waiting for seats or takeout orders. A queue that grows so consistently, you can’t just choose to focus on your food and ignore it; whether that’s a side effect of the limited space, or a gentle reminder to vacate your table as soon as you can, I haven’t figured out quite yet. Not that I mind: I’ll happily bear a speedy dinner, if the prize is a meal this quality and size, with a side of courteous service. Not once did the staff rush us to leave, and given the ever-growing queue right next to us, we felt smug for having chosen exactly the right time to visit. When we arrived, at 8pm on a Friday, we walked into a pleasantly quiet room; not even fifteen minutes later, customers began flocking in, taking up all vacant seats and forming a queue that reached the front door. We even witnessed one couple enter, enquire about waiting times, and head back out. I felt sorry for them, for the deep-fried bonanza that landed in front of us was one not to miss.
Kerbisher & Malt offers a short and sweet menu, compelling you to devote your attention to their signature fish courses. Cod, haddock, plaice, pollock and coley are all available battered and double fried, grilled, or in matzo meal (kosher breadcrumbs, as I just learnt from Google). If you’re particularly hungry, you can begin with a fried fish starter – but chances are you’ll decide against it once you take a peek at the size of your neighbours’ plates.
To the risk of repeating myself, I’ll make my point one last time: the fish portions are huge. Blimey-are-you-gonna-eat-all-that? huge (yes, I am, and I don’t feel guilty in the least). I’m-glad-I-walked-to-the-restaurant-and-then-back-home huge. Thankfully, not the I’ll-have-trouble-sleeping-tonight kind of huge: my lifelong issue with the fish and chips of budget-friendly pubs is the nocturnal nausea resulting from a cheap food binge, but Kerbisher & Malt’s fare is far from the overfried junk I’ve grown to dread.
One thing I found quite cheeky is that chips and sauces need to be ordered separately from mains; walking into a restaurant that prides itself on serving London’s finest fish and chips, you’d expect to get the full package at the very least. Even so, my bill amounted to less than £9, and would still have not reached £10 if I’d ordered a helping of tartare sauce (to borrow another British classic, not quite my cup of tea). Given the generous portion I got, that’s excellent value for money – and if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll find complimentary ketchup and vinegar on your table.
Having ordered the chips as an extra, I was expecting them to actually come on the side; instead, all came in the same platter, a bed of fries with the battered fish on top. Visually striking as it was, this solution lacked in convenience: cutting up the fish while keeping my chips from falling off the plate required a number of contortions I performed rather clumsily. A side bowl, or even a neat pile of chips next to the fish, would have avoided the pain of eating like a four-year-old at a family function (“But mum, it only was on the table for three seconds!”). A minor niggle, that doesn’t spoil my memories of a meal I thoroughly enjoyed: the double fried, hand-cut chunky chips have a refreshingly genuine look and texture, and exactly the right balance of soft and crunchy. A tiny bit softer, and they’d be mortally soggy; a tiny bit crispier, and they’d be just as criminally overcooked. Indeed, I should thank the staff for serving me a picture-perfect plate: unusually for a food blogger, my dinner was still piping hot when I put my smartphone to sleep. Now that’s what I call fast food – and of the finest kind.
Kerbisher & Malt
164 Shepherd’s Bush Road
London, W6 7PB
(closest tube station: Hammersmith)
Open 12.00 – 14.30 and 16.30 – 22.00 Tuesday to Thursday; 12.00 – 22.00 Friday and Saturday; 12.00 – 21.00 Sunday.
020 3556 0228
Find Kerbisher and Malt’s menu on Zomato.