There’s a traditional British reaction to even the shortest moment of sun: shorts on and head to the nearest beach for fish and chips on the seafront. Naturally, in London a good beach is a bit hard to come by, unless you risk sitting on the banks of the Thames at low tide, which probably isn’t worth the risk of disease. But even without the salty air and spray, it seems everyone this weekend has been scratching that chippy itch. Just walking around the park on Friday I was bombarded with wafts of vinegar emanating from cardboard boxes, hypnotised into the hive-mind frenzy. I walked home in a daze, one thing on my mind and one thing only: getting my chippy fix.
I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ve actually been to a chip shop in all the time I’ve lived in London, having long been a staunch believer that if they aren’t as good as the ones up where my dad lives on the North West coast, they weren’t worth it. Equally, since shifting towards plant-based living I couldn’t help but feel there wouldn’t be a place for me in such a famously fishy establishment. And then I discovered Sutton & Sons in Hackney Central. Not just an option, but a full vegan menu, complete with plant pies, scampi and even calamari. At this point it wasn’t even a choice, I had to try it.
After a small kerfuffle with scheduled delivery times which did not work in my favour (technology, while so brilliant, can also be so bad), I was greeted with a creased white paper bag, within which was my order. I appreciated that most of the packaging could be recycled, contrary to the polystyrene boxes and plastic forks that fish and chips often accompanies. A single cardboard box, lined with a sheet of wax paper, contained the Battered Banana Blossom resting on a huge quantity of Chips, accompanied by a small pot of Vegan Tartar Sauce and a wedge of lemon. In all earnest I picked up a knife and fork, but knew deep down I would end up eating this with my hands, as it should be done.
The packaging, the aesthetics and the aroma all felt very authentic, and if I closed my eyes I could almost imagine myself at a beach, though with much worse air-quality and much less sand. The Chips faltered my hopes a bit; while very much standard in fluffiness and crispiness, they didn’t have the shock to the senses that a well seasoned batch of chips contains. Not the best, not the worst, but had me longing for that seafront up north in a wave of pained nostalgia. They were saved in part by the Tartar Sauce, which brought back the balance between acid and starch on my tongue. Both were always going to be overshadowed, however, by the Banana Blossom.
Before I divulge into what was an incredible experience, it’s probably best to explain what a Banana Blossom is. It is partially in the name: it’s the purple flower that sprouts from the banana plant. It doesn’t have any trace of banana flavour, with a more neutral taste, but is incredibly flaky, hence its use as a fish-replacement. It’s also included in the cuisines of many Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Deep fried food is dangerously delicious, and this Banana Blossom was no exception. The batter was crisp and brittle, giving way to the immensely juicy interior of the blossom. I had doused mine in a squeeze of lemon—it would be a crime not to—so citrus pleasantly punched through the fattiness to provide a more complex mix of flavours. The whole time I was eating I couldn’t quite believe how much it felt like real fish. The flaky layers were uncanny for that of fish, and I kept half expecting to find a bone in each bite.
Overall, authenticity is the word that comes to mind with regard to the whole meal. I might not have been able to have sea, but there was sun and good food and that’s all that really matters.
My only qualm was with the price, heavily inflated because I had my food delivered instead of picking it up (I live just a bit too far from Hackney Central for it to be reasonable). I paid £15 for food and delivery alone (£7.95 for the banana blossom, £3.50 for chips, £0.45 for the sauce and £3.50 for delivery and service), and that’s before I tipped the driver and the restaurant. The prices for collection are a lot more reasonable: £5.50 for banana blossom, £2 for chips, £0.25 for sauces. But then again, I suppose if you really want something sometimes it’s worth paying just that bit extra.
It’s still (just) February, so I can’t imagine this sun will be staying with us long, but if feels good to know I’ve already had a taste of the summer to come.