We didn’t expect to have it on our first day back in London, but we were hungry and tired from the flight and knew we’d need to keep ourselves awake until dinner a few hours later. It probably wasn’t the smartest choice for an afternoon snack, but we knew it would be the kind of comfort food that we’d only have to order once during the whole trip.
So when Joseph and I grabbed a little table at the legendary Poppies, we both ordered the full cod fish and chips. And sides of mushy peas. You know, for the greens. And pints of local ale. It didn’t take us long to demolish everything, soaked in malt vinegar and dredged through tartar sauce. Our full bellies and beers may have made us a little sleepy, but we were happy and complacent as we walked around Shoreditch until my cousins were done with work.
But that dish made me dream of another kind of fish and chips you can’t find in Denver anymore.
In the early days at Brazen, when Lance Barto was still working his magic in the kitchen, they served a whole striped bass with handmade potato chips and it was the kind of dish you’d think about for days afterward.
The fish arrived at your table in a toasty cast iron skillet, the crispy skin still smoking and steaming from the grill, its sequins of black and silver shiny and shimmering, with a slice of grilled lemon like a piece of the sun on top. The perfectly thin, freshly-fried potato chips filled the other half of the plate. You’d crunch through a few of them right away to make room for the unfolding.
And… yeah, the unfolding. A solemn and joyful ritual, gently but forcefully using your fork and knife to spread the fish open on its spine, revealing an array of lemon slices and buttery, flaky meat. With deep care and reverence, you’d use the tines of your fork to tease chunks of the bass from its fragile, translucent bones and take your first perfect bite.
The salty tenderness. The citrus smokiness. The gentle, mild fishiness. And then the crunch of another crispy potato chip to punctuate the journey. Every bite bringing multitudes in its simplicity. When you got through the body of the fish, you’d dig into the collar for the good stuff — raunchy fish flavor brightened by lemon and saline.
For as long as the bass was available at Brazen, I couldn’t bring myself to order anything else on the menu. And as much as I loved the classic fish and chips at Spitalfields in London, I couldn’t help but shed a single tear for the perfect dish that wasn’t waiting for me back home.