The Fish & Grill is the latest opening of Malcolm John, who set up Vacherin in Chiswick and Le Cassoulet in Croydon. The Fish and Grill is in a high street location and opened its doors in mid December 2008, yet it is already prospering. It seats 65, and on the night we went it had 120 bookings, even doing 30 or more covers on a weekday lunch (where a £14.95 three course menu is offered). The formula is an informal dining room and a simple menu offering either fish or grilled meats.
Starters were £4.95 - £10.95, fish dishes £11.95 - £22, and meat main courses from £10.95 for a burger through to £18.95 for a T-bone steak. Side dishes were around £3, desserts mostly £6. The room has a wooden floor, exposed brick walls, a small seafood counter in the middle and good, bright lighting. There were no tablecloths, though there were proper napkins, and the menu was printed out as a placemat. The fish is all caught off the south coast. Warm bread was served in little paper bags.
The wine list was printed on the back of the paper menu/placemat, and ran to nine sparkling wines, nineteen whites, two rosé, 22 red selections, plus three dessert wines. The list is structured by style e.g. “aromatic and luscious” and starts at £14.95 a bottle. Examples are the excellent Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken 2007 at £31 (this costs about £13 to buy in the shops), Black Rock Grenache 2006 at £30 for a wine that retails at about a tenner, and at the higher end Reserva Classico Reserva Borgogno 2001 at £69 for a wine costing perhaps £33 retail.
We tried potted mackerel, which is made from scratch here, and had excellent taste, the distinctive mackerel complemented by shallots, capers and a little mayonnaise, served with toast (13/20). The best dish was a pair of plump scallops, cooked whole and timed well so that they were just cooked yet retained their natural sweetness, served in their shells on a bed of spinach gratin (15/20). This was more successful than a crab salad, which had amply dressed leaves on which was a mixture of the brown and white crab meat; crab has a delicate flavour and needs little to enhance it, but here it was mixed with too much mayonnaise, which overwhelmed the crab; a shame as the crab itself was fresh and good (11/20).
Fillet steak was excellent; 28 day-aged Aberdeen Angus, served simply with a few salad leaves and (eventually) a pleasant black pepper sauce (14/20). Dover sole was cooked on the bone, and unfortunately was cooked for too long, the fish becoming somewhat dried out (11/20). Macaroni cheese was pleasant but again cooked a little longer than idea, becoming a bit soggy (11/20), and buttered cabbage was seriously overcooked and limp (8/20). Chips were reasonable, though with double-cooked chips you can never get the crispness that you get with triple cooking (12/20). Apple crumble used tasty Bramley apples, but the crumble was a little lumpy (12/20). Service was friendly if a little frayed in places.
This is still early days, and the kitchen was operating flat out tonight, which I suspect is why some inconsistency crept into the dishes. The ups and downs are why I have scored it 12/20, but the best elements of the meal were significantly better than this, and clearly the sheer volume of business they are doing here (in February in the teeth of a vicious recession) is a testament to what the locals think of the place. Malcolm John is a passionate and committed restaurateur, and all his ventures show reflect that. The Fish and Grill is clearly a very welcome addition to Croydon’s limited dining scene.