A short walk down from Hampstead tube in a parade of shops, Goldfish is a warren of little rooms, busily decorated with an eclectic mix of oriental wooden screens, water features, models of famous parts of China and, yes, goldfish. These are swimming around in a large Chinoiserie pot near the entrance. The low ceiling, painted black, adds to the cramped feel, as do the rather small wooden chairs with cream upholstery. Walls are painted assorted colours, and in the room that we were in there was a central strip of wallpaper with a goldfish pattern. There was an attractive central flower display in our room.
Tables have white linen tablecloths and napkins, and a single candle in a large glass jar. The restaurant can seat 70 in its various little rooms, and this evening it was full to capacity, with a line of people outside the door waiting for tables to become free. The clientele is mostly local, and this being Hampstead that means prosperous (no doubt a few crooks and nannies were tucked away in the restaurant's nooks and crannies). The menu is lengthy with a lot of seafood dishes in particular. Chef Kevin Chow is from Malaysia but worked at the Four Seasons hotel in Singapore.
A steamer of dim sum had a generous eight prawn and four vegetarian dumplings inside it. The prawns were reasonably tender, as were the vegetables, and this was capable dim sum, though by no means as delicate as, say, Yauatcha. Soft shell crab salad was nicely made, almost a Thai style salad with green mango as well as lambs lettuce leaves, chilli, coriander and tomato; the dressing was nicely spicy and the soft shell crab itself fried properly (12/20).
Steamed sea bass was farmed and cooked properly, but the fish really lacked taste, and the ginger and spring onions that accompanied the fish were unable to distract from its blandness (11/20). Spicy prawns were cooked fine but were bizarrely cooked with their shells on. Shelling a raw prawn is a fiddly process, so how exactly a diner is supposed to try shelling a hot prawn is beyond me. The spicy sauce with the prawns was fine but this was really hard to eat (11/20). Vermicelli noodles had good texture, with a little hint of curry about them and with some well-cooked (shelled) prawns (12/20).
“Green fry” rice had coriander, ginger, green chilli and yuzu juice fried with the rice, and this was fine (12/20). Finally some seasonal oriental vegetables were scarcely ordinary (ordinary broccoli instead of Chinese broccoli, carrot, asparagus, snow peas) but were pleasant, stir-fried with some soy (11/20). Service was harried on this busy night but it was friendly. This is certainly a cut above a normal neighbourhood Chinese, though a step or two down in standard from my benchmark Royal China.