Esoteric London

No. 276: Theobald’s Road, WC1

Posted in Eating places, Food by esotericlondon on March 21, 2011

Theobald’s Road, London, WC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

The Wild Tribes of London – Watts Phillips, 1855:

But what is this? this most delectable odour which assails us ?-this bubbling, frizzling sound that meets our ears ?-that makes the nostrils of Judah distend, the eyes of Israel dilate with joy, while the lips water with expectation ?-Fried fish. A fish-shop throws its cheerful glare into the chilly night. We will halt for a moment, and inspect its interior, – one of many of a similar character which abound in the neighbourhood.

The first thing which arrests our attention, after having feasted our eyes upon the rows of crisp brown fish that decorate the window, is the large fire within, which has a fiercely jolly look, like the face of a giant who has taken to drinking; but which comforts us nevertheless, till we forget this raw December night, which encompasses us about. The shop is tenanted by a family of five-a mother, her three daughters, and an only son, the heir to the house of Manasseh. The mother, though obese, is comely to look upon, with eyes of melting lustre, and nose, whose size, and lips, whose pulpy fulness, indicate her race. She stands by the fire, the presiding genius of the frying-pan, whose handle she holds firmly, as hardy mariner the good ship’s helm. She grasps her fork like a harpoon, and, with steady eye, watches the sea of hissing, bubbling oil. Each moment the fork descends, and transfixes a fish, till one by one the rich brown spoil lies heaped up within the confines of the dish, while the frying-pan bubbles and hisses with impatience, calling loudly, like the horse-leech’s daughters, for more.

[The above photograph was taken in the Fryer’s Delight fish and chip shop, considered by many – including this contributor – to be the finest in London. The bench seating, the formica tables, the pickled eggs, the cabbies, and the fish fried in beef fat … it all adds up to something that is far more than the sum of its parts. And, if it’s a busy day and the benches are full, you can always make it a take-away: just walk across the road, settle down with your chips on the wall by the police station and enjoy the view of the determined patrons of L.A.Fitness as they pound out the miles on the running machines. R.D.]

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