One Mars Bar – 260 calories; gin and tonic – 120; smallish slice of brie? About 170.
Just a brief insight into the kind of monotonous maths currently required to maintain a 32″ waist – until after the wedding, at least.
Til then, certain indulgences are well and truly off the menu, including most fried food.
Imagine then my dilemma at receiving an invitation to an award-winning fish and chip restaurant, one we’d been eager to try for months.
‘But no’, came the reply, ‘these are HEALTHY fish and chips’. They even have the awards to prove it.
Last month Fish City landed a haul of two prestigious titles at the UK Fish and Chip Awards (for healthy eating and sustainability).
A small portion from their new healthy eating menu squeaks in at just under 600 calories – for comparison, around the same as this haddock with cannellini beans and artichokes.
Well, when you put it like that…
Dietary misgivings allayed, we’re seated at a table in the centre of the restaurant, deliberating over the new menu. There’s a familiar look to much of the offering – scampi, battered sausages, chicken goujons, but also something we’re less accustomed to seeing in a chippie – a calorie count.
This tells us, for example, that their scampi contains only 167 calories (putting it in competition with a single boiled egg or a large intake of breath in my favourite late night kebab shop).
Also atypical of a fish and chip shop is Fish City’s décor. Owner Grainne’s Lavery’s interior design background is apparent in the quirky, imaginative touches – resembling a collaboration between Terence Conran and Jack Sparrow – part trendy urban bistro, part grounded gallion.
The swashbuckling style carries on into the kitchen too. Chef Vincent Hurley, whose CV includes Paul Rankin’s Cayenne, is passionate about all things fish, to the point (I’m told) he has been known to wield his wooden spoon, enjoining his boss to test the ‘master sauce’ that will grace his roast cod. All fish is cooked fresh, much of it from Kilkeel and the surrounding waters- no well-traveled, frozen fillets here.
Beyond the chippie staples, they have created a menu that includes dishes like seafood linguine, fish cakes (made with four varieties of fish) and pan-fried hake with crushed potatoes and samphire that would not be out of place in any of Belfast’s top fish restaurants.
Our starters arrived – a mix of dainty smoked salmon rolls balanced on blinis; crisp-crumbed squid scattered with seeds and served with ‘slaw, chili sauce and (my personal favourite) garlic aioli as well as a taster of the fish cakes – a conglomeration of salmon, cod, smoked coley and haddock.
We both scoffed the effete smoked salmon in a single bite, enjoying the slight tang from the accompanying pesto before attacking the incredibly moreish golden slivers of squid. The fish cake could have benefited from a little more seasoning, but perhaps suffered from following more forceful flavours. Nonetheless the trading textures of soft fish and crunchy coating made it the ideal way to mop up the remainder of the delicious aioli.
Starters dispatched of, the fish and chips arrive, complete with mushy peas and tartar sauce. The bronzed batter was the colour of the cast of TOWIE, as it should be. So far, so normal. It wasn’t until I bit into the crunchy cod that it be came apparent something was different.
The brittle shards of batter gave way to tender cod, rather than the sort of heavy, glutinous underlayer of undercooked batter served up in most fish and chip shops. The secret? A milky thin batter that crackled in the hot frier, without absorbing nearly as much oil as a standard mix. The oil of choice is rapeseed, though you can opt for beef dripping and it’s changed daily, another point of distinction.
The chips were similarly non-greasy – hand cut affairs with a crunchy outer layer covering soft, steamed potato inside. Halfway through, as my rate of consumption slowed, I did wonder if their recent sustainability award was a recognition that even this ‘small’ portion could sustain two of me for a full day. A quick Google search showed it had more to do with their MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification – ensuring they only use species of fish that are plentiful and that fishing vessels minimise their environmental impact. It’s something to which Grainne and her husband John are laudably committed – they even run a kids club initiative with local primary schools, educating children on both the health benefits of fish and the importance of protecting the oceans.
For anyone hoping to minimise the impact of fish and chips on their waistline, Fish City may be the ideal solution. For the calorie conscious customer, there is ample range to sustain repeated visits and we will certainly be back.