Muswell Hill food history
When you need to make a reservation at the chippy – sorry, licensed fish restaurant – you know these are strange times indeed. Having had plenty of bad experiences with fish and chips – soggy, oily batter, dry, flavourless fish, greasy chips – it was with high hopes that we stepped over the threshold at Toff’s; a Muswell Hill institution since 1968. When people think fish and chips, it’s often with take-away in mind but look past the counter and you’ll see a cosy dining area beyond.
After being seated quickly, the first thing that jumped out from the menu was that you could get the fish grilled for an extra pound. We chose one haddock and one plaice. Next question- which would be better grilled? This I put to our server who without hesitation advised that the plaice’s place was under the grill which meant the deep fat fryer for the haddock.
The owners’ Aegean roots were evident in the starters as alongside such chip-shop favourites as fish cakes, was some Mediterranean fare including Greek salad, taramasalata and calamari. Tradition won through and we ordered what turned out to be a generous side-dish of mushy peas.
As this was a last chance to eat out before the November 2020 Covid lockdown, wine was considered to be in order and the house white – Finca Cerrada from Spain – fit the bill nicely.
Despite signs warning patrons to be patient, the food came quickly enough. The grilled plaice exceeded expectations – the texture light and flaky. The haddock suffered not at all from deep-fried oiliness and was substantial and juicy. As per tradition, skin was left on but does anyone actually eat this? Seems that the skin can help the fillet stay together during the frying process but the result is far from crispy enough to be palatable. You can’t mess with tradition though, so I kept my mouth shut and left the skin on the plate.
The chips on the other hand were, at best, good fish shop chips. The Toff’s web-site assures the ground-nut oil is changed daily but still there was that fish-shop taste that slightly lingers. Clearly, I’m not much of a flag-waver when it comes to traditional English grub as I think the Belgian-style frites are where it’s at chip-wise. The secret there, apparently, is that they’re much thinner (thickness of less than 1cm), but most importantly, twice fried – firstly at a lower temperature then allowed to cool and then fried once more, just before serving, at a higher temperature. That would seem to be how you get the golden crispy outer yet soft inner.
Portions were generous and the service was friendly – we had a quick chat about Toff’s needing to go take-away only once again for the November lock down but even so, it will still be worth your while making the journey up the hill for this slice of London food history.