When I think about it, fish and chips are my favourite comfort food. I grew up on them during my childhood summers and two years of elementary school spent in Edinburgh, Scotland. Whether my siblings and I begged and pleaded for them, or my dad slipped up and came home without any plans for dinner, we ate fish dinners on a regular basis. And my local Italian-owned chippy was top notch, too, at one time selling world-class wines by the case to so-desiring customers and throwing the exotic fish or two on their menu. Crocodile, anyone?
So, back in December, in a moment of weakness when I made a visit to my favourite Mississauga bakery, the French Corner, I was delighted to see that the retail space next door was under renovation to become a fish and chip restaurant. Quality fish and chips just down the street from me? I couldn’t wait. However, unforeseen circumstances meant that the restaurant remained unopened for what felt like forever. Each time I rode the 44 S or the 1C E I made sure to grab a window seat to check their progress. Then finally, last week, English Bay Fish and Chips opened.
English Bay is not technically new to the restaurant scene. Run by a husband and wife team, Grace and Mark McFadden, their Oakville location has been around since 2006. (My roommate, an Oakville native, says it’s her family’s go-to dinner every Good Friday.) And certainly upon entering the Mississauga branch there was a calm and organization only attainable by a couple of pros. The décor was surprisingly nice and more upscale than any neon sign–flashing, greasy chippy I’d been in before. Even the pair that served my dinner date and me were dressed in nice collared shirts, tidy pants, and aprons tied around their waists. Unfortunately, I wished the waitress hadn’t been so caught up in her surroundings and was less formal. The waiter managed a casual vibe. We selected a booth in the back. My dinner date and I were the only ones there, so we didn’t have to put up a battle of any sort.
I decided to go traditional with my order—I mean, I’d been waiting four months for some classic fish and chips. I selected the haddock (with traditional batter instead of the breadcrumb coating) with chips plus an additional side of small mushy peas. That said, I could have gone for cod or halibut for the fish itself and I could have even swapped out the chips for a different side. Beyond just fish and chips, the menu offered an exciting range of seafood entrees, including seafood stew, clam chowder, rainbow trout, and Lake Erie pickerel. My dinner date chose the fish cakes with a side of garden salad and raspberry vinaigrette.
Our order came quickly (in fact, we were in and out in just under an hour). I was immediately disappointed with the portion size. Half the fun of fish and chips is the possible enormity of the fish—be it the cut itself or just how much the batter has puffed up in the fryer. Even the chips, a medium cut, were hardly piled on the plate. I’ll admit I’m guilty of eating far more than I should and what I was given was probably a reasonable size. (My mother would have approved.) But if I’m going out for a deep-fried delicacy, I want to go all out. The mushy peas came in a nice glass bowl on a doily-lined saucer. How quaint.
The fish and chips were fine. I say that completely indifferently. They didn’t taste shockingly awful nor did they beat fish and chips that I’ve had in the past. The mushy peas seemed homemade and as a result didn’t have that horrible synthetic quality of the fluorescent kind you get in a can. There was a good ratio of whole to pureed peas. But my favourite part of the plate was the tartar sauce, which I was happy to have been asked whether or not I actually wanted. It was noticeably tart and a welcome accompaniment. I also loved, perhaps even more, the lightly pickled, finely sliced cucumber on the side. Now that stood out. It too provided a tartness to the deep-fried heart of the dish, but without the richness of a tartar sauce. I could have had a plateful of those cucumber slices.
The fish cakes, made of a combination of halibut and salmon, were a similarly moderate portion. But they were nicely breaded and, according to my dinner date, had a pleasing texture that didn’t immediately turn to mush on chewing. The salad… was a salad. And the vinaigrette was what you’d expect of your typical—probably mass-produced—vinaigrette.
Even if the portions had been larger, we weren’t going to pass on dessert, all of which are made by co-owner Grace. I chose that night’s feature dessert, another British classic that I have a weird affection for: warm toffee date cake. I might have gone for the rice pudding, but given the $4 price tag I was afraid that my portion size might amount to a single grain of rice. The warm bread pudding also sounded enticing. My dinner date went with the warm brownie sundae. As expected, the portions were indeed small. A palm-sized square slice of cake for me and an almost-sliver of brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for my dinner date.
Throwing my gluttony aside, it was the best date cake I’ve ever had. Big statement, I know. But my gosh, was it (a) moist, (b) lightly and evenly textured, and (c) moist. The toffee flavour came through strong, but not in conflict with the date. I’d have taken another slice home if it didn’t cost $6. Meanwhile, I’m told that the brownie and the vanilla ice cream dolloped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream were quite good. Although I’m doubtful that the latter, which made up half of the dessert itself, was homemade.
After our desserts we got the bill, which, as I always love to see, came with candy. My meal came to around $25 including a tip; my dinner date’s was just under $20 with a tip. Did English Bay rank up there with the fish and chips I’ve had in the past? No, probably not. But the charm and atmosphere of the restaurant would bring me back. In fact, if I got slightly more grub for my money and I had money to spend on eating out regularly, I’d make an effort to go weekly. And without question I’d get dessert every time too.
I’m happy to see a restaurant specializing in fish in the neighbourhood and finally open.