As a newcomer to Canberra, it’s important I find not only a job, a place to live and perhaps even friends, but also a go-to place for fish and chips.
Back in Melbourne, I went to Sea Salt almost everyday, which serves arguably the best-quality, best-priced fish and chips in the city. I can find no fault in Sea Salt, tucked away in the bustling, hip alley of DeGraves Street. Between their filled-to-the-brim sushi, juicy fish burgers and quality fresh catch made to your liking, this place can do no wrong. Their service is consistently friendly and unassuming, which is hard to find in the ever trendy and pretentious food realm of Melbourne. Nothing will scare me away more from a restaurant than a jaded hipster who casts you aside with once glance and is burdened by taking your order, which is like, you know, their job, but whatever.
Enough spite. I haven’t had any hipster encounters in Canberra (yet), and for that I am thankful.
My quest today was to find a Sea Salt replacement, which I didn’t expect to be easy. After reading nothing but positive reviews on Urbanspoon, my hunt led me straight to the Fish Shack, located in the Petrie Plaza off Bunda Street.
The Fish Shack is hard to miss–just follow the delicious fish aroma wafting through Petrie Plaza and you’ll come across a cute orange hut, which stirred childlike excitement in me. The design is inviting– even if I hadn’t done prior research I think the set-up alone would have been enough to entice me.
I got there right in time for the lunch rush, and man, it was busy. The woman behind the counter kept saying, “We didn’t expect it to be so busy today,” in reply to customers who pointed out the obvious. The staff tackled the non-stop orders with efficiency, keeping calm and friendly even though it didn’t look to die down anytime soon.
I decided beforehand to stick with good ol’ fashioned beer battered fish and chips, but I definitely wavered when I saw the menu. The Fish Shack is aware of the growing gluten-free trend and provides options for the health-conscious, including steamed fish with lemongrass & ginger, which almost got me until I decided I was way too hungry to be healthy. The menu stated their beer batter was superior to all because it was made fresh with Burleigh 28 Pale Ale, which I’ve never had, but it sounded good, so I went with my original instinct. My meal came out to $10.50, a bit more than a Sea Salt outing, but still affordable if it lived up to the hype.
I waited a reasonable 12 minutes and was pleased to see my meal came equipped with lemon and dip (I shook things up and ordered roast garlic aioli over tartar). It’s a fish and chips sin when an order comes out sans lemon or dip, and there’s surprisingly a lot of places that will exclude one or the other, sometimes both.
When my food was dropped off, I was confident by the appearance that it’d be nothing short of seafood bliss. The fries (er, chips, excuse the future Americanisms) looked a bit dinky, but it’s all about the fish anyways.
I’m disappointed to say that this was one of those occasions where what you see is not what you get.
I could taste a hint of fish with mostly salt, but the beer batter didn’t make itself apparent to my taste buds whatsoever. I should have went with the steamed option, because the beer batter wasn’t worth splurging on–I couldn’t detect any distinct flavor. I finished the small portion of fish (it’s not as generous as it looks in the picture) within minutes and was left with a heap of chips, which were also forgettable. I was still ravenous so I didn’t hesitate to finish the soft and lifeless McDonald’s-like chips. Even the aioli dip was bland. I suspect it was fat-free, which would offer an explanation, but I didn’t stick around to ask.
I’m willing to give the Fish Shack another shot. It was busy and everyone else seems to rave about their food, so I’d be hasty to write it off just yet.
In the meantime, I’m keeping my eye out for other candidates to replace Sea Salt, whose best catch was its consistency.