The beer at The Fish & Chips Shop is served cold in metal cups, which keeps it at an ideal temperature. Mani Alam, born in Islamabad but better adapted to Barcelona than one of the city’s bike lanes, says that’s how they serve beer in Pakistan. Let’s hope it catches on with those people who pour beers that have bubbles as warm as a hot tub. Mani, his brother Magid and his brother-in-law Bilal run the The Fish & Chips Shop, a minuscule eatery where people queue to order the quintessential British takeaway food (although it is possible to eat in, if you can bag one of the few bar stools): white fish in a simple, crispy batter.
Mani and his two partners have reinterpreted a street-food classic in gourmet style. The result is chunks of line-caught hake coated in a smoked tempura batter - which they smoke themselves – and then deep-fried in vegetable oil. Once cooked it’s served with paper cones of chips (made of potatoes with their skins left on) and two dipping sauces, one a tartare, the other a chutney, both home-made. Clever ideas to raise the game of a dish whose main failing is that it tastes of... of what exactly? Travellers nostalgic for London mainly remember the texture and the smell, neither of them edifying. Mani is a cocktail waiter, and it was from this new branch of the juggler’s trade that he got the idea for the smoked batter. ‘I used a cocktail-making trick. In Great Britain the fish is usually cod. We prefer hake. And it’s a healthier touch.’
The men are recommended by Albert Adrià (brother of ultra-chef Ferran) who is boosting the district’s economy with his company El Barri, which is behind several restaurants in the area. Adrià approves of their business model (the USP) and the designs skills of Mani, who has decorated this cubbyhole in an attractively urban style: sharp graphics, painted murals, and airport magazines such as 'Monocle'.
The fish and chips are good, crunchy to the bite, as are the fried edamame (Japanese soy beans) with a drop of truffle oil. Crispy batter breaks off their deep-fried asparagus spears like slabs of plaster off a wall, and the 'romesco' dipping sauce (made with red pepper and nuts) adds a jolt of pure joy. The 'seitons' (European anchovies) provide an oily fish option. They make 'cocotxes en escabetx', pickled cod’s cheeks, each evening in a nearby prep room, and they have an espresso, from the excellent El Magníficobrand. To sum up, a short, well-thought-out menu in a setting designed down to the last detail. Barcelona is fitting the last pieces into a jigsaw of the planet’s gastronomy.