A good neighbourhood restaurant is a different beast to one you’d cross town to visit. It becomes the default setting whenever the cupboard is bare and inspiration is lacking. You might not drive more than 15 minutes to reach it, but if you live nearby it’s high on your list of reasons to love your area.
Fich at Petersham is a perfect example. It’s definitely nicer than your average suburban fish and chip shop. It’s split in two – on one side you’ve got a counter for ordering takeaway and perusing the ready-made salads. Over the divide is a clean, white dining room with a single giant fish on one wall and Norah Jones on the stereo, where the menu stretches from fist-sized potato scallops with tomato sauce all the way to a ceviche of the day or tender calamari strips that are scored to soak in more of the garlic and chilli oil they are bathed in. A touch more golden sear on the meat wouldn’t go astray, but as is, with a squeeze of fresh lemon on charry bread, this still puts most crumbed calamari on notice.
A classic fish and chips comes with those excellent jenga block beer-battered fries, but could have done with being rescued from the oil before it turned such a dark bronze. Points are regained with a bowl of Kinkawooka mussels from South Australia in a sauce thrumming with a potent flavour infusion of sobrasada sausage. Cut through the porky richness with yet more lemon, and leave no broth behind, even if it means ordering more bread to ferry it to your face.
There are some very Inner West touches here: orange and natural wines by the glass, kombucha among the soft drink standards, and an option to have a jazzed-up custard tart from nearby Portuguese patisserie Sweet Belem as your dessert. We are all for it. Sydney is not the town for one-size-fits-all restaurants, and Fich has read the Stanmore ward with more accuracy than Anthony Green on Election night. It’s about the mix of nostalgia and modern sensibilities on the menu; it’s about a space you could bring a date to, or a family with children under five. Consider the full potential of the fish and chip shop realised.