Review: Cafe Fish. Following a week in the headlines after its owner spoke out over prosecution for not displaying a hygiene certificate, Joris Minne pays it a visit
I've had takeaways from Cafe Fish almost as often as I've had to put petrol in my car. Cafe Fish is a sturdy little chipper which never seems quiet.
The robust shape of proud owner and fish fryer boss Paul Bradley behind the pans, fog-horning orders to his team, runs his shop like the commander of a fisheries protection frigate in a gale.
Across the street diagonally is the sister Cafe Fish restaurant, a sit-in operation and the one currently in contention.
Queues at both have shown little sign of decline in recent days despite the adverse publicity piling up at the front door where the Food Standards Agency scores are supposed to be displayed (although, with a food hygiene rating of one out of five, I'd be hiding the rating sticker somewhere out of sight too).
There is a reason why people have not been put off by this low score. Bradley and his wife Gabby McDowell, who runs the restaurant, have the backing of their customers because they know there is a mismatch between circumstantial reality and strict enforcement of regulatory scores.
We've seen the loss of scores on the doors and their impact on reputable restaurants before.
Remember when Paul Rankin's amazing Cayenne was reduced to one star? It made the front page of this newspaper.
The necessary repairs were quickly made, the scores readjusted, but unfortunately by then the reputational damage had been done.
There was no front page a month later when the score was brought back up to four.
We take food and restaurants dead seriously in this town and the FSA and Belfast City Council have a real job to protect us from the bad cowboy suppers.
But you have to ask yourself if the scores reflect reality. I've been to restaurants whose hygiene levels, tidiness and shiny worktops are exemplary. Then, when it comes to the eating, the food has been surprisingly disappointing and bland. Sometimes too much attention goes to the wrong part of this business.
In the case of Cafe Fish takeaway and sit-in I can vouch for two things: the fish supper meal with mushy peas and tartare sauce and the chicken bites meal with gravy.
These have been family favourites for at least a decade, and the only complaint I've ever had is the condensation damage inflicted on the chips when transporting them from the chipper to the house, a seven-minute drive.
But the fish, normally haddock but sometimes cod, has always been generous in size, the batter brittle and golden with no soggy bottom and the chips, when straight into the mouth, crisp, firm, fluffy and uneven.
The chicken bites are another Cafe Fish triumph. Large goujons of quality breast meat in a savoury breadcrumb casing are tender and tasty, the crumb crisp and crumbling.
The gravy is old school and just the thought of it is driving me back to the place this evening.
We live in interesting times. Economic and political turbulence have become the norm; financial instability brought on by Brexit fears and concerns are among the many new hazards the business community here has had to live with; and uncertainty about the future of our planet is depressingly felt by just about everyone.
Fish and chips have been slowly vanishing from our list of favourite foods, overtaken and replaced by modern, trendy and tasty alternative fast foods. Until 20 years ago there were 35,000 chip shops across Britain and Ireland. Today about 10,500 still operate and the fightback has begun.
I am occasionally invited by hospitality bodies to share deep and penetrating insights into the mind of a food writer and restaurant critic. At such events I normally share the four commandments to be deployed during the first few seconds of a restaurant guest's arrival.
When Primark went up in flames 16 months ago, few realised how the ripple effects of the fire would impact surrounding businesses. In the core of the old city centre where every building is cheek by jowl, the fire appeared thankfully to be confined to the one-time House of Fraser and it looked as if neighbouring businesses had escaped the worst.