28 August 2013

london calling : the sunken chip, 75010

Ever since moving to Paris I've found London frightful. I think this is because I've come to define quality of life in terms of short commutes and availability of good bread and wine.

It's also because London, despite technically existing in Europe, gastronomically seems to comprise part of the big blank New World. Early industrialisation and the culinary privation of the last century's wars are two factors among many that have conspired to essentially delete the traditions binding the populace to native British cuisine, leaving Brits, like the average American, ahistorical, open to suggestion, lost in the supermarket. What I see when I visit restaurants in London, for the most part, is Manhattan: everything feels market-tested, branded to death, fat with investment - as though marketing execs and interior designers were more important to a restaurant than chefs and restaurateurs.

So, unlike seemingly every other press outlet, I won't congratulate Michael Greenwold, co-chef of 20ème market menu gem Roseval, and James Whelan, propietor of 10ème bar L'Inconnu, merely for bringing a little bit of London variety to Paris with the opening of Paris' first fish'n'chip shop, The Sunken Chip ! (Their exclamation point, not mine.) I find the concept chirpy to the point of being unsettling, and the décor could use roughing up and rethinking. I will instead congratulate Greenwold for coming up with a positively revelatory plate of fish'n'chips, several components of which are a benchmark for both cities, not just Paris.

Speaking of benches, the ones in The Sunken Chip are the most obstructive design idea since Richard Serra's Tilted Arc.

They seat 18 comfortably, or rather uncomfortably, since two couples will have to get up if the couple trapped against the wall needs to leave. The same number of guests could have been accommodated at moveable tables and chairs. Or better yet, they could have forced people to stand at high communal tables and counters along the wall, thereby encouraging take-away service and discouraging the scourge of small spaces in Paris, namely lingering Parisians.*

Other design missteps include the central neon take-away sign, which bathes everything in a Lynchian red glow and should be a different colour, and the open salt containers, which on the occasions I visited did not contain any serving spoons and instead probably contained traces of many other clients' greasy fingers. The collection of UK-nostalgia sodas (IRN-BRU, etc.) and candies are also constitute a sugar-high of twee frippery that ought to be edited down. One element like this is charming; nine is nauseating.

None of these things would jump out so jarringly if the rest of the restaurant weren't so clean and well-conceived. But they're the difference between durable décor, and the sort of décor that will look hokey as hell in five years' time, when the entire street is lined with "concepts."

The Sunken Chip's fish, sourced daily from a Breton fisherman and fine restaurant supplier called Thomas Sarraco, is impeccable. Of the three types I tried, the most impressive were the ugliest and least-invitingly named: "fish nuggets," which is The Sunken Chip's counter-intuitive way of selling monkfish cheek, the sôt-l'y laisse of the sea, savoured by every chef I know for its pliant delicacy. Who cares if it looks like something found in the fry-oil at the end of a shift?

The fries are serviceably crispy. Accompaniments of pickled eggs and pickled onions are both satisfying and pub-standard, only perceptibly cleaner, a quality which neither adds nor detracts from these staples.

Special mention must be made of the mushy peas, which are a striking kryptonite green and which taste even better than they look - nuanced, succulent, and persistent, with a long natural douceur. Superman, upon eating them, would die happy.

Prices are fair, with the notable exception that one must pay 1,50€ for tartar sauce. I don't expect this practice will last long. Another recently-launched Paris fast food concept, Frédéric Peneau's Grillé, has already abandoned its initial demand of ,30€ for ketchup. Everyone understands a restaurant must pay the bills. But it's never worth the PR hassle of demanding chump-change for condiments.

The Sunken Chip serves just two beers, one superb and one quite bad. Anthony Martin's Pale Ale is a high-toned wholesome Belgian-brewed marvel of its type, a generous malty brushstroke with an eyebrow-raising floral finish.

The other is Gallia, one of two Paris-branded beers launched in the last few years, and by far the worse. It barely registers on the palate as beer. That such a flavourless and imbalanced product has achieved any market presence whatsoever is a testament to the branding power of the city of Paris.

I am, admittedly, friends with the the owner of the other recently launched Paris-branded beer company. I also find his beers much better, and, for what it's worth, much better-branded.**

* No other people in the world have such patience over their coffee, or over the ice cubes in the bottom of a glass. It's almost like your average Parisian has no appetite, no tolerance for alcohol, no money, no place to be, nothing to do, and yet desires above all to occupy busy spaces and be seen. City life !

** But as long as we're serving French beers: how about some Muscadet? With fried fish this good I'd kill for some cuvées of Guy Bossard, or even something as simple and ebulliant as Joel Bouvet's "Vino-Sense" Muscadet.

The Sunken Chip !
39, rue des Vinaigriers
75010 PARIS
Tel: 01 53 26 74 46
Métro: Jacques Bonsergeant

Related Links:

An interview with Sunken Chip co-founder James Whelan at AnotherMag.
A hearty endorsement of The Sunken Chip, replete with impressively digressive autobiographical intro, from Alexander Lobrano at HungryForParis.
A short blurb on The Sunken Chip at GoGoParis.
Why on earth are HypeBeast covering The Sunken Chip? This sort of thing confers negative cred. It's like being endorsed in Teen Vogue or something. 

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, I visited last week and my comment was that it could only fit 12 people comfortably! Totally agree bench seating was not a well thought-out idea. We got ours to-go and ate canal-side which I suggest for anyone with even a smidgen of claustrophobia. Here's my take: http://lynncroyable.blogspot.fr/2013/08/first-taste-sunken-chip.html