The Golden Hind was the flagship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in three years between 1577 and 1580. The galleon was originally dubbed the Pelican, but he renamed it whilst at sea and about to enter the Strait of Magellan (somewhere around South America’s southern tip) in tribute to his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose family crest bore a golden deer.
Drake left England in December 1577, sailed around the world, indulging in a spot of trouble-stirring with the Spanish and a little piracy too, finally putting into Plymouth in September 1580. It was on this ship, whilst docked at Deptford in the Thames, that Drake became Sir Francis by the very hand of Queen Elizabeth herself (and that she received from him more than enough booty to pay off England’s national debt).
I am not sure what the same-named eatery anchored in Marylebone Lane shares with this historic ship. Maybe titling chippies is like labelling public houses: King this, Prince that, though there is never any noble connection. Anyhow, it is certainly regarded as one of the Capital’s best fish’n’chipperies and even includes Dos Hermanos as fans. It was on their unwitting say-so that it was selected as the site of another must-eat-when-in-London experience with Ulterior Epicure.
It is believed that battered, fried fish was first introduced to this country by Sephardic Jews – they already had the similar dish, pescado frito – in the mid-nineteenth century. It was served with bread, then baked potato and, after the spread of railroads, its popularity grew quickly among the working classes who were now able to make use of the offal fish (the cheaper stuff caught with the prime produce and normally thrown back) that trawlers brought in. Later, the Irish baked potato was replaced by the Belgian fried and shaped kind and nothing was ever the same again.
London’s original fish’n’chip shop was opened by Joseph Malin in the East End in 1860. The Golden Hind is not quite as old as that, but can boast an almost hundred-year history. The initial owner is said to have fled his tiny Italian village after killing the mayor and, having arrived in this city penniless, to have started his business frying up the leftovers that fishmongers threw out. That was in 1914. Since, the restaurant has had only four other owners with Mr. Christou the present proprietor.
Golden by name, golden by nature: the shop’s frontage is bright yellow and glass boarding; its signage is somewhat paler and the I is missing from HIND. Inside, cream walls are barren; bare, redwood tables are tight together; the floor is tiled black and white; and it is a little dim within, but fairy lights have been hung around the room. It almost lives up to Charles Campion’s standards: ‘a true chippy should be a dive with a line out the door that leaves your hair smelling of grease’. Unfortunately, there was no obviously oily odour that day. ‘Tis not all doom and gloom though, there is a touch of colour and art deco along the far wall where an authentic, lime green and more yellow, decommissioned nineteen-twenties Bakelite fish fryer from F. Ford of Halifax stands – it stores old menus now, but it’s retro-fun. The dining area is small and cramped, but that just makes it more comfortable instead of inconvenient; it is as it should be.
Seating is on a first come, first serve basis and what with the steady stream of customers, sometimes there is a wait. The Golden Hind is family-run and the Greek staff are friendly and upbeat; a causal, neighbourhood feel pervades the place. A bring-your-own alcohol policy is also in force and is decidedly popular.
Starter: Whole Tail Scampi (breaded). Half a dozen, hard-shelled scampi served as our starters. Their cases were rather thick yet agreeably crunchy whilst the meat within was moist. Unfortunately, as for taste, they were rather lacking in any. A little assistance arrived in the form of lemon juice, but not enough.
Fish 1: Skate (wing). Our first fish dish was a sizeable serving of skate wing. The gamboge-coloured coating was very, very crisp, breaking into little bits upon each bite. Within was succulent, mild skate meat. The delicate fish had extremely fresh flavour and its characteristic cartilaginous crunch emphasised that of the crust’s.
Fish 2: Small Cod (boneless fillet). The second piscine sample consisted of classic small cod. Another fine example of good frying was presented with the additional salt in the batter mixture accentuating the delicate, toothsome taste of the fish, which fell out the crunchy covering in large, firm flakes.
Sides: Chips; Mushy Peas; and Pickled Onion. With the main dishes, the accustomed accompaniments were duly ordered. The hand-cut chips were twice-fried, medium-cut Maris Pipers, but sadly, disappointed. They were neither especially flavoursome nor well-prepared; they had also probably been reheated. The perfect fry ought to be crisp outside, moussy inside; these were pretty squishy all over with only the itty bitty tater scraps bringing crackly comfort. However, the slow-cooked mushy peas were pleasing with desired consistency and savour, not to mention nice bright green colour. I did not try the onion.
Pudding 1: Spotted Dick with custard. For our sweet, we selected spotted dick and custard: traditional English treats to complete our traditional English eats. Regrettably, a couple of mouthfuls in, we mutually agreed it was not much good and that it was most likely store-bought before being micro-waved warm. Neither were the currants juicy nor the sponge soft enough.
It is said that the secret to really good fish and chips is in the batter and quality of the ingredients. At the Golden Hind, they use a mystery batter mixture and measure the amount of breading to fish meticulously; this leads to a scrumptiously crisp, unusually light and very clean result with virtually no greasy trace. As regards the produce, their purveyors supply them with fresh-caught seafood daily from Grimsby. No freezing is involved and indeed, the food tasted all the better for this.
Nevertheless, this shop sells fish and chips, so though the fish maybe first-class, the chips cannot be forgotten. Here it almost felt like that is what had happened. The time had been taken to pick a decent potato and chop them by hand, so it was a letdown that they had not been well looked after, after that. It is notoriously easy to cook a bad chip, which is why good ones are so sought-after and so gratefully received. The pudding was also poor, though I could get over this (bearing in mind where I was). Portions were generous and the rest of the Golden Hind’s dishes – top fish, decent scampi, nice peas with homemade tartare and pleasant Tommy K – set a pretty satisfying standard. It is a shame that the chips could not continue it.
73 Marylebone Lane W1U 2PN
tel: 020 7486 3644
nearest tube: Bond Street