I like animals. I really do. Yes, it can be somewhat confusing to cuddle up to my pet cat in the day, and march off and eat a whole host of less cute animals at night. Sorry ugly, less furry, less domesticated animals, I’m eating you… often. The big distinction is that we view some animals as pet-worthy, and some as fuel, and I’m certainly not going to argue. I would propose that anybody who has eaten a perfectly cooked, rare fillet steak is not going to marching for animal rights. However there’s a big ol’ grey area that rarely gets mentioned, and that is the consumption of fish. Fish are, to a whole host of families, pets.
Most people have some vague childhood memory of Goldie floating face up, before being plonked unceremoniously down the toilet, and these same people (myself included) would think nothing of eating a tuna sandwich. This is why whenever I’m off to a fish restaurant I feel not even the slightest modicum of guilt about chomping away- until you learn to be a bit more exciting little fishy, you are going to end up on my dinner plate.
With what could be described as a menacing gleefulness I arrived at Riddle and Finns, a very smart little restaurant at the beginning of Meeting House Lane. It bills itself as a Champagne and Oyster bar, due to its hefty selection of both, however it is also a restaurant in its own right, with a large well thought-out menu. The décor is minimalist yet interesting. White and green ceramic tiles line the walls, while raised tables house beautiful candelabra complete with dripping white wax. It is visually impressive while being relatively sparse; no mean feat.
They have a no-booking policy which means you have to hope serendipity is on your side, yet the place is always bustling and vibrant, so it’s clearly a strategy that works. Another quirk is that they seat you wherever is free, meaning unless you are in a group of 4 or 8, you’ll most likely be sharing a table with strangers. This can be a bit hit and miss. The first couple opposite us looked horrified at the decibels our conversation reached, which was unsettling, yet the second couple in the sitting were friendly and charming, so it’s effectively like a diner’s version of Russian roulette.
Starters sit between the £5 and £10 mark, while the mains fluctuate much more wildly, with the cheapest main being the Squid and Shellfish Risotto at a not-too-shabby £12.95; the most expensive being the Lobster Fruits De Mer coming in at £40 a head. They offer a cost cutting pre-theatre menu Monday to Friday until 7.15pm with two options for each course and two courses for £12.95, so feeling the post-Christmas pinch, we went for that. I chose for the Mixed Shellfish Marinière, while my dining companion went for the Whitebait with Wasabi Mayo. There was a bit of a mix up, as we were initially served two mains, before mentioning we hadn’t yet had our starters. These things happen, and it was a very busy service, so can be excused.
When we got our starters the mixed shellfish was gorgeous with the marinière being some of the richest yet nicest I had ever sampled. The whitebait was crunchy and perfectly cooked, however the wasabi mayo could have benefitted from slightly more wasabi if I’m being picky. When it came to choosing the food itself we were reliant upon the waitress, as the £12.95 menu is only on the chalk board outside, so they have to dictate the dishes. Unfortunately our waitress didn’t remember a lot of the ingredients to one of the mains, so it made deciding tricky. Rather than leave, check the components, then return, she looked embarrassed and waited for us to decide. We opted for the Battered Fish and Chips with Salad and Tartare sauce and Fishcakes, Mange Tout, Spinach and a sauce which she hadn’t quite remembered.
After thirty minutes our mains still hadn’t arrived. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, however for a menu that bills itself as ‘pre-theatre’ by this point would be worrying that you would be missing the start of the show. Five minutes later our mains arrived, the fishcakes being straddled by an egg! Now don’t for some reason think this was an unwelcome addition, or that I am some sort of Egg-Nazi, but it wasn’t mentioned in the description of the meal, and if for some reason (god knows why) you didn’t like eggs, this would be the equivalent of going on a blind date, only to find out it was Jim Davidson waiting for you.
Anyway, egg dramas aside, the fishcakes were spectacular. Cooked beautifully and lightly spiced with an array of Indian flavours they were melt-in-the-mouth. The mustard sauce (another un-mentioned accompaniment) complimented rather than over-powered the fishcakes, while the mange tout and spinach acted as a crunchy corner of divinity. The Fish and chips were less impressive. The fish was subtle and the batter wonderfully crunchy, but as a whole was woefully under-seasoned rendering it quite bland. The chips were actually fries, and rather disappointing ones at that.
Riddle and Finns is without a doubt a rather magical little restaurant that undulates a warm, friendly and exciting atmosphere. For £12.95 the food really was a steal, and the mistakes that were made are easily rectified. However the service, although sweet and friendly, left an awful lot to be desired. I would snap off your hand at the opportunity to return, however if I walked past and saw it was as busy as the night I reviewed it, you might find me doing a sharp u-turn in search of some non-furry, non-domesticated animals to devour.