No larger than a little finger, the anchovy is an unassuming fish, but this umami bullet punches far above its weight on the plate. It forms the keystone ingredient in preparations as different as pissaladière and sambal; and as translated as the glossy sauces of bagna cauda, anchoïade, and Gentleman’s relish. Indeed, the Mediterranean love of the fish is inscribed in language: As Rome-based pasta encyclopaedist Rachel Roddy points out, there are thirty-two dialect names for anchovies in Italian, and in Spain, there are anchoas, bocartes, and boquerones, which take on different valences across regions. In London restaurants, the different ways to show anchovies admiration number all the dishes devoted to them: Here are eight of the greatest.Read More
Eight Ways to Savour Slinky, Salty Anchovies in London
The diminutive fish gets served up every which way — swimming anew in oil, lacing nasi lemak, or as “gunge”
1. Breaded Mutton Chop with Anchovy @ Cafe Cecilia
London E8 4RL, UK
The white wall paint is barely dry at Café Cecilia, Max Rocha’s angelic new Hackney restaurant, but it has already gained something of a flock. There is luxury here — gleaming marble counters fit for an haute couture boutique; a Francis Bacon hanging casually by the toilets — but, more importantly, Rocha’s generous, warm cooking. Celestial winged things (the popular sage and anchovy fritti) and golden piles of chips fly around the busy dining room. The best of Rocha’s food is an offering of his time: dense and satisfying Guinness bread, a subtle pork and apricot terrine, and slow-cooked rabbit ragu doused over wide sashes of pasta. For anchovy lovers: a thick mushroom-grey slick of anchovy mayonnaise to accompany a bronzed, salty slab of breaded mutton.
2. Gildas @ Quality Wines
Quality Wines chef Nick Bramham is a master of food to eat while drinking. Though his menu changes weekly, and his influences range across the Mediterranean, from tavernas to trattorias, common threads emerge. There is always plenty of oily focaccia and something sloppy and sumptuous, like fried eggs with truffle, lobster rolls, or vitello tonnato. The first sip and bite are the most important, however, and Bramham has the formula. The wine bar’s Gildas are a spicy and shapely trio of olive, anchovy, and pickled guindilla intertwined and impaled on a cocktail stick. They offer the perfect foil to a glass of vermouth.
3. Egg Mayonnaise @ Café Deco
Since it opened in late 2020, Anna Tobias’s Café Deco has been through several iterations. Lockdown was spent slinging out crisp leaves of pissaladière in paper packets from the door. Now, Café Deco is an elegant, even virtuous, restaurant on Store Street, where chefs in striped aprons ferry plates from the basement to the table. The bold egg mayonnaise, a mainstay of the snack menu, epitomises the restaurant’s wholesome glamour. A perfectly boiled egg lathered in rich blonde mayonnaise, and two silver anchovies intimately criss-crossed on top, like a forgotten pair of long drop earrings after a party. There is a frosting of salt crystals and nothing more.
4. Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng Berempah @ Roti King
While the eponymous roti — expertly flipped, folded, and cooked to a golden crisp in the open kitchen — have made mamak Malaysian restaurant Roti King so beloved, diners might consider saving their roti for dessert (banana is best) and trying the nasi lemak instead. A generous ball of creamy coconut rice sits centre stage, fringed all round with anchovy sambal, a boiled egg, little dried fried anchovies, salted peanuts, and cucumber — each new item there to compliment or offset the last. At this Euston landmark, the warming rice and anchovy dish is served with fragrant spiced fried chicken, to make ayam goreng berempah. A long coil of hungry students waiting round the block was once a daily certainty at Roti King, but a new online queuing system means there has never been an easier moment to visit.
5. Anchovies @ Brawn
Brawn’s offering is simple: six slinky anchovies lined up like freshly sharpened pencils in a smooth pool of rosemary oil. Characteristically for the Columbia Road wine bar and restaurant, the focus here is on exceptional sourcing of Mediterranean ingredients. These are Olasagasti anchovies from Cantabria in Northern Spain, caught during the spring when their quality is best (this is known as the Campaña de Anchoa). For diners seeking a taste of the sea air with their plate of small fishies, there are more anchovies to be eaten at the Brawn team’s recently opened Sargasso on the harbour arm at Margate.
6. Anchovy Grilled Bread @ Brat
London E1 6JL, UK
The style of cooking at Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Brat reaches into deep history, borrowing traditional Basque open fire cooking techniques. The restaurant’s most iconic dishes feel like Neolithic cosplay: a whole grilled turbot, singed at its thorny edges, and knobbly knuckles of smoked potatoes. They had bread in the Stone Age too, and it might well have looked a bit like Tomos Parry’s flatbread: roughly hand-moulded mounds, puffed up in the wood oven, then snaked all over with anchovies, chopped chives, and brown butter, or girolles and Suffolk St Helena cheese.
7. Anchovies and Leche de Tigre @ Hot 4 U x The Prince Arthur
Two-timing chef’s residency Hot 4 U serves up boisterous, technicolour food out of both the Prince Arthur in Dalston (Monday — Sunday) and The Plough on Homerton High Street (Wednesday — Sunday). There’s a nod to convenience food with ludicrously tasty burgers and a pig’s head katsu sando, but Hot 4 U ranges far and wide, with a particular penchant for oysters — topped with tofu, and crispy noodles, or even fermented dairy and currants. At the Prince Arthur, the anchovies are served in a gaudy green leche de tigre made with radish tops. This isn’t a strictly logical choice when the purpose of leche de tigre is to cure raw fish for ceviche but it’s a deliciously playful and irreverent one. For fans of boquerones, fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar, Hot 4 U often has them at The Plough.
8. Gunge @ St. John Restaurant
Anchovy gunge, St John’s essential condiment, has had many lives. It has been stuffed into bread buns at the St John Neal’s Yard Bakery; smoothed onto toast and buried under scrambled eggs for breakfast Scotch Woodcock at St John Bread and Wine; or served alongside blanched vegetables in lieu of aioli for a kind of Grand Gunge. As a versatile dressing, it can be found with dandelions and lamb’s heart or radicchio and red onion on the autumn 2021 menus. Unfortunately, the buns are MIA at the Neal’s Yard Bakery, and Bread and Wine has yet to reopen for breakfast service. Until then, let the cries of “Bring back the anchovy toast! Bring back the anchovy buns!” ring out.