Reviewed by Andy Hayler's Restaurant Guide
A short walk down from Hampstead tube in a parade of shops, Goldfish is a warren of little rooms, busily decorated with an eclectic mix of oriental wooden screens, water features, models of famous parts of China and, yes, goldfish. These are swimming around in a large Chinoiserie pot near the entrance. The low ceiling, painted black, adds to the cramped feel, as do the rather small wooden chairs with cream upholstery. Walls are painted assorted colours, and in the room that we were in there was a central strip of wallpaper with a goldfish pattern. There was an attractive central flower display in our room.
Tables have white linen tablecloths and napkins, and a single candle in a large glass jar. The restaurant can seat 70 in its various little rooms, and this evening it was full to capacity, with a line of people outside the door waiting for tables to become free. The clientele is mostly local, and this being Hampstead that means prosperous (no doubt a few crooks and nannies were tucked away in the restaurant's nooks and crannies). The menu is lengthy with a lot of seafood dishes in particular. Chef Kevin Chow is from Malaysia but worked at the Four Seasons hotel in Singapore.
A steamer of dim sum had a generous eight prawn and four vegetarian dumplings inside it. The prawns were reasonably tender, as were the vegetables, and this was capable dim sum, though by no means as delicate as, say, Yauatcha. Soft shell crab salad was nicely made, almost a Thai style salad with green mango as well as lambs lettuce leaves, chilli, coriander and tomato; the dressing was nicely spicy and the soft shell crab itself fried properly (12/20).
Steamed sea bass was farmed and cooked properly, but the fish really lacked taste, and the ginger and spring onions that accompanied the fish were unable to distract from its blandness (11/20). Spicy prawns were cooked fine but were bizarrely cooked with their shells on. Shelling a raw prawn is a fiddly process, so how exactly a diner is supposed to try shelling a hot prawn is beyond me. The spicy sauce with the prawns was fine but this was really hard to eat (11/20). Vermicelli noodles had good texture, with a little hint of curry about them and with some well-cooked (shelled) prawns (12/20).
“Green fry” rice had coriander, ginger, green chilli and yuzu juice fried with the rice, and this was fine (12/20). Finally some seasonal oriental vegetables were scarcely ordinary (ordinary broccoli instead of Chinese broccoli, carrot, asparagus, snow peas) but were pleasant, stir-fried with some soy (11/20). Service was harried on this busy night but it was friendly. This is certainly a cut above a normal neighbourhood Chinese, though a step or two down in standard from my benchmark Royal China.
My memory of Goldfish will last a long time, reviewed by Joseph Connolly in Hampsted & Highgate Express (Ham & High)
Restaurant reviewed by Matthew Norman, The Guardian
Goldfish, rated 9.95/10
So disturbing is the precedent for today's review that, but for the desire to avoid setting an even more alarming one by leaving this space blank for readers' notes, I would refuse to write it at all.
My last professional trip to the London suburb regarded by leading satirists as this newspaper's spiritual home did not conclude happily. The meal was excellent and the review, published elsewhere, a minor rave. The one small drawback - and how we all relish the dark comic potential of the long magazine lead time - was that the spookily well-named New End closed down the day before my review appeared.
Pray God lightning doesn't strike twice, because Goldfish is a magnificent restaurant by any standards, let alone by those of the perplexing foodie desert that is Hampstead. How an area so laden with money and discerning palates has sustained such a dismal record for so long is a three-pipe culinary mystery. But having grown up, been to school and spent much of my life in the vicinity, I would say that Goldfish is the first truly outstanding Hampstead restaurant of my lifetime.
Certainly both my parents felt this way, as did our old friend Victor, who, on finally discarding his chopsticks, sat contentedly back in the chair he'd made thankfully unexecuted plans to steal (he claimed it was the first time in months he had sat without pain), and announced, to the palpable shock of the saffron-robed monk in the opposite corner, "I am going to marry this restaurant and have its children."
This was my second time at Goldfish, having been introduced to it a few weeks earlier by Al and Anne Alvarez, renowned poker-playing poet and child psychotherapist respectively, and on both occasions the meal came closer to perfection than decency strictly demands.
The main room, one of three in a pretty Georgian house, is intimate without being oppressive. I had expected that champion restaurant fault-finder, my mother, to complain of claustrophobia, as she invariably does in any room smaller than 500 square feet (switching seamlessly to agoraphobia whenever the capacity hits 500.1). But not a bit of it. "I love everything about it," she said. "The buzzy atmosphere, the amazing flower displays, the goldfish murals, the Chinese artefacts, the sweet staff - even that little feng shui waterfall by the door. As soon as you walk in, you feel you're in a feast. And, as you know, I'm quite a girl for a feast."
The lavishness of the ensuing banquet gave cause for just one moment of concern. So many dishes arrived, after a starter medley of exquisite dumplings (the traditional dim sum trolley does the rounds here), that she had to be dissuaded from asking a smartly trouser-suited waitress to bring another table to the table.
Chef Kevin Chow is clearly right up there with Pascal Proyart of One-O-One in Knightsbridge as one of our most lavishly gifted fish cooks. We ordered two steamed sea bass dishes, one with minced ginger and spring onion, the other in a wondrously delicate soy consommé with shimeji mushrooms, and the ethereal cleanliness and clarity of flavour of both beggared belief.
Wasabi prawns (there are many fusiony flourishes in Chow's menu) were marvellous, great fat juicy buggers coming slathered in a satisfyingly sticky green sludge. "Old-fashioned" Szechuan shrimps, served with cashew nuts in a fiery, smoky, slightly barbecue-ish sauce, were sensational. As for the Dover sole with chilli and black bean sauce, I cannot think of this riot of complementary flavours without drooling like Homer Simpson during an overnight lock-in at Dunkin' Donuts HQ.
Vegetables - a gloriously squidgy portion of spicy aubergine and a delectable serving of mixed veg, dominated by asparagus tips, in a gentle oyster sauce - were immaculate. So, too, were beansprouts and egg-fried rice.
We had ordered immensely, yet the only ingestible items left untouched were the steroids my father carries for a dramatic allergy to MSG, the Goldfish kitchen eschewing any use of it.
Flailing around maniacally in a final quest for quibbles, all I could manage was the cheap flimsiness of the wooden chopsticks. More revealingly, my mother - a woman once barred from Zen W3, which used to stand next door, after a furious dispute over the quantity and roundness of the lychees - could dredge up only the lack of tablecloths. "Never mind Chinese," she said with a certain finality, "that is simply some of the best food I've ever eaten."
And she was right. Goldfish is by no means cheap (superb fish never is), but it is worth every farthing and more. If I had the money to live in Hampstead, I'd eat here 10 times a week, with five dim sum lunches and five fish-dominated dinners. So, in the name of sanity, go. After ringing first, if you please, to make sure that it didn't close last night.
A Dim Sum Lucky Dip, by Fay Maschler, Evening Standard
An experiment by an Australian vet has demonstrated that goldfish do have memories longer than a few seconds. Forced to nudge switches to obtain food - which was only made available for the same one hour in a day - they soon remembered which hour that was.
I thought it was worth mentioning this small tribute to our most innocuous household pets in reviewing the new Chinese restaurant Goldfish in Hampstead.
In what was previously China Dream - and remains under the same ownership - the doubtlessly lucky goldfish motif is painted large and bright as part of a mural in the front dining room. Falling water also brings good fortune, so there is a waterfall streaming down a slate wall on the right of the door.
The dark wood panelling of previous restaurant incarnations - a strip of bare brick wall remains like evidence of an archaeological dig - still exists in the back room where the bar is situated. Dinky Chinese knick-knacks occupy the shelves.
Head chef Kelvin Chong has come from Cocoon in Regent Street, but he previously worked at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. Lam Ming Wah, the dim sum chef, is said to have been one of the most famous dim sum chefs in Hong Kong. The Malaysian-influenced menu is different to the usual
Chinese list although the descriptions of some of the specialities, such as award-winning Mocha Ribs (deep-fried ribs in a chocolate-and-coffee sauce) and home-made Mayonnaise Chinese Bacon, struck me as not very enticing.
We did like A Nest of Imperial Jewels, diced shellfish and mustard greens in yuzu dressing with more than a hint of ginger served with lettuce leaf wraps. Szehu Opium was a fine soup with minced beef, egg white and truffles in an otherwise clear broth. Wind Shelter Bay Prawn, a dish apparently once prepared on the boats in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, featured immaculately crisp and crunchy prawns.
Excellent green beans provided the undercarriage for steamed sea bass with minced ginger and spring onions. A sumptuous spicy aubergine, water chestnut and shitake mushroom assembly was described as Sichuan - a culinary influence that is currently all the go. The dessert of creamed-avocado-and-coconut ice cream called Earth Angel was brought unbidden, and I have to say it was not my sort of thing. I appreciated the fresh fruit more.
Service, led by Michael Tran who has worked at ZENW3 next-door, was friendly and solicitous. And just like goldfish, Hampstead residents know the hours of the good-value dim sum brunch buffet (Saturday and Sunday, noon-4pm). Shoals of them evidently swim in at weekends.