Three years ago, riding the crest of the foodie wave across London from their Spitalfields home, traditional-but-savvy East End fish and chip dons Poppie’s touched down in Camden Town.
Stuffing a previously cursed yet central location full of 40s and 50s memorabilia, and serving a no-nonsense selection of Billingsgate’s deep-fried finest, they’ve done good in NW1 ever since.
Key to the formula of this local outpost has always been live music, a rotation of some of the best nostalgically bent bands playing the upstairs room every weekend. But while we’ve enjoyed the delightfully light, fluffy cod, meaty haddock and their fat-but-crispy chipped bedfellows a fair few times, we had yet to come for the full late night experience.
So we arrive on a typical Friday evening in central Camden: the strains of enthusiastically thrummed guitars spill from many of the pubs and basement bars, clamouring against the honking traffic argy-bargy out on the high street.
Despite contributing to the cacophony, the first-floor venue at Poppie’s is thankfully no sticky-dancefloored teen mosh pit. It’s a mish-mash of antiques, enamel signage and chunky authentic Formica furniture.
We take our seats as tonight’s live act, Brighton-based Anna Sin and her Vintage Band reach a break in their set, and the vibe is laidback. An assortment of retro-loving locals and spirited tourist groups are being served golden plates of fish and similarly hued pints of beer by waiting staff dressed in angular period uniforms.
The menu doesn’t mess around with any fusion-this or pulled-that. It’s straight-up fish and chips prepared in groundnut oil, with little jars of tartare or tomato sauce and a wedge of lemon. The option of a few classic sides are the only deviation. Although skate, rock and lemon sole are available, everyone in range is clearly sold on the classic battered cod.
And it’s done here very well indeed, so after an opening platter including crunchy little whitebait and soft melty calamari rings, we join them on the main, adding a bowl of mushy peas and thick slices of gherkin for contrasting textures, plus an acid hit.
Meanwhile, Anna and her guitarist, drummer and double bassist put down their pints of larger and pick up their instruments. We don’t quiz them, but hopefully they also selected the Curious Brew on tap, as it’s a mighty fine beer that proves ideal with this kind of meal, all complex fruitiness on account of being made with Champagne yeast by Kent’s acclaimed Chapel Down Winery.
The band whip through classic rock ‘n’ roll numbers, interspersed with unlikely swing interpretations of more recent hip hop and pop chart stormers, which are actually more fun to my jaded ears. Someone really needs to get up and start dancing to get the place cranked up a notch, but if they’re all as full of cod, chips and Curious as I am, then it’s easy to understand why everyone stays firmly put.
The volume of the band makes conversation rather strained, although being seated up front (as we are) is an ideal date night option for the sort of early-stage couples who choose the mute darkness of a cinema as a preferred way to get to know one another – but with less obvious opportunity for furtive snogging.
So in lieu of attempting to catch up, my friend and I simply order gratuitous pillows of apple pie and ice cream each: with a mercifully light flaky pastry and easy on the sugar too, it’s an almost justifiable and shamelessly enjoyable final indulgence.
Poppie’s have been busy opening up smaller take-away kiosks near their existing restaurants of late, the latest one being right under the famous Camden Lock bridge sign up the road, serving the same quality of fish to those on the go.
But it’s more fun, if you’ve got the time, to go for the full vintage hoedown, which we’re assured can get quite lively if diners do get in the mood for a twist. However tonight we’re happy sitting in our post-supper stupor, plates completely clean.