Goddard & Gibbs, a laid-back, prettily staged, specialty fish restaurant, may lack a charming harbor view, but it does offer an exciting glimpse of east London nightlife. Inside, the place is a modern, airy, Santa Monica-style seafood brasserie, with large, luxurious booths for group eating, tasteful jazz music and fuzzy, flattering lighting. Outside, the post-6pm-on-a-Saturday high street is lairy, with police vans lining up to begin battle with shoeless mobs of vomiting bottomless brunchers.
Goddard & Gibbs has dropped anchor at the new One Hundred Shoreditch hotel, formerly known as the Ace, which had a restaurant called Hoi Polloi. That rather cool, all-day diner was a pleasant enough spot, and you might have seen a minor celebrity or fashion designer barking through a power breakfast, but the food – twists on British and American classics – wasn’t anything to clap like a seal about. Then again, restaurants in hotels very rarely are. There are exceptions, but most rely heavily on the hotel’s guests being chivvied there for one night to eat mediocre food that at least looks passable with an Instagram filter on it.
Cleverly, the name Goddard & Gibbs doesn’t seem as if it would be anything like that at all. Rather, it sounds like some established firm of fishmongers that has put a handful of tables in front of its counter in order to serve the day’s best catch. So I booked a table absentmindedly, with one eye on the website and the other on administering the cat’s hyperthyroid medicine, firmly believing I was off for dinner at a tiny, independent restaurant down some Shoreditch back street.
Obviously, it was nothing of the sort. “Inspired by the quaint fishing villages and busy seaside towns dotted along Britain’s coastline,” the restaurant website reads, as if the copywriting had been farmed out to an enthusiastic someone in Azerbaijan who had clearly never seen Cleethorpes or Bognor, or, for that matter. , the huge dining room in Shoreditch they were describing. Still, the website also promises a thoughtfully curated, almost all-pescatarian menu, and Goddard & Gibbs definitely does seafood, beginning with Maldon oysters, raw Orkney scallops with elderflower, dressed crab and steamed mussels, before moving on to hake kiev, poached Cornish pollack and skate wing with XO butter. And that all seemed very encouraging – until the food began to arrive, when I started to suspect that here was a kitchen doing the very minimum it could push out hundreds of covers a day, with few flourishes, scant innovation and often little flavor at all.
Six oysters turned up on a silver stand with a red-wine shallot dressing – that is, exactly how we’ve been eating them in the UK for the past 50 years – followed by a plate of yuzu-cured chalk stream trout that wasn’t ‘ t particularly zinging with freshness. Sea bream ceviche was marginally better, with a soy dressing and topped with slivers of scotch bonnet. A bowl of “ember-baked” potatoes with cod’s roe was served with such little attention to detail that I began to feel offended. It consisted of 10 unseasoned new potatoes that seemed more steamed than baked, and they came topped with a dot of low-grade taramasalata goo. Just up the road on Redchurch Street, Brat’s legendary smoked potatoes make me breathless; in comparison, Goddard & Gibbs’ spuds were like a terrible covers band honking through my favorite hits.
We ordered “the catch of the day”, which that evening was more sea bream, this time butterflied and overcooked by about five minutes. It lacked anything saucy, oily or buttery to help it along, apart from some shaved fennel and more thinly sliced scotch bonnet. On the side, and for a mere £ 5, we received about 100g of overcooked broccoli with a scattering of the non-expensive kind of flaked almonds.
The overall mood of the experience puzzles me. Why open a gigantic seafood restaurant with little care or attention to the fine culinary art of fish cookery? The staff were charming, sometimes attentive and dealt stoically with the fact that those lovely, six-person booths are so deep, they can barely hand the food into them safely. By 8pm, the front of the house were already struggling to cope and turning away crowds of hopeful walk-ins at the door.
We had psyched ourselves up to see what their rendition of fried donut, malt ice-cream, miso caramel and peanut dust might be like, and we waited and waited, before eventually realizing that our pudding order never reached the kitchen. Goddard & Gibbs is a confused restaurant that’s perfect for people who are on holiday in Shoreditch, who may want to drink heavily and have a lovely time talking to friends, and who don’t really care if they don’t remember a whole lot about dinner. Next time, I’ll sail right past.
Goddard & Gibbs 100 Shoreditch High Street, London E1, 020-7613 9802. Open lunch, Tues-Sun, noon-3.30pm; dinner Tues-Sat, 5.30-11.30pm. From about £ 45 a la carte, plus drinks and service
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