We Grill – Michael Greenwold
Our correspondent Catherine Bennett recently swapped life in the Big Smoke crossing the channel to work in Paris, the city of love. She spoke to chef Michael Greenwold who opened Paris’ only fish and chip shop, The Sunken Chip, in July along with fellow Brit James Whelan.
Why did you decide to open a fish and chip restaurant in Paris?
As much as British food is maligned, fish and chips have always been something that the French appreciate. The first thing our friends do when they go to London is Instagram a plate of fish and chips! It’s like the burger was 50 years ago. Back then, the French would go to New York and order one but they wouldn’t in Paris. Now, there’s a burger on the menu of every bistro in every street. And it’s the same with fish and chips: they’ve already got the frites, they have a great appreciation for fish, we just needed to present it properly.
We were very conscious of doing something that evoked a time and a place, which for us was childhood, what the fish and chip shop meant. The way we’ve done fish and chips here is slightly atypical: we’ve made the batter lighter, the mushy peas are made with real peas. These things weren’t done because we wanted to Frenchify fish and chips, or cater to the French palate. They were done because this is how we truly believe fish and chips should be.
How has it gone so far?
It all happened quite quickly and we were very lucky. We didn’t have any money for the project, then suddenly got investment. We found the place, started building and were open a few months later. We wanted to be near either water or a park so people could take away; getting a spot on the conveniently-named rue des Vinaigriers was providential. We’ve had a great response.
Even with the pickled eggs and Vimto?
People are slightly more circumspect with the pickled eggs! And I’m fairly sure we’re the only restaurant in France to have Vimto.
What would you choose to eat off your menu?
The hake with a side order of fish nuggets, our specialty.
What are the fish nuggets?
Monkfish cheeks – it’s all part of our ethos of not letting anything go to waste. No one else does them and now they’re one of our trademark things.
Where does your fish come from?
We have everything supplied fresh each day and use the most sustainable fish that exist in the waters around France and the UK. We use wild, small-boned, line-caught fish that comes from Finisterre – so it’s the same fish that you get in England, it’s just the other side of the Channel.
Are you planning to expand?
Yes – we’d love to have another branch in either St Germain or Montmartre. But in general it’s quite difficult to expand, in terms of keeping the standards that we’ve set for ourselves. We do everything here. And so if you’re talking about scale of economy, the main thing for us is going to be learning how to expand in a way that keeps the same level of quality.
Best drink pairing with fish and chips?
James swears by Dandelion and Burdock. I’m more of a beer man – London Pride is a good accompaniment.
Where is the best place to get fish and chips in the UK?
James tells me it’s the Codfather on the Isle of Wight, where he’s from.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Probably when I was about four, we went to San Francisco, and I remember going to the harbour where they had live octopus in a tank. You could choose the one you wanted and they’d take it out and whack it with a rolling pin to kill it for you. I remember my mum asking me which one I wanted, and I looked at her and said, ‘Do I really get to choose?’ and she said, ‘You can have whichever one you want’. I was so excited. I wasn’t a fussy eater when I was a kid.
Money and other constraints no object, where would you like to eat in the world?
El Bulli, in Spain, because I never got the chance to eat there, it was kind of before my generation… But if not there, I would really like to eat at Mugaritz, also in Spain, in San Sebastian.
Are you influenced by what other chefs are doing at the moment?
Actually, I think the single greatest source of inspiration is social media. This is because you have so many friends who travel and take photos of what they’ve eaten, or friends working at restaurants all around the world who post the menu so I know what they’re serving in Chinatown, New York, for instance. I don’t think there’s ever been such a mass democratisation of imagery around food. That definitely has a bearing on how we see food and how we can keep up with food trends. (editors note: The success of Feed Your Eyes bears testament to that)
First thing you have when back in England ?
A good cup of tea.
Favourite restaurant in Paris and in the UK?
Caffe dei Cioppi, the best Italian in Paris. St John in London.
Roast chicken. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. You can make soup out of it the next day, there’s always some left over for sandwiches… It’s the second most perfect food.
And the first?
An oyster. It’s the only food that’s a perfect entity – it has the meat, the fish and its own juice with it. It’s completely beautiful. It’s sensual, it’s quite sexy, it doesn’t need to be cooked. It works on every level. It’s the philosophically perfect food.