Fish and chips: The United Kingdom’s best-known food is no stranger to Tokyo. You can find it at almost every Irish, Scottish and English pub in the city. Many versions are worthy. Some are good. But very few do it right. Not like they do it at Malins.
It’s only a bit over two months since this upstart, pint-sized eatery opened in Roppongi, right across from Tokyo Midtown. But that’s quite long enough to establish that it’s the real deal, and it is setting a new benchmark for this classic British fare.
Bright, friendly and spotlessly clean, Malins is little bigger than a hole-in-the-wall. You head to the hatch at the back, order and pay, then wait for your food to arrive. Although there is some simple seating on high stools out front, this is certainly not destination dining.
It’s a typical takeaway (that’s “takeout” in U.S. parlance), but that doesn’t make it a fast-food joint, either in terms of speed — the fish and the chips are deep-fried to order — or quality standards. Everything is first rate.
The fish — madara cod from the seas off northeast Hokkaido — tastes remarkably fresh. Each fillet nestles inside a casing of crisp, golden batter that is neither too thick nor too greasy; the white meat is beautifully moist, crumbling into soft flakes at the touch.
The chips are spot on, too, cut from fresh potatoes shipped straight from a farm in Hokkaido. They are twice-cooked, to first get them fluffy inside, then finished in the deep-fryer to lightly crisp and brown them. Chunky and moist, they are less oily than standard ubiquitous French fries, and a lot more satisfying.
There’s malt vinegar on the counter to accent your chips, and tartare sauce to go on your fish, though it hardly needs any further seasoning.
Each set meal comes with a separate serving of that Great British delicacy (to some), mushy peas. Also known as Yorkshire caviar, it is made from dried marrowfat peas cooked down slowly till they form the consistency of a thick, lumpy savory soup. Not everyone’s cup of tea, necessarily, but huge bonus points for daring and authenticity.
One last plaudit: for the battered sausages. Plump and juicy, with plenty of basil and herbs mixed in with the pork, the bangers themselves are great. Dipped in batter and cooked the same way as the fish they are even better. You rarely if ever find these elsewhere in Japan, so it’s one more feather in the cap for Malins.
This may not be complex cuisine, but it still has to be done right. That’s where head chef Phillip Raeside comes in. A 12-year veteran “chippie” from Kilmarnock in the Scottish Lowlands, he’s the man with the deft touch and the experience at the deep-fryer putting it all together.
How does he rate the food he’s cooking here, compared with his old place? “It’s better,” he confides. “You’d never get fish this good back home.”
7-12-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-5413-6851; www.malins.jp; open daily 11 a.m-9 a.m.; nearest station Roppongi; no smoking; fish and chips from ¥1,300; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken. Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.