Maddy’s Fish Bar to open in New Cross, with a little crowd-funding help

I met up with Madeline Inoue to chat about an innovative way of opening a new business.

I’ve arranged to meet up with Madeline, outside her newly-acquired fish shop which will become Maddy’s Fish Bar, at 397 New Cross Road. Arriving a bit early on a blustery winter morning, I pop next door to the London Particular to see if she’s arrived already and to also grab myself a coffee. It’s quite busy, so I wait by the door and keep my hands wrapped around the coffee cup to thaw out (whilst adding “gloves” to my shopping list).

Maddy arrives with her husband Kiyoshi and friend Kanji. We head next door, and as the guys open up, Maddy and I chat about her plans. I’ve already noticed that the old fish shop sign has been removed, revealing a lovely old wooden painted sign beneath. ‘We’re hoping to keep that, and see if we can fix our sign above it,’ Maddy says. ‘If not, then we’ll at least be able to cover it over again but leave it in tact’. Other plans for outside is to install the same kind of awning as at the London Particular, so that in winter if next door is busier they can share the outside space and vice versa. ‘It’s going to be a very family-looking business between the two of us,’ Maddy adds, which makes sense as Becky who runs the LP is a partner in the new restaurant too.

Maddy and Becky

We settle down at the counter inside, as Kiyoshi and Kanji go through to the kitchen and start discussing refit plans. Maddy talks me through them too. ‘We’ll do little bits ourselves, but we have an amazing builder who’ll do the kitchen, and another friend who makes bespoke wooden fittings, so we’re hoping to have really nice Danish wood on the floors and counters. We don’t want to match with next door, but there will be similar vibe of wooden fittings. Everything really has to be ripped out’.

As part of the refit, they’ve set up a Kickstarter page. ‘I think it was my husband who suggested it as a few of our friends have done it and we’ve seen how successful it is from just looking at the website’ Maddy explains. ‘And I think it’s quite a trendy thing, and people want to give something to it. We’ve had people from America and different countries — even if it’s just a few pounds. It’s definitely a good way to get exposure too’. Part of the appeal of Kickstarter projects is that the donations come with linked benefits. ‘We have all different kinds, from a VIP dining for you and three friends on the opening night, to having a cooking class with how to fillet and prepare a fish, and for £1,000 you receive a Gold Card which gets you unlimited fish and chips!’

‘Unlimited forever?!’ I exclaim. That could be a lot of fish and chips!

‘We wanted to do it for a lifetime, but Kickstarter wouldn’t let us,’ she laughs, ‘so we set the limit at three years.’ Still sounds like a good deal to me! ‘You can also have your own daily special for £150, which a few people have done. My little sister has signed up for that one!’

The crowd-funded money will be used for one specific purpose. ‘That’s specifically for the frying range. I’ve never been so into frying ranges in my life! The amount of gadgets you can get. Different timers, different…’ she cuts herself off, ‘well, I don’t want to bore you, but I suddenly find it so exciting! We’re aiming for a really amazing model with a filtration process to allow the oil to be cleaned throughout the day even during cooking and it’s highly energy efficient too.’

Talking about the frying range makes her eyes light up and her passion for the details in food preparation shows. She puts this down to her training. For her, it’s always been that way. Maddy studied three years at Westminster Kingsway College for a chef diploma and, once qualified, worked for the Caprice Group, whose restaurants include the Ivy. She worked for Scott’s, a fine dining fish restaurant in Mayfair and then at HIX restaurant in Soho, and also for the Tramshed in Shoreditch. It also explains the seasonal approach of the menu.

‘Each of those companies work with seasonality and with British produce,’ says Maddy. ‘The way I’ve been trained at college and in the different restaurants I’ve worked in, we’ve always focused on seasonality. So for me, it’s just practice. I’ve been trained to work within seasons. So if cod isn’t in season in January, it won’t be on the menu in January. Instead we want to showcase a fish of the month. I’m sure there will be some people who will think “oh, there’s no cod today so I’m not going to go,” but I hope people will be educated and openminded, because I think overfishing is a very serious issue and in the past we ate to seasons and it wasn’t a problem.’

That disconnect between the food we buy and where it comes from has been talked about for well over a decade now, with supermarkets and cheap food imports meaning people expect fresh produce to be available a throughout the year, and if they aren’t in the shop the perception is that it’s because they’re out of stock, not because it’s not in season. But if the issue is still as prevalent today, perhaps the reaction to it is becoming more recognised through TV chefs cooking within the seasons, and an increasing importance given to where food is sourced from in restaurants. That’s another thing which Maddy is obviously passionate about.

‘That’s the biggest thing that we want to push. The menu itself will be very small. It’s not going to have pies and kebab rolls. We’ll have two round fish that will be battered, and then we’d like to have a breaded flat fish that’s seasonal. A few sides that either stay or will be seasonal, and then a specials menu which will change. Tempura will definitely be on there and will change depending on what vegetables are seasonal.’

The menu sounds great, and a well thought-through take on the fish and chip shop, but my disappointment with other such “posh” fish and chips has been a frustrating substitution of mushy peas with a smudge of pea purée, offered more as presentation than to be eaten. But Maddy allays my fears. ‘We’re not going to do the traditional big peas. We’re going to instead do garden peas, with shallots and butter, and slightly blitz them but so they’re still coarse and then add mint. So hopefully more satisfying than a pea purée!’

Maddy is fairly new to the local area and confesses the main reason she comes to New Cross at the moment is to visit the London Particular. ‘I’m excited to explore more. I’m learning! I’ve visited Brockley Market, Deptford Market and the Allotment shop in New Cross. I think the London Particular and the Allotment, are the shops we need to regenerate the area. I think it’ll draw more income into the high streets and hopefully make the streets more attractive. The owners ideally wanted it to stay as a fish shop, just because that’s what it’s been for so many years (as the old sign shows).

‘But I was really excited, as going back to when I was 15 I worked at Billingsgate fish market, not actually in the market, but above it they do training courses. Half the day we taught people how to fillet fish, and the other half was spent teaching how to cook the fish you’d filleted. So I did that from 15 to 18 and through my summer holidays I used to work full time and travel to the different fish fairs from Cardiff to Cornwall. So when they said they wanted to keep it as a fish and chip shop, I was really excited.’

‘I know when you think “fish and chips” you may not think of necessarily a high establishment. We don’t want it to be pretentious in any way, but I think fish is such a delicious and delicate thing. I think you can make it so tasty so simply, and I’m not saying we’re the healthy option — we are still deep frying it!’

Maddy also says how they’re planning on having a white wine and a sparkling wine on tap. This seems a bit opulent to me at first, and I ask if she thinks there’s a conflict there with something which seems so excessive with the fact that there’s a food bank a few minutes’ walk away.

‘That was a main concern that I said to Kanji and Bex next door. I said I don’t want to do pretentious fish and chips when people can go to a chicken shop or could go to another fish and chip shop that’s half the price. I want to reasonably match the price. Because we’re using really fresh ingredients the price might be a little more but we can justify that by it being totally fresh and totally homemade, but I don’t want to be pretentious and the wine isn’t going to be expensive — it’s really easy; you have a chilling system within it and a valve so it doesn’t go off — and I hope to make it as affordable as possible as a takeaway as well as a restaurant.’

She moves on to explain just how ‘totally homemade’ she hopes to be. ‘A lot of fish and chip shops don’t use homemade batter. To the point where when we were looking at the fish and chip fryer ranges, the companies have been trying to sell us their product of batters, and when I told them I’ll be making my own batter they were quite surprised that we were going to go to that extra trouble. But it’s so simple. And with the batter they sell, you still add water to it, so it’s about two seconds longer to make it yourself. And there will be different batters. We want to use fresh herbs, for flavour and to add something visually. Dill which complements fish, and maybe cayenne for extra flavour. But we also don’t want it to be so different that people can’t relate to it. We want to celebrate the traditional dishes. Already we’ve had such varied responses. From my dad, to other relatives, to friends saying “you’ve got to do your chips like this!” or “you have to have this on the menu!” people have a really big opinion on everything!’

‘Like me with the mushy peas!’ I exclaim, suddenly feeling a little guilty for adding another demand to her already unmanageable list.

‘Exactly! You want your curry sauce like this, or your mushy peas like that. Ketchup has to be on the table! So the pressure is on for me to hopefully accommodate everyone, but do it in a way that I view the meals. Maybe I’ll just have to change things when all the different people come in! They’ll just have to give me notice!’ she jokes.

As we finish up the interview, it occurs to me what she slipped into her last sentence. ‘So you’ll be serving curry sauce?’ I ask, slightly questioning whether I’m reading too much into that. ‘Yes’ Maddy replies brightly, ‘and I think we’ll be making it ourselves. We’re currently doing a lot of research on what it is that people like and where we can make it a bit different. A lot of curry sauces are just pre-packed. My husband is Japanese, and the Japanese style curry sauce is probably one of my favourite sauces so maybe we’ll have twists and influences.’

The fundraiser is ongoing until the end of January. Maddy’s Fish Bar is set to open in March after a two-month refurbishment. You can keep ahead with news on their Facebook page.