I was very grumpy the first time I found myself in Fish, Wings and Tings.
It was late, dark, lashing with rain and I was in pursuit of quick food, noisy on flavour.
Lost in irritation and hunger I rampaged around Brixton Village, a poor friend in tow, unable to make a decision.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’d heard good things about Fish Wings and Tings (and from multiple sources at that) but something made me hesitant as I gazed at its jaunty facade.
At this point I should probably point out my neuroses when it comes to picking a place to eat.
There are a few so you better take a seat:
- I don’t weather disappointment well. I tend to do fairly comprehensive research before I sit down in a place. Not only have I read the menu and perhaps a few reviews, I’ve also trawled the tagged photos on Instagram where one can find a more realistic representation of the food. I hadn’t done that. It was unnerving.
- Price is important to me. I’m not stingy per se – I’ll pay for quality or outstanding skill – but I’m a stickler for value for money. Your carbonara is priced at £14 you say? I’ll see ya later.
- If I think I (or someone I know) can make it at home I probably don’t want to eat it out. I like cooking so going out to eat isn’t about paying someone to do it for me. The Bolognese of my childhood is the only Bolognese and one of my best friends has perfected nachos – that’s just a fact.
- I find large menus generally off-putting. I like confidence and reams of choice communicates doubt to me.
As you can see I’m not exactly easy-going when it comes to dinner.
“Let’s just do it,” I say to my companion, and we rustle in all umbrellas and sighs.
We sit in what I can only describe as a nook near the door, about two-arms’ span from the kitchen. I’m already cheered.
There’s an easy bustle coming from the kitchen, pots are steaming and things are sizzling but the cooks glide about the minuscule floorspace in that effortless, we’ve got this, kind of way.
I felt at home – or more like I was at my nan’s house. It was embracing and warm and a cool wisdom was coming from the kitchen. I knew I was in safe hands.
We order drinks, the simple but revelatory rum and Ting – a fizzy grapefruit drink that believe it or not I’d never had before. It’s that lethal blend of sweet, tart and boozy meaning you could knock back about five before realising it’s a Tuesday.A proud plate of spiced, soft meat, perfect rice, peas, coleslaw and the golden pineapple chutney.
Luckily for me my companion was a sharer, meaning I’d get to try more of the neat menu – not all of my friends allow this. In fact some of them visibly recoil at the mention.
We go for three starters and one main and I’d recommend you do the same if you too are blessed with a sharer.
Codfish fritters with ginger and lime aioli, reggae wings with pineapple and mango chutney, pepper prawns with Granny Suzy Sauce – we want the jumbo prawn skewers with tamarind sauce but they’re out – and curried goat for main.
I hope by now it’s obvious that I don’t dish out praise unduly, and I know hyperbole is dangerous, BUT these were, and remain, the best wings I’ve ever had. Being the internet I can update this should I ever need to.
Aside from the cooking – which was faultless – it was the sauce that really got me. It was like a perfect punch in the mouth. I’m talking huge flavour – umami, sweet, deep, rich, sticky, light, juicy – and remarkably subtlety at the same time. It achieved the kind of balance that signals a truly masterful cook.
Gnarly blackened bits of chicken are covered in a glossy coating of sauce and anointed with a pineapple chutney crown – a garnish that appears often in the menu.
Let’s talk about the codfish fritters. They’re a thing of beauty. Crispy on the outside, an irresistible squidge within. We devour them and I wonder how they’re made.
We rip the heads off the prawns like hungry jackals and dunk them in pepper sauce. It’s bright red, sour and spicy.
By this point the goat curry has also arrived. A proud plate of spiced, soft meat, perfect rice, peas, coleslaw and the golden pineapple chutney.
Three different bottles of sauce are placed on the table in case you want more. I like that. Small pots with a spoonful of sauce in give me anxiety. What if you run out? There’s tamarind, pepper sauce and jerk pepper sauce. They’re all excellent, I can’t pick a favourite.
I leave madly enthused about the place and wanting to meet the owner.
I message him on Instagram and see if he’s up for having a chat. His name’s Brian Danclair, he’s 48, and yeh, he’s up for a chat so I go back with my notepad and a renewed appetite.
“I wanted to create a restaurant that was dynamic and on the verge of a party – with wholesome food, whimsical colours – just straight-out, down-to-earth, come-into-my-house vibes,” he tells me over the rum punch he named after his grandma Tina.
“She really taught me how to cook. Her name is Valentina and she died 100-years-old.
“Her cooking was straightforward but she was technical as well. She was my biggest inspiration for cooking and a lot of different things. She told me never to give up.”
Brian was born in Trinidad and Tobago before moving to the US at 19 and then to the UK when he reached his thirties but he said it was those early days that sparked his interest in feeding people.
“The pastime in Trinidad and Tobago is getting together with friends, we go to each other’s houses and we cook. We don’t to clubs or parties.
“We make something called pelau. It’s peas, chicken, carrots, rice, coconut milk. It’s a one pot speciality. It’s supposed to be brown but on my first attempt of cooking it it was white.
“That’s my first cooking memory. My friends still laugh about it but it tasted good.”
I ask what cooking means to him as we tuck into some wings and fritters – just as good if not better than last time.
“I suppose for me it’s – I know nothing about anything else,” he says.
“I had to make a decision what to do with life. How was I going to make money? It was either give people water to drink, food to eat or clothes to wear. I went for food. I suppose in any field I would have made it because those are the things I see necessary for human survival. But food is what I focused on.
“I came from a background of people who can cook – my grandmother, my uncle – they all could cook.”
So, how did you end up in Brixton?
“I think Brixton called me. I had a catering company and I was on the verge of closing it down. I’d always liked the idea of opening a Caribbean restaurant.
“One day I came down here and the management office was open. I had no idea Brixton was on the verge of becoming this food mecca. I just went in the office and I told the guy what I wanted to do.
“I already had the idea so the pitch was easy. I didn’t plan to go in there I just did it spontaneously.
“He was impressed. I didn’t think he was serious so I left and went away.
“He calls me the next morning and he said he was looking forward to seeing my proposal for the spot. I put together a few things and sent them to him and he called me and told me I’d got the spot.
“There were a stack of proposals on the table but he said ‘alright, we think you’re the person for it.’
“I wasn’t that excited at the time because Brixton was a rough area.
“I had signed the lease before even seeing the place. I came down and saw it and it was in a total mess.
“I had nothing to lose. I took £7,000 and set it up. In the first week we made the money back. It was a success.
“Brixton chose me. The timing was perfect. Business is all about timing.
“You’ve got to have the drive as well. If there’s something you’ve been doing a long time you know at some point it’s going to burst through the roof. You’ve got to keep doing it and focusing.”
I pause our chat and ask politely if I can go take some pictures of the cooks at work. I nosey around the compact kitchen sticking my nose in pots of sauce and taking hurried pictures of various delights, aware that I’m in the way.
“Aren’t you going to take one of me?” I hear from behind me. “These roti are freshly made.”
I’m being propositioned by a cheery woman called Mae and I do as I’m told and snap her with the stack.
She later tells me she’ll teach me how to make them. She says she’s a woman of her word and I tell her “so am I”. Watch this space.
You can’t manufacture passion and it comes by the bucket-load in Fish, Wings and Tings.
They really care about what they’re feeding you and it shows.
“My kitchen is there, my living room is there and the food is just coming out,” says Brian.
I try some of Mae’s famous roti – the perfect vehicle for mopping up curried prawns, green beans, pumpkin and kuchela (mango chutney from Trinidad).
“We use natural herbs and spices,” says Brian. We don’t use no microwave or anything like that. It’s proper home-cooked meals.
“If you look on the plate you’ll see the colours. It’s all natural. We use tamarind to make the BBQ sauce. Pineapple, mango and ginger chutney. The coleslaw is purple. The rice is brown. It has pumpkin and carrots in it.
“The place is small but the food is spot on.”
Most popular dish?
“Our signature dish is the codfish fritters with the ginger and lime aioli. It’s on a different level. People will have those and then either the jerk chicken or the curried goat.”
“I usually order the chicken because I really like it.
“Coconut curry prawns is the underdog. I recommend people try that.
“Or the stew oxtail. It’s fantastic. It’s a thing people wouldn’t eat or don’t know about but this will make them change their minds.”
Meal for two hungry people with drinks = £40