Spam, tired veggies, no thanks.
Fish in a can? I love the stuff. I’ve eaten more cans of tuna in my time than John West has ever rejected. Salmon, sardines, the oilier the better please. Add salad leaves, balsamic and a good olive oil and there’s lunch. And I know I’m not alone on that front.
But how do you feel about a restaurant serving canned fish and only canned fish? When I heard that Tincan had opened in London, I had to investigate.
I chose a rainy Thursday night and my timing couldn’t have been better. Tincan, perched just off Golden Square in Soho, was empty. Perhaps not so good for them but excellent for me. I sat at the bar and quizzed the lovely Lithuanian and French hosts with my myriad questions.
Who came up with this random concept?
Which can is the crowd favourite?
How often does someone order the £45 can of Carelian caviar?‘A six month project by AL_A sourcing the finest tinned seafood from around the world’ is noted at the top of the menu.
AL_A is a London based design and architecture firm, responsible for projects including the V&A Museum courtyard and Bangkok Central Embassy. While designing a new cultural centre in Lisbon, the directors discovered a restaurant in a former fishing tackle shop that specialised in tinned fish. They were inspired to take the concept back to London and launch their own pop up.
Looking around it’s no shock that a team of architects is behind this. The décor is minimal but chic, with a Monocle-meets-Warhol aesthetic. Wherever you look, the can is clearly the hero.
To see what’s on offer you can simply look around the room, or down at the menu which offers 26 varieties of canned fish, ranging from £7 – £45. There are familiar fish such as sardines, mackerel and anchovies, although you’ll be pushed to recognise a single brand. The further down the menu you go, the more interesting the offering becomes; smoked eel fillets, squid in its own ink, Portuguese-style stuffed squid, bonito belly and clams in their shell with garlic, to name a few.
All the hard work is done before the tins arrive at the restaurant. Much of the fish is caught by traditional methods and even hand packed into tins. The restaurant staff open the tins and serve the contents with salad leaves, fresh bread, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, chilli and shallots.
I wanted to order everything. Thankfully they offer a tasting plate which makes it easy for the indecisive. Priced at £12, the platter includes tastings of Icelandic cod liver, urchin caviar, slow cooked Galician octopus in olive oil, sardines in spicy olive oil, tuna in molho cru spices and spicy mackerel fillets.
The sardines, mackerel and tuna were all very pleasant but not dissimilar to good quality canned product I’ve eaten before and nothing to write home about.
The other three, however, almost deserve their own posts.
Being both a fan of liver and having recently been to Iceland, I was surprised and a little embarrassed that I’d never actually eaten cod liver before. The French staffer told me it was a big part of her childhood and standard fare in France. It had an unctuous texture, just like liver from a cow or calf, with a slight fishy flavour and was absolutely delicious, especially with bread. I can see why this is one of the top selling cans.
The urchin caviar – mixed with onion and lemon before being served – was also a standout. It had a slightly grainy texture and mild flavour so it was a surprise to hear that it’s one of the more polarising offerings on the menu.
The Galician octopus in olive oil was my favourite. A dead ringer for the similarly tender, deliciously marinated Greek-style octopus that I don’t eat nearly as often as I’d like. The Greeks never thought to put it in a can though.
Unfortunately the platter didn’t include a tasting of the Carelian caviar, at £45 it’s the most expensive can on the menu. I’ll have to go back for that one.
The owners spent over a year trying every type of canned fish they could get their hands on, from every corner of the globe. But you wouldn’t know because the menu overwhelmingly features fish from Spain and Portugal, with the odd addition from Iceland and Finland. Apparently even French canned fish was not up to scratch.
I’m not one for beer but the other selling point here is the salt water beer, Er Boqueron. Tincan is the sole distributor in the UK and apparently it’s very nice.
The restaurant was a massive hit when it first opened in September (the punters were packed in… like sardines : )
It’s been a little quieter since the cold weather hit. A can of room temperature fish is probably not exactly what most people lust after when the temperature reaches zero and extremities are freezing. Perhaps the restaurant’s six month life span would have been better positioned over the summer months.
I love this concept and I think they just get away with it because of the exceptionally high quality of fish. Seems to be working because according to the website, next stop is New York…