Vegan fish and chips: what is banana blossom and is it a great fish substitute?
Sutton and Sons is a fish and chip shop with three locations across London. It serves amazing, high-quality food, fried to order. A wide array of fish is available, from chip shop classics like cod and haddock, to more unusual options like monkfish and sea bass. The menu is extremely diverse: you can get pie and Guinness, but also oysters and prosecco. They really do have something for everyone... vegans and vegetarians included.
What got me through the door was the vegan menu, which offers versions of all the fish and chip shop classics.
The vegan menu looks no different from your average fish and chip shop menu, apart from two things. All the meaty options are written in inverted commas (they offer a ‘chicken’ burger and a ‘fish’ cake), and the menu is peppered with unusually gourmet details: they offer a ‘prawn’ cocktail, and all their food is cooked in ‘the finest groundnut oil’.
The food is indeed made with care: the no-prawn scampi is formed into prawn shapes, making it more convincingly prawn-like than lots of real scampi I've had from fish and chip shops in the past. For those not into fish – real or fake – there's a vegan doner kebab, a personal favourite of mine.
Banana Blossom fish substitute: an honest review
But we’re here for the main event: the ‘Banana Blossom’ fish substitute. Firstly, what is it? When uncooked, banana blossom has the shape and appearance of an elongated artichoke. It is the blossom which grows on a bunch of bananas which we’d normally never see. Banana blossom has been common in south east Asian cuisine for some time, although not as a substitute for British fish and chips, naturally. Sutton and Sons wrap this artichoke-like growth in seaweed until the fishy, seasidey flavour has been infused. It is then deep-fried in Sutton and Sons’ delicious, homemade batter and served.
The appearance is all there. It's long, and tapers at the end as if it were a whole deep fried fish. The texture is remarkably fishy; it's flakey and layered just like the real thing, although the layers are less defined than they would be on a real fish. Sometimes it becomes a little strand-like... maybe closer to the brown meat from a game bird, but on the whole it's quite remarkable.
The taste is pretty close too – thanks to the seaweed treatment and a good squeeze of lemon, this really does have a fishy flavour. It's not consistently strong; sometimes the outside of the banana blossom is very fishy while the inside is a little less flavoursome. But again, on the whole, it's very impressive.
I went a few days ago with a keen carnivore and he tried some of mine to compare to his cod. This guy is your classic “veggie food skeptic”. He hates anything marketed as a meat replacement. To my amazement, he was pleasantly surprised, although he thought the banana blossom was closer to monkfish than cod.
While it does taste good, you wouldn’t get it mixed up with real fish. It tastes different and has a noticeably different texture, even if it is close on both counts. But really, you should to set aside the direct comparisons. Is accuracy the most important feature here? No, it's flavour, and on this, Sutton and Sons' banana blossom delivers.
It tastes great, the batter is perfect, and it feels exactly like eating a real fish and chips, especially when sitting in their cramped shop with checkered tablecloths and uncomfortable chairs. You even get that deliciously full feeling only fish and chips can provide.
Personally, I can cope with it not being exactly spot on for the environmental benefit of not eating struggling species like cod. To add to the benefit, at around eight quid for fake fish and chips, it costs less than the real thing (in Sutton and Sons), which is rare for a vegan substitute.
It's the least damaging option to both purse and planet, and so I'll be ordering vegan fish and chips again, and again. And again (is it good or bad that it's less than a minute from my house?).