Salmon Fishcakes (with not really a recipe)
When the hubby and I sat around dreaming about the Inn we were going to buy and the gastropub we were going to create, we had a whole list of pubs that we have loved over the years to draw inspiration from. (We were living in London at the time, so we often went to one of these pubs to do our dreaming and scheming.) Some of these places inspired us with the overall feel of a place, some places it was the food they served. Some places we couldn’t even really put our fingers on what we loved so much, or how to try and recreate what we loved. And some of these places were very different from one another.
There are tiny country village pubs that never advertise, that you stumble upon after deciding to go for a long walk on a new beach after driving out of London for a couple of hours. There are big, bright, breezy city pubs that are bewilderingly crowded at all times of the day. There are tiny, crowded old pubs with ancient signs and terrible carpeting that have people sitting at the bar who look like they have been there for 40 years. There are places that become trendy. There are places that will never be trendy.
In London there was a pub, The Builder’s Arms, in a swanky part of town that the hubby knew for years and that I went to only a few times. It was perfect. It was crowded and cozy. You waited for two seats anywhere to open up and pounced when they did. You shared tables with people you don’t know. You didn’t interact with them beyond being polite. You were all crowded and jostled and cozy and content. You went up the bar to place your order. The menu was on chalkboards and the people around you were impossibly pretty and the food was that comfort food that no right-minded person doesn’t love. Ploughman’s plates. Chicken and leek pies. Fishcakes. You could have a hearty pint of something just as easily as a really cold, crisp glass of dry rose. It managed to be pub-like and modern at the same time.
Now, I’m not a fish person, as much as I would dearly love to be one. It’s just too fishy for me. But a glass of cold rose, fishcakes and a small salad is exactly what my fantasy version of myself would order at the Builder’s Arms every single time. (I’d be saving room for sticky toffee pudding for dessert.)
When we opened our place we tried to have customers order at the bar, like they would in the pubs we knew. There were some stalwarts who still did it this way for all our 13 years. But we eventually felt like we are fighting a losing battle and not providing the kind of experience we wanted people to have. There turned out to be too much explanation needed and unnecessary confusions created and no one wants that. So we gave the servers sections like a ‘real’ restaurant. (Though we always maintained an attitude that everyone was everyone’s responsibility. If you saw a customer who needed something, you went and helped, whoever’s ‘section’ that person was sitting in.) We encouraged table sharing and this worked a little bit. People would happily share with folks they knew. And on really crazy nights people would share the big tables. But for the most part, that aspect of pub life didn’t stick over here in Vermont.
But fishcakes? We did the fishcakes. And they were always, always one of the most popular dishes on the menu. I don’t have a recipe to share, because they truly were a little different each time. The fish would change, though by far the most often it was salmon. Cooked with a little white wine and some herbs. It was then mixed with cold mashed potatoes and made into a burger shape. They were coated with egg and rolled in bread crumbs. Ours were quickly fried. You could bake them. You’ll be happy either way. (You could do the whole thing without the fish. A non-fishcake. Use sturdy vegetables. Add leeks – I love leeks.) Have a beer or a glass of wine. Invite a friend over to share.