So you’ve never been to…Ark, South Woodford

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Still going strong, a decade and a half later. We check out an E18 classic

Illustrated exterior of Ark, South Woodford
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Age: Almost 15. Can you believe it?

Previous incarnation: What hasn’t it been? Pub, bar, restaurant…. Back in the 80s it was a pub called Fir Trees, reinvented under a handful of different names (Boar and Thistle, Wall Street, Hermans, Joe Public then Hoofers) and styles during the 90s, before being turned into a restaurant by the name of Mojo’s in the early noughties.

Where, exactly? About a 5-minute walk from South Woodford tube. Look for the Railway Bell boozer, head down George Lane, then hang a right onto Hermon Hill. You’ll find Ark on the right hand side of this rather busy main road.

So what goes on there? Traditional fish and chips, plus a whole lot more – think crayfish, venus clams, scallops and Mediterranean prawns. And let’s not forget those East End faves jellied eels. Carnivores don’t despair: there are a few dishes for you too, but really this is a place for seafood, a family-run restaurant where owner Mark buys his fish daily from Billingsgate and has oodles of experience in the industry dating back to 1972.

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A plate of battered cod at Ark, South Woodford
A nice plate of cod. Photo: Laura Evans

What do I eat? Start with the plump wholetail breaded scampi, deliciously crisp on the outside, sweet and succulent inside. Then how can you resist the signature? A big hunk of moist cod takes pride of place on the plate, encased in thin yet crisp batter (they only use pure groundnut oil), accompanied by proper chip-shop chips and mushy peas. Mention should also be made to the specials board, where you can expect the likes of fish pie and whole plaice on the bone. On our visit we opted for the monkfish with mash and herby pesto. But it’s a huge portion – and too much mash (though too little butter).

What do I drink? Grab a pint of Peroni or an Aspall cider, but we’d recommend a bottle of vino – something dry and crisp and like Adi Badenhorst’s über reasonably priced South African blend The Curator.

The interior? The place is simply decked out, with wood flooring and furniture, there’s a bar area for a pre-dinner drink and a casual vibe. If we’re being picky, the lighting could be dimmed a tad. Here is a place that’s always busy, particularly with an early-dinner older crowd – we all know how much they love fish and chips.

What’s the service like? Super friendly. In fact, it’s like your best friend’s mum is serving you. Some of the staff have been around as long as Ark has.

Do say: “It was about time someone made a proper go of this place.”

Don’t say: “Do you take reservations?”

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Dishes from £4.20 to £28. It’s about £20-£25 a head excluding wine (unusually, service is not included). 142 Hermon Hill, E18, more here.
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