OK, let’s start with full disclosure: your Where To Eat author is a Yorkshireman. A Yorkshireman who has lived in London for 23 years and one who has always struggled with the north / south fish and chip divide. It seemed inevitable that Root + Bone should one day ask me to dig out the best fish and chips within the M25 – but right in the middle of my January diet? Well… these situations are sent to test us I guess.
The humble potato was of course famously introduced to England in the 1590s by Sir Walter Raleigh, who sent spuds and tobacco to the Queen’s court in place of gold. Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain are said to have brought with them a penchant for frying fish in the mid 17th century, while around this time a fish shortage prompted the slicing of potatoes into the shape of filleted fish for deep frying. The question of who first thought to marry fried fish with chips remains a fiercely debated subject.
Making the case for the north, entrepreneur John Lees began selling fish with chips from a wooden hut in Mossley Market, Lancashire in 1863. Later transferring his business to a permanent premises he hung a sign in his window stating “This is the first fish and chip shop in the world”. Meanwhile, in London, it is claimed that Joseph Mailin opened a fish and chip shop in London’s East End in 1860 within the sound of the famous Bow Bells. In Yorkshire we have our own claim to history (well, we would, wouldn’t we?). The world’s longest running fish and chip business is situated in Yeadon near Leeds where the golden goodies have been served continually since 1865.
Fish and chips have remained a staple across Britain ever since. One of the few foods to escape rationing during the World War II, the affordable Friday night ‘chippy tea’ boosted morale up and down the land through thick and thin. In recent times, fish and chips were overtaken as our national dish by Indian curries, Chinese takeaways and pizza, but now a renaissance is taking place: there are,modernised restaurants and takeaways opening across the nation’s high streets. The National Federation of Fish Friers claim there are around 10,500 fish and chip specialists in the UK, with 22% of the population enjoying fish and chips once a week.
Here is Root + Bone’s pick of London’s fish and chips:
Wooden chip forks and newspaper wrappings have been consigned to history by a new generation of fish and chip restaurants. These modern spots ride the zeitgeist of metro tiles and stripped floors, serving their wares in altogether more modern surroundings. One of the best examples of the new breed of fish and chip restaurants is the chain, KERBISHER & MALT. We visited their Clapham restaurant – 50 ABBEVILLE RD, LONDON SW4 9NF 020 3417 4350 WWW.KERBISHER.CO.UK. The cod here was flaky and succulent with a slightly too thick batter – but the chips were handmade and double fried, the way they should be. Mushy peas, eye watering pickled onions and fresh fennel and dill salad made fantastic accompaniments. The restaurants are fully licensed and even sell their very own Kerbisher Pale Ale alongside a short but well chosen wine list. Extra points awarded here for the inclusion of La Gitana Manzanilla sherry on the drinks menu – both Fino and Manzanilla sherries are a great partner to fish and chips! Cod, chips and mushy peas: £10.90 (eat in).
London’s tourist spots are awash with pub ‘A’ boards promising the best fish and chips in town. Goodness only knows what the visitors must think of our most famous dish if they have only these unloved examples to go by. Hopefully, a few wander off Oxford Street onto Poland Street to pay a visit to GOLDEN UNION 38 POLAND ST, SOHO, LONDON W1F 7LY 020 7434 1933 WWW.GOLDENUNION.CO.UK. The feel here is retro worker’s cafe – formica table tops and brisk but friendly service. The thick slab of cod fillet was stunning – wrapped in light golden beer batter – with chips that could have been that bit crisper. Mushy peas had a delicious homemade quality about them and were generously portioned. One gripe is the price – but that’s the West End for you. Cod, chips and mushy peas:£16.00 (eat in).
I can almost hear my Yorkshire ancestors turning in their graves: “Sherry? With fish and chips?! Bloody ponce!” That said, London does have its fair share of traditional fish and chip takeaways to balance out the gastro-new comers. Over in Holborn, stumbling distance from the British Museum (again, tourists, you have no excuse) a battle rages between the cabbies’ favourites – ALEN’S FISH & CHIPS 43 THEOBALDS ROAD, LONDON WC1X 8SP 020 7831 7888 and FRYER’S DELIGHT 19 THEOBALD’S ROAD, HOLBORN, LONDON WC1X 8SL 020 7405 4114. My feeling is that the latter has lost its way slightly in recent years but both prove that chippy old school is not the preserve of the north. Cod, chips and mushy peas: £6.95 at Alen’s (takeaway).
When a recommendation for NAUTILUS 27-29 FORTUNE GREEN ROAD, WEST HAMPSTEAD, LONDON NW6 1DU 020 7435 2532 came in from an ex-Grimsby boy, it would have been churlish not to check it out. A traditional feel here belies the wider menu (options include Dover sole, plaice and rock salmon as well as the ubiquitous cod and haddock) and the passion for fresh cooking that the owners obviously have. A local gem. Cod, chips and mushy peas: £9.00 (takeaway).
A commuters’ favourite that has satisfied many a worker’s appetite is MASTER’S SUPER FISH 191 WATERLOO ROAD, WATERLOO, LONDON SE1 8UX 020 7928 6924. Fish is offered both grilled and fried and for those dining in the restaurant area there are complimentary bread and prawns whilst you wait for your freshly cooked chips. Starters include battered green lip mussels and calamari but the traditional fish and chips take centre stage. Cod, chips & mushy peas: £10.00 (eat in).
When researching this article I was inundated with recommendations. Honourable mentions must also go to Fish Central in Clerkenwell, Kennedy’s in Streatham, Poppies in Shoreditch and Sutton & Sons in Stoke Newington. Perhaps these southern chippies aren’t so bad after all?
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