Fish and Chips - the best?
Despite much bollocks written regarding Chicken Tikka Masala or Macdonalds pap or greasy painted Domino/Pizza Hut discuses being the most popular carry out meal in the UK, it remains the case that Fish and Chips remains our number one fast food. BUT, and here in Scotland it's a big but, the number of fish friers who still do it properly dwindles by the day. Fresh fish, not frozen. Single fillet, not butterfly. Haddock for me ( cod, I acknowledge, for my English cousins). A batter made from scratch, not from a giant sack of premix. Chips from the right kind of potatoes, peeled and sliced on the premises, soaked to remove the starch and (ideally) double fried - the second fry completed when your fish goes in to cook - ie after you've ordered, not two hours previously and then left to congeal warmly until the batter is like old chicken skin. For me salt and sauce - yes, an Edinburgh boy by birth. Opened straight outside the chip shop, hot and crispy straight from the paper - not steamed in its wrappings while you drive home to eat it tepidly with a glass of chardonnay - the vinegary vapours prickling your nostrils, the salt adding a bit of traction to help the batter and chunks of gleaming white fish slide deliriously down your throat.
All too often however, you dont get this and instead all you get is a calorie laden pile of flaccid cooked frozen fish past its sell by lying on top of soggy wet chips - a waste of all those precious fat calories. If youre going to indulge, then please God let it be worthwhile. So there's the usual suspects. Harry Ramsdens in Guisely, Bryans Modern Fisheries in Leeds, The Anstruther Fish Bar, The Bridgend Cafe in Inverbervie, what used to be the Little Chef in Tyndrum, The Ashvale in Aberdeen - but where are the others? Recommendations warmly received - and not alcohol fuelled memories of two in the morning suppers, where frankly a deep fried toilet roll doused in salt and vinegar would taste fantastic. And please, no jokes about the preposterously mythic deep fried Mars bar.
The Anstruther Fish Bar is suffering from its success (wins awards every year) in terms of the experience, but the quality of food remains high. There are 2 separate queues for takeaway and restaurant. We waited for an hour to sit down in the restaurant at 6pm on a grey Tuesday after Easter weekend. The queues snake down the street but end up inside squashed at the side of people already eating, very uncomfortable situation if you want to take time to enjoy the meal. Despite the lack of space they ask how many people / high chairs when you're in the queue and everyone was good-natured. The menu is long with various non-fish & chip dishes (curry, macaroni cheese), we ordered battered haddock & chips, battered lemon sole & chips, mushy peas, tea. 35GBP for 4 people. All the fish was fantastic, large pieces, not dry, light, delicious batter. The chips were thick and fresh but nothing spectacular. They care about sustainability etc. but obviously not about the amount of plastic they throw away: thick polystyrene cups for the peas, ketchup in individual sealed portions, many plastic bags for the takeaways. Ultimately it didn't feel worth the wait, the eating was such a small part of the experience. Best to wait till the season is over.
Anstruther Fish Bar
Shore St, Fife, Fife KY10 3, GB
Harry Ramsden's at Guisley used to be "The Business" but not since it came over all corporate and is now as crap as the rest the empire.
You'd have to include the Magpie Cafe at Whitby amongst the best, if you're including "sit downs".
My own local (ish) favourite is the Derby Chippy in Marple, Cheshire. A "proper" chippy - takeaway only - although they do fry in oil so as not to discourage the veggies. Meets all your conditions, as far as I can tell.
You could probably come up with a good shortlist from the "Fish & Chip Shop of the Year" competition - particularly the regional finalists. Although some you might need to take with a pinch of salt (and shake of non-brewed condiment). For example, the Northern Ireland finalist is bobbins since a change of ownership, according to my mate whose office is in Ballymena. Almost needless to say, there's been no national winner from the London area since 1988.
Marco's in Arbroath floats my boat! Unsure about the actual cooking techniques but I have never been dissapointed or had stale fish...
I can only vouch for marco's on the shore (by the harbour, where you can sit and savour) there is a Marco's in the toon also which i've never been to.
Decent sized fillets, perfect crsipy batter and lovely chips all fresh cooked to order.
I live nowhere near Arbroath anymore but will take an hour detour and wait in a 40 minute queue for them. Infact i am getting hungry just typing about it...
They even ave a tiny ice cream bar next door for desset..
The best Fish 'n' Chips i've ever had was in the small fishing town of Mallaig...at the end of 'The Road to the Isles' up in Scotland...place called the 'Cornerstone.' It was so good that I had to ward off flocks of gulls who wanted a bite as I sat by the pier and gorged into the crisp but soft and chunky chips and the divine fish, freshly caught. Could almost taste the sea in it!
George Street Fish and chips in Oban is a favourite but I could be biased as I have a soft spot for Oban. For me part of the criteria is also the experience, which for me is eating them during a trip, on a bench next to the sea, watching the waning light and fending of gulls. Which is why I haven't stopped at Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum yet even though I've heard its great. Anstruther's Fish Bar is great quality, the batter is so non greasy and light and crispy, but i personally don't want to wait half an hour.
I can't vouch for Scotland (I'm in Bristol) but I look out for F&C places that offer several fish varieties, and always order the 'unpopular' one. This means it's going to be freshly fried - and I can watch them cook it, so will know whether it is fresh or frozen, and the colour of the raw batter will give a clue to the quality (dark yellow = not home made).
I also like a place that, when I walk in and I say I just want chips, doesn't immediately dish them up - I hate chips that have been waiting around.
Having said that, nothing burns the mouth quite as badly as the steam from freshly fried plaice in batter!