Part meal, part ritual, fish and chips stands proud as a British icon - no matter that it was actually invented by a Jewish immigrant escaping the pogroms of continental Europe in the mid-19th Century.
Fish and chips commands a special place in the national consciousness and is the non plus ultra of the perfect take-out meal: one in five take out meals on a Friday night in Britain are, in fact, fish and chips. Over the past ten years, however, fish and chips has made an appearance on the menus of some of London’s poshest restaurants.
Last year, Marcus Wareing, the two Michelin starred chef at The Berkeley, served his customers fish and chip soup; Guy Ritchie famously charges £75 for fish and chips at his pub, The Punch Bowl; celebrity hang-outs like The Ivy, Caprice, and J Sheekey all have fish and chips on their menus.
What about the best fish and chips in London? Here some to try in a really fine dining context.
A TRADITIONAL "CHIPPY" IS REBORN
With its stylish pigeon-grey walls, gingham tablecloths and airiness, it’s hard to believe that for 70 years Geales was a simple local chippy. Some of the features of the old place remain, such as the lovely specials board and the beautiful wooden floorboards.
Geales calls itself London’s original “posh chippy” having famously employed Michelin-starred Garry Hollihead to chef for them in the early days of opening. Chef Oli Burgess has now taken over the reigns, offering his customers a range of traditional British staples as well as the fish and chips the restaurant is known for. “The difference at Geals is that the batter is prepared fresh for every single service, so it’s fresh for lunch and dinner,” says Burgess. “We specifically use Becks beer which we have found to be the best.” Mushy peas, traditionally soaked in bicarbonate of soda overnight, are served alongside.
Geales belongs to the Sustainable Restaurants Association, and Burgess understands the necessity to source fish more sustainably so as to reverse the decline in fish stocks. One of the ways he does this is to introduce different, less popular species of fish like Dab and Pollock to the fish and chips repertoire.
Geales Notting Hill 2 Farmer Street, London
Tel. +44 (0)20 7727 7528, Website Geales Executive Chef: Oli Burgess
With its arts and crafts-inspired interior and its Italian gothic façade, Bentley’s has been an oyster bar and grill here since 1916 and is considered a landmark – both for its architecture and cuisine: twice Michelin-starred Richard Corrigan and his Head Chef Brendan Fyldes have received almost unanimous accolades for their food here. This is fish and chips with a decided splash of luxury.
What is makes Bentley’s fish and chips outstanding is that the batter is made with gluten-free rice flour. “Gluten is great for making dough for bread or pizza, but not for batter,” explains Eoin Corcoran, who runs the Oyster Bar kitchen at Bentley’s. Mixed with good quality ale and yeast and allowed to rise for three hours, the rice flour makes the batter fantastically crisp. “The point about the batter is that it creates a barrier between the fish and the hot oil so that the fish is still moist inside. It’s deceptively hard,” says Corcoran, who admits that it’s one of the toughest things he cooks.
To get the perfect result he uses Haddock. “Haddock is king when it comes to fish and chips: it cooks to a wonderful translucency just at the time the batter is golden crisp.” But Corcoran is adamant that it’s not science but the suppliers of the fish that ultimately counts. The most heinous crime is to use frozen fish. “Frozen fish releases a lot of water when it cooks, which has the effect of making the batter soft and greasy.”
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill 11-15 Swallow St, London
Tel. +44 (0)20 7734 4756, Website Bentley's Chef: Richard Corrigan, Head Chef: Brendan Fyldes
A WINNING NEWCOMER
Having opened this year, the Fox and Grapes pub is already a big hit, as the evening crowds testify. The restaurant has been converted from an ancient inn overlooking the ancient greensward of Wimbledon Common - a truly beautiful spot.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Claude Bosi, the famed chef of Hibiscus in Mayfair, and his brother Cedric, who manages. Bosi worked in some of the most revered restaurants in France (including Alain Ducasse & L’Arpege in Paris and La Pyramide), before moving to England in 1997, where he earned his two Michelin stars with Hibiscus.
Here, the fish and chips are something truly special. The hake fish is served in batter that has been made with good English Brown Ale; the chips are cooked three times to give them added crispness. For the rest of the menu, Bosi and his Head Chef Patrick Leano (whose background is at The Capital Restaurant and Mosimann’s Club in London) have made much use of the network of local producers built up in the Ludlow years before Hibiscus moved down to London.
“The way I like to work is to trust a supplier,” Bosi says. “I will work with what they have to offer, rather than tell them what I am looking for. Since everyone is very professional in their own jobs, this is the best way to work.” The fish and chips here is a reasonable £13.50, and diners have the opportunity of sleeping off the calories upstairs in one of the three rooms the Fox and Grapes has for customers to stay the night.
Fox and Grapes 9 Camp Road Wimbledon Common, London
Tel. +44 (0)20 8619 1300, Website Fox and Grapes Head Chef - Patrick Leano, Executive Chef – Claude Bosi