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Brit sea scoff

Lerwickhappyhaddock

I've mentioned my admiration for British nosh before and, after a hefty stint in SE Asia, nothing rises the noodlepie sap higher than the scent of cod-infused deep fried fat wafting down a chilly British street of an afternoon. However, on my recent blast through the Shetland Islands I was on the trail of something a bit special - Britain's most northerly chippie. I'd emailed the tourism board a couple of times from Saigon to see if they knew where this great British landmark might be. I was surprised to hear that they weren't sure. I'd kind of assumed 'Britain's most northerly chippie' would be well-known. Arriving in Shetland, a helpful Czech girl at the tourist board offices by the name of Misa - yes - Czech, not Shetlandic and extremely knowledgeable about the islands - suggested three joints all in Lerwick; Fort Cafe Takeaway, the Happy Haddock and Ian's Chip shop. I was suspicious. If you look at the map here, Lerwick is pretty far south and Unst, Fetlar and Yell look like sizeable chunks of Britain further north. Surely, they'd have a chippie a hop, skip and a ferry away up the road?

Lerwickhappyhaddockfyer

It turns out my Czech mate was spot on. The islanders further north have to steam south for their fish 'n' chips fix. OK - so we were down to the three locations all in Lerwick. Ian's Chip Shop looked like it had fried its last, or it was going through rather messy renonvation work. Whatever - it was closed - which left us two options; Happy Haddock and the Fort Cafe. Unfortunately, I have the mapsense of a short-sighted homing pigeon with Alzheimer's, and wasn't carrying a GPS phone. So, I needed a second opinion. Ever helpful Gordon Williamson, from the Herrislea House Hotel, put me on the right track, "There's nothing north of Lerwick. Your most northerly chippie? That'll be the Happy Haddock." But, did the staff at the Happy Haddock on Commercial Road know they were presiding over a potential marketing goldmine as 'Britain's most northerly chippie'?? Nah, never even crossed their minds.

Lerwickhappyhaddocksprea

This 'Fish supper', as it's known in Scotland, will set you back £3.80. Actually, a 'proper' fish supper should come with a fish and a half, but I was missing the half here. There's a small eat-in area at the Happy Haddock, which is located (handily) next to a fishmonger and The Douglas Arms boozer. The scoff is decent. The chips were fresh and hot. Can't stand knackered old chips, refried or whatever and these were fresh out of the pan. The haddock was fresh enough, although it wasn't exactly flipping out of the chip paper. The all important batter was slightly soft on the inside, the way it should be, and firmed to a golden crisp on the outside. All in all, a satisfying chippie chowdown at 'Britain's most northerly chippie'. You heard it here first (I think).

Lerwickchippy_1

Back in town, at the foot of the old fort and a screwed up chip paper's throwaway from the harbour front is the Fort Cafe Takeaway. Perhaps because of its more central location, and its larger and separate sit-in area, this spot was far busier than the Happy Haddock. Although this was a pieman lunch stop, the Happy Haddock was an early evening affair which could have made a difference. OK - looks wise - it's all a bit sad, but how's the scoff?

Lerwickchips1

One of the great things about British fish 'n' chips is the sense of anticipation before unwrapping the salty, vinegary, fishy fried delights inside. Like Christmas, but better. (Although I'll admit, if you got a Terry's Chocolate Orange last year - you could argue a good case for Christmas.)

Lerwickchips2

Inside we have a £3.50 haddock fish supper (with added half of fish) in a polystyrene box. Fish quality was good, if a little 'spongey' in the middle. The batter veered towards soggy on the inside which was troubling. It's such a delicate art to get the crispiness on the outside and the right amount of softness on the inside. Too soggy and much of it will be inedible glop, as was the case on this visit. The chips weren't entirely fresh, although that didn't seem to bother the seagull who happily squarwked his satisfaction at my cast offs as I watched the ferry depart on its 7 minute scoot over the pond to Bressay. Fort cafe might be cheaper, but you'll be a lot happier at the Happy Haddock.

Obanchippy_1

I've mentioned this place in Oban on the west coast of Scotland before. Refurbished since pieman and noodlegirl last hogged down here, it still serves a sucker sea punch to other fish fryers in Britain. I nattered with the owner, while our haddock fried, to gleen a few facts about their trade. During the high season they'll serve 500 customers per day and the fish is delivered twice a week from Oban based fishermen who freeze their catch at sea. This is the only chippie I have found thus far that I would (and did) travel 6,000 miles to eat at.

Obanfnsbox

The revamp means fancy new boxes like those above, aswell as a framed picture on the chippie wall taken when ace chef Rick Stein popped in for a fill and a menu replete with noncey new dishes. Oh, and don't try that web address on the box. Sadly, it doesn't work. Shaky opening times and a late train meant we very nearly missed eating here. Talk about being anxious. We just squeezed this in straight off the train late one Sunday night.

Obanfnscloseup

Inside the snazzy box is £4.20 haddock & chips - the most expensive chippie on this jaunt and 'Yes' - it is worth it. Less greasy than all the others I sampled, the fish flakes off in chunks and the batter is done to perfection. Some of the chips did stick to the greasepaper, but half the fun's peeling them off anyhow, and they weren't too thick as some tend to be. Oban Fish & Chip shop fry your fish to order, so there's none of those sad looking tepid chaps hanging around the hot plate area. It's generally a good sign if a chippie tells you, you'll have to wait 10 minutes for your supper. I will be back (again and again).

Glasgowfns

In Glasgow, it was a different story at the Blue Lagoon next to Central Station. An old haunt had disappeared and, pushed for time, we dropped in here. It looked kinda posh, but unlike Oban we were greeted by a few sad fried cod & haddock waiting for customers. We coughed up £3.95 for a fish supper each before finding a pew on Buchanan Street to get stuffed.

Glasgowfnscloseup

This unhappy looking haddock didn't look hot and didn't taste top, although the flesh flaked the way it should. After all, if you're running a chippie, the very least you can do is fry fresh and serve piping hot, surely? Not that it was awful, it was just a bit amateur and I doubt I'll be back.

Well, That about 'wraps up' this year's British fish 'n' chop shop review, hope you enjoyed it. There'll be more in 2005, if not before. I have already heard from multiple sources that the Anstruther Fry in Fife, Scotland is the new cod on the block. And when in London, I never fail to to make an appointment with the sublime Two Brothers at 297-303 Regent's Park Road. If you do have any recommendations for your favourite Brit chippie, please let me know. I'm half of mind to use the extra blog space Typepad gives to start a fish 'n' chip 'open' blog soon. Meanwhile, get your Home cooked fish 'n' chips just right with a little help from the BBC.

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Comments

Hi Noodlepie,

I like fish and chips a lot. Some of these look good...and make me want to eat some!

I feel like I can smell all those fish and chips from the great pics you took. By the way, very clever - "Czech mate". har har

i would love to see a chippie blog. and have you and noodlegirl eat everything so i can just drool from afar but not get bigger than a house :-)

my standards are pretty low when it comes to chippies but i will avoid the blue lagoon--that's a crime against potatoes. i remember the clamshell in edinburgh was pretty good, and so was (don't laugh) the codfather....that was a awhile back though.

i am sorry noodle pie...but the fish and chips looks awful..

No need to be sorry Toru. Is it the dish generally or these renditions? Always on the lookout for new fish 'n' chip haunts - seriously.

pieman - it's the dish generally. i always feel kinda sick after eating english fish & chips (still remember my first meal as a student in the UK).

i cant understand why a country which is basically an island dont really know how to cook fish. I am still living in the UK by the way, and I cant find a way to buy fresh fish without parting away with a fortune. The only inexpensive fish they have in the supermarket is mackerel. I cant afford to buy anything else from the local fishmonger.

Toru - fish 'n' chips is not for everyone. And there's far more bad fish 'n' chips than good. However, I've only met a couple of Asian born Asians who liked it (not that you are of Asian descent) - the rest found it repulsive. It is a 'difficult' taste to get into. Much like the way I first found Kimchi in S. Korea.

However, you're quite right about the availability of decent fresh fish in Britain. For an island nation it's shocking, but also indicative of what has happened to Britain's food supply in general since the 1970's.

Supermarkets have taken the simple freedom to taste away from the British consumer. Most Brits do not know what veggies, meat, fish and fruit should taste like anymore. What they are being sold looks fab, but tastes of sod all.

As I always say to folk who go to Britain. There is great food in Britain, but unless you know where to go (and also when - food is seasonal after all. Although how many Brits still realise that I do not know) you will not find it. Whereas in France, Vietnam, Japan... you don't have to hunt for a decent meal or ingredients.

The 'disappearance of taste' from British food is a fascinating topic. This extract from Joanna Blythman's scarily accurate book, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets says it far better than I can.

On a more positive note. The mini-boom in organic delivery services and slow growing interest in organisations like Slowfood is helping redress the trend towards crap. I have my reservations about the growth in Farmer's markets in the UK - sterile and dull was my recent experience, but the fact that they are happening is also a step in the right direction.

Don't mean to harp on, but it's a topic I am keenly interested in. TBH, if I hadn't spent so much time out of the UK - and experienced many different tastes - I probably wouldn't question what I was buying either. The Brits 'musn't grumble' attitude explains a lot - we'll put up with any old shit :))

Hi noodle pie
Unfortunately, I do not remember a single good meal from my UK trips. Even the rice tasted funny.

The best fish and chips I have ever had was in Australia. The Ozzies have very good and fresh seafood at reasonable prices.

Now that you have mentioned Asian born asians not liking fish and chips, it suddenly occured to me that the only times I have eaten fish and chips were when I was in UK and Australia. I actually don't mind the fish, its the chips I find overwhelming.

Try the Rock & Sole Plaice in London. Not only is the name fantastic, but the menu insists that "when cooked properly, fish & chips can be one of the most healthy dishes". That's the kind of encouragement I like! Plus the fish is delish -

Rock & Sole Plaice
47 Endell Street
020 7836 3785
http://www.londontown.com/LondonInformation/Restaurant/Rock__Sole_Plaice/8715/

Thanks for that Robyn - never heard of that one. There's a bit more info on the NYTimes Travel pages - powered by Fodor's. Although I don't think it is "central London's only fish-and-chips joint, complete with inside seating" as stated. You can sit in at Two Brothers, isn't that Central London-enough. Whatever, will check this out next time I'm in town.

i always remember my dad's fish and chip stories when he was living in the uk...and how he took us on a holiday back there from singapore, and fed us some scrummy fish & chips. huge chunks, with loads of chips in newspaper. *drool*

I too get sick after eating fish and chips. I have only eaten fish and chips from some chains in the westrern US. (Tugboat Fish & Chips and H. Salt & Sons). I always thought it was the amount of oil I was ingesting. Can anyone comment on the quality of these American fast food products versus some of Euopean fish and chips. Has anyone tried them both? How do they compare?

Hi i am ben and I luuurve fish n cips, they make me all warm inside and i love the greasy ness thankyou for making my life fulfilled and as of yet no salmonella!!!

BENY

Hey there,
The Best Fish and Chips I've ever had was in Whitby, North Yorkshire at a place called Mister Chips.

Whitby is renowned for excellent quality fish and chips and Mister Chips recently won the local newspaper's Best Fish and Chips in Whitby award. The Fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked. If ever in Whitby you should definately check it out !!!

Just back from the Drovers ... 10/10 ...

Try the "Silvery Tay" in Newport - on - Tay / Fife


Excellant Fish Supper .. and not shy with the fish either

Fwwoor, I haven't had a good fish and chips since I left the sceptered isle. It doesn't stop me from trying them when I see them on the menu here in the states but they are always disappointing.

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