Victoria Wood’s At The Chippy song is a joyful celebration of a British institution, although it seems that we now eat fish and chips half as often as we did in 1974. Perhaps that is because it no longer gets served wrapped in newspaper?
Yesterday, June 3 was National Fish and Chips Day, which eluded me despite popping into Ian’s Fish Restaurant for cod, chips and a pickled onion (the local motto is “From the Rock” but I’m not sure that is on the menu). But in The Guardian, Alex Duggins was undertaking an act of penance for besmirching Britain’s favourite dish and on the BBC Three website Ciairan Varley was coming to terms with the difference between chippies in Merseyside and London.
The Duggins article is fun and it comes with the revelation that perhaps he wasn’t experiencing the dish at its best (and customers at his uncle’s shop seemed to concur). He spends half a shift in Simpsons, a Cheltenham chippy that was named the best fish’n’chip shop in January this year. Coincidentally, the mobile equivalent was deemed to be The StarChip Enterprise which treks beyond in the Vale of Evesham.
I almost sympathise with Varley because he’s coming to terms with the fact that for a national dish there is a lot of diversity in the British chippy. Except what he sees as a virtue is something that fills me with dread.
Having moved to London, Varley misses the kind of Merseyside establishment that combines chippy-Chinese-kebab-pizza-Indian and god knows what else under one roof.
Actually that kind of establishment is sneaking into London, but grief, stay clear! They will almost certainly be the places with the low hygiene rating and the most peculiar frontage imaginable. If they have one specialty, you can be sure than the other segments of the menu should be auditioning for Quatermass. I worry about the presumption that they can master all these traditions with any degree of safety or finesse.
(Going back in time, my father always warned about buying from places that combined fishmonger and chippy. He always feared that the unsold produce of the day fed the evening fry up.)
Varley goes on to list some regional treats that will either revolt or delight depending on your palate. In some respects, this taps into an area that fascinates me. My expectations of a chip shop follow the London variety, so in Edinburgh it was a surprise to find a chippy that only sold haddock and chips. In Chester one establishment offered to smother cod and chips with a beefy onion gravy, in Durham they don’t know what a savaloy is, one Northampton establishment has an admirable range of sustainable cod-alternatives, if you are in Conwy don’t expect rock or plaice to be on the menu.
Not sure where Rose was going to get her chips unless it was fish and chips on the menu at the Hog In The Pound?
For better or worse, the chippy is a diverse creature. A decent chippy should be cherished. If they have an excellent batter, good fish, dry off the oil so it is crisp and not soggy all the better. Pass me the salt and non-brewed condiment.