- guardian.co.uk, Thursday 22 January 2009 13.59 GMT
The local fish and chip shop might ride out the recession when the upmarket Fishworks restaurant chain didn't, it was suggested today as a Scottish chippie that includes Prince William and three Oscar-winning actors among previous customers was awarded its industry's equivalent of the cinema gongs.
Total sales at the UK's 9,500 chippies rose by 1. 7% according to the most recent figures to last November as more people visited the nation's most traditional takeaways. The number of customers has risen by twice that amount, after five years in which business was static.
Industry body Seafish predicted they would continue to profit from growing hard times as the Anstruther Fish Bar in Fife won the 2008 fish and chip shop of the year competition, beating off about 1,000 competitors.
The shop, run by Robert and Alison Smith and their three sons, recently won its fourth Scottish title and has served Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and Tom Hanks as well as the prince when he was at St Andrews University.
Andy Gray, of Seafish, who was a judge, said: "Fish and chip shops are well-placed to prosper in the current economic climate as they offer value for money and a quality product with a feel-good factor. Despite the credit crunch, people still want to enjoy small luxuries. Fish and chips are a national institution which have survived the test of time and will be around for many years to come."
Seafish says chippies have changed dramatically in the 21 years since Toff's of Muswell Hill, north London, became the first national winners, offering different varieties of fish such as the once unfashionable pollack, coley and hake.
Modern frying ranges and other equipment also mean they can claim to be one of the healthier takeaways, with less salt, less fat and fewer calories, it argues.
Sales of £717m between March and October 2008 were up from £705m over the same period the previous year, while the 548m visits in the eight months to November represented a 3% rise. Yesterday Fishworks, founded by Mitch Tonks and known as Britain's poshest fish and chip chain, went into administration with only four of its 10 sites being sold on.
Alison Smith said: "Claiming the national title has always been our ambition, it's the ultimate goal in our industry. The title is a great reward for our hard-working staff and a great way of reminding our customers and fans throughout the UK where to buy the best fish and chips."
Richard Ord, of Colman's, South Shields, the runner-up ahead of Thornton Fisheries in Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, said this week: "The credit crunch is being kind to us. Our customers can have confidence in fish and chips despite what is happening on the high street. Our sales back up the national trend as more and more people look to rely on fish and chips as a pick-me-up these days."
Another finalist in this year's competition, Mark Petrou, who owns shops in Ely and Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, said: "While trade has definitely dropped off in the local pubs in the past year, demand at the fish and chip shops has been unbelievable with a marked increase in turnover."
Judging included a customer vote, taste tests, two shop inspections and a presentation to industry experts. Responsible food sourcing, customer service, food hygiene, staff training and community spirit were examined alongside the quality of the fish and chips.
Chippie Heaven - the top 10
1 Anstruther Fish Bar and Restaurant, Fife, Scotland
2 Colman's of South Shields, Tyne and Wear
3 Thornton Fisheries, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire
Other regional winners
Finnegan's, Porthcawl, Wales
Fish and Chicken Inn, Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Merchant Fish Bar, Bewdley, Worcestershire
Petrou Brothers, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire
Scooby Snax, Brightlingsea, Essex.
The Plaice, Winchester, Hampshire
Daniels Fish and Chips, Weymouth, Dorset
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