- The Observer, Sunday 10 February 2002
Last year I was one of the judges in the Great British Chip Competition. It was an event designed to determine what makes the perfect chip, hosted by the chef Brian Turner at his restaurant in Kensington. As jobs go it was a doddle - apart from the fact that no one can ever agree on what constitutes a brilliant chip. My remit was to sit down and eat chips all day. But enjoyable though the afternoon was (the King Edward in sunflower oil triumphed, incidentally), there was something not quite right about sitting in a restaurant in central London, picking the chips off pristine plates with shiny silver cutlery and washing them down with Chablis.
I like my chips open or wrapped, with a crisp wedge of battered cod perched precariously on top. I like to eat them with a wooden fork, walking down the road. I like to feel the weight of the grease soaking a hole in the paper. And I like to lick my fingers when I'm done. In short, I like chippies. With over 8,600 fish and chip shops in the UK, selecting the best is ultimately futile. Here, however, are 10 that would serve any fisherman proud.
1 The Fish and Chip Shop
226 High Street, Aldeburgh, Suffolk [temporarily closed, due to re-open at end of February or March]
Scene of the longest queues since the petrol crisis, this is rightly regarded as one of the UK's premier chippies. Eulogised by the likes the of Rick Stein and OFM's own Nigel Slater, its popularity is such that, come the summer, this small Suffolk fishing town resembles Rourke's Drift, as thousands of salivating punters appear on the horizon and stampede their way to its door. But with cod and chips from just £2, and the not inconsiderable benefit of having the wonderful White Hart pub on hand while you wait, it's not difficult to see why the Fish and Chip Shop commands such respect among fish fans. And the secret of their success? 'I never add flour to my batter,' insists owner Margaret Thompson, who's been frying fish for over 30 years. 'I fry in pure vegetable oil, never in beef dripping. I think vegetable oil lets the flavour of the fresh fish shine through.'
2 Sandy's Fish & Chips
28 Market Square, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
While the majority of the plaudits for best chip shop on Scotland's east coast have often gone to the Fish Bar in nearby Anstruther, experts head to Sandy's in Stonehaven. The birthplace of that quintessentially Scottish health hazard, the deep-fried Mars bar, Sandy's was also the restaurant of choice for Mel Gibson when he filmed his version of Hamlet at nearby Dunnottar Castle. Take a moment to quiz the staff and they'll gladly regale you of the occasion when the Lethal Weapon star dragged his co-star Glenn Close along there to sample their sizeable haddock. Funny, you'd think he would've gone for the mullet.
1 Vernon Road, Scarborough, Yorkshire
A friend of mine is from Scarborough. Recently, he told me that the unwritten rule of growing up in this Yorkshire resort was that 'haddock is for heroes' and cod, more importantly, 'is for zeroes'. One visit to Wackers and you'll discover just how ingrained that maxim is. 'Haddock's definitely a northern thing,' explains general manager Debbie Scutt. 'The only time we really sell any cod is when the holidaymakers from the south turn up in the summer.' With its cavernous 250-seater restaurant, it's the archetypal English seaside chippie, not least because they still use beef dripping. 'It's deodorised, mind,' adds Debbie, 'not that smelly stuff they used to use.'
4 Leo Burdock's
2 Werburgh Street, Dublin 8
00 353 1454 0306
Leo Burdock's chippie is a Dublin institution. Sat in the shadow of Christchurch Cathedral, the shop has occupied the same spot on Werburgh Street since 1913 and, according to a spokesman, been through more than its fair share of bother. 'Burdock's,' he shrugs, 'has survived two World Wars.' And then there's their celebrity patrons. In recent years, Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise and Naomi Campbell have all taken their place in the queue for classics such as breaded Dublin Bay prawns, chips thicker than your thumb, and, of course, haddock cooked in Leo Burdock's batter, made from a secret recipe guarded with vigilance. The beauty of Burdock's is that there is no restaurant; it's purely a take-it-away or leave-it deal. Which means you have to eat your supper in the way God intended - from the paper with a wooden fork.
5 The Blue Dolphin
61 High Street, Hastings
There is a constant queue of locals and tourists snaking along Hastings's harbour wall outside this chippie, all the punters secure in the fact that their meals will be worth braving the intimidating stares of the seagulls that lurk outside the shop, waiting for their own battered fish supper or a stray chip. Chips always taste better by the sea and, after a stroll along the beach, it is comforting to smell battered fish permeating the street from The Blue Dolphin. They also do a good line in pickled gerkins and there is a small seating area to guzzle the fresh fish they serve.
6 Rock & Sole Plaice
47 Endell Street, London WC2
020 7836 3785
A double pun, no less, for London's oldest surviving chippie. Open since 1871, the Rock & Sole Plaice's location close to the Opera House and theatres makes it the perfect venue for that pre-show pit stop, providing, of course, you don't mind taking your seat at The Mousetrap reeking of vinegar. Reassuringly fat chips, daily specials from red mullet to trout, and not a trace of modern muck like burgers or kebabs on the menu, it's a bona fide chippie, with vast mugs of tea and the option of bringing your own booze. Incidentally, the cooks here swear by peanut oil, which means memorable fish and chips for the vast majority of us, but possible death for those with nut allergies. You have been warned.
22/23/23A Baker Street, Brighton
Like most coastal resorts, Brighton is awash with chippies, the majority of which barely merit a mention. Key here is to avoid those places on the seafront. The queues are monstrous, the prices can leave you seriously short-changed and when you finally start eating, you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd given you a kiddie's meal. Stick to places like Bardsley's instead. A family-run business since 1926, Bardsley's may be a short stroll out of town up the London Road but it's well worth the walk. Once there, look beyond the standard dishes and try some of owner Roy's specials instead. From Cornish Blue shark steaks to Scarborough fresh-dressed crab, the range of fish is bewildering and the quality peerless. You can bring your own booze too, which is a bonus.
Y Maes, Pwllheli, Gwynnedd, Wales
John and Sarah Allport opened their first chippie in Porthmadog in 1988 but it wasn't until they branched out to Pwllheli in July 2000 that they started to make a name for themselves. Indeed, the quality of the fish and chips at their 35-seater restaurant is such that in November Allport's battered its rivals to become Fish and Chip Shop of the Year 2001, the first Welsh winner in the 14-year history of the competition. 'I was speechless when we were announced as winners,' says Sarah Allport, who was awarded the prize by Tara Palmer Tompkinson at the Cafe Royal. 'It was just amazing.'
174 Andersontown Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland
028 90 624854
One of the few things that people in Northern Ireland actually agree on these days is that the cod and chips at Raffo's are the finest in the province. Owner Darren Raffo's family arrived in Ulster from Italy in the 1940s and his great-grandfather set up their first chippie in the Lower Falls during the war. Some 60 years on, it's Darren and his wife, Anna, who have taken up the baton at their new venture on the Andersontown Road in west Belfast. Runner-up in this year's Fish and Chip Shop of the Year competition, Raffo's cod is the stuff of legend in the province, with scores of customers making pilgrimages from as far away as Lisburn and Stranmillis. 'When I opened on the road there were four other chip shops,' explains Darren, 'and I knew I had to do something special.' His legions of loyal customers know he's done just that.
513 Old York Road, London SW18
020 8877 9599
Step off the train at Wandsworth Town station, and it's more than likely you'll amble past Brady's, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it fish bar with the finest fish and chips in south-west London. Once inside, simply scan the wall-mounted menu and choose your weapons. From crisp, battered cod to sublime salmon fishcakes, from rollmop herrings to potted shrimps with brown toast, Brady's offers the choice of taking your fish grilled or battered, before tempting you with its range of traditional English desserts, including treacle tart, if you have any room left. 0fm
Now it's your turn
What is your favourite chip shop? Postcards to Top 10, OFM, The Observer, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER or email us at email@example.com