It’s been over 2 years since I left Yorkshire. Clammy hand clutching a one-way single train ticket, racing a van crammed with my worldly possessions across the country.
So far the big smoke has treated me pretty well. After a rocky few weeks of getting the tube the wrong direction to wherever I actually needed to go and learning that places with the most exciting/weird/quirky names WILL disappoint you (Mudchute, I’m looking at you)… I fell in love with London and we have a pretty beautiful relationship. It gives me easy access to Topshops giant accessory department; I give it all my hard earned money. I’ve got a varied repertoire of cockney rhyming slang and don’t even mind spending the first 30 minutes of consciousness every week day being trapped on the Central Line sauna like an awkward jigsaw piece, with my face in a mans armpit, anymore.
However I have one massive bone to pick with London, and that is the fact that I haven’t found a single good fish & chip shop. The cravings I get for scraps, a potato fritter, a pickled egg… are constantly un-fulfillable. It’s got so desperate that now whenever I scuttle home to Bradford, Francis picks me up in his car and the first thing we do is drive to the chippy. It’s an unspoken fact that the priority upon arrival is for me to shovel ink-stained vinegar soaked chips into my face than see my family or friends. It’s not even uncommon for me to have fish & chips for breakfast, brunch and lunch in one day to try and stem the cravings once I’m back down south. Tragic.
London fish & chips joints seem to be either one of two extremes. This first is POSH. So many times my colleagues have despaired at my complaining and recommended ‘simply amazing’ f&c locations. I dutifully schlop along in my jeans and am instantly handed a glass of champagne. What? Accompanying battered fish is probably the ONLY time in life I don’t want bubbles. I want a cup of tea, with limescale croutons and a chip in the cup. And then there are the tables. Crisp white tablecloths, metal cutlary (and loud scoffs at my request for a wooden fork) and china plates. They might occasionally have a reference to newspaper packaging; a framed front page on the wall or hilarious ‘mock’ newspaper menu- but only in a post-ironic-oh-what-heathens-would-actually-still-eat-out-of-this-stuff way. The biggest let-down of all is always the food itself though. I don’t want ‘crunchy goose-fat fried potatoes with ground rock salt’, or £10 chargrilled mullet, or a naive oysters to start, or sweet pickle chutney on the side and I certainly do not want to see “tempura soft shell crab” on the same menu. Basically, I do not want my fish and chips to look like this…
After being burnt by the ‘posh’ trend (and err.. the price) by the likes of Geales and The Fish Club, I followed my nose to places that from the exterior looked much more like my kinda usual plaice (!). Usually called something like “Pizza Point” or “Curry Corner” but with a rickety old neon sign claiming to serve fish and chips. However upon walking inside you learn they also serve pizza, chinese, an array of currys, doner kebab, shish kebab, potato wedges, potato skins, cheese stuffed jalapenos… and then you walk out because you realise you need to be pumped with tequila before any of this seems at all edible.
Basically, London is a city where the streets are paved with gold, but my stomach is not paved in battery goodness and this makes me sad. Sad and homesick.
Criteria for a great fish & chip shop
1. A good pun! Unless there is instant comedy in the name, it’s just lazy. I’m talking Tracey’s Plaice, The Codfather, The Frying Scotsman, Battersea Cod’s Home and my personal favourite A Salt N Battered.
2. I want to be served by a woman who’s only career choice in life was clearly this. I want hair nets, and batter stains on the bust and a monosyllabic service that only covers the important matters such as “scraps wi that luv?”
3. I want to be able to lean against the big metal counter that has hot bits in the middle that you know you shouldn’t touch but just… can’t…. resist
4. Tartar sauce is for idiots! I want to add my own vinegar, and add so much that it soaks through the bottom and drips on the floor. I want to add my own salt mountains. I want mushy peas in polystyrene pots, and pickled eggs, and potato fritters and no lemon slices in sight.
5. I don’t want the ability to eat inside. The best fish and chips need to be eaten somewhere as uncomfortable as possible. eg. bus stop, crumbly old wall, pebbly beach, park bench or at least inside a car where you won’t be able to shift the deep-fry smell for weeks.
I don’t think I’m asking for much right?