In a recent conversation David, an all-round foodie and wine buff, made the remark that if fish and chips had been invented in Lyon or Naples, it would have been hailed as one of the world’s great dishes many years ago. I couldn’t agree more. As it is, its elevation by the British has been regarded by many as amusing at best if not downright perverse.
No doubt opinions have been influenced by the many opportunities that exist in this country to eat truly awful examples of the dish and it’s probably true that you are more rather than less likely to eat badly if you take your chance in the average chippy. But perhaps things are changing: Heston Blumenthal devoted one of the chapters in his book ‘In Search of Perfection’ to the subject and even the great man himself, A A Gill, recently wrote about it in his weekly column in the Sunday Times.
A moment’s reflection on the matter suggests that this British staple has all the qualities needed for a great dish – nutritious and healthy if cooked well, a balanced meal in terms of protein and carbohydrate, textural contrasts, and that magical acidity that comes from the application of vinegar – as basic as Sarson’s malt or as sophisticated as French cider. It can be enhanced by the addition of garden or even better mushy peas and it can be varied by a well prepared and fresh tartar sauce. A slice of bread and butter alongside also works well and for some would be essential.
There is even room for cheffy technique – John Campbell advised my wife to spread good sea salt on a baking tray, sprinkle with vinegar and then heat in the oven at 50˚C until the vinegar evaporates – the hey presto result being salt and vinegar flavoured chips without the sogginess. The one area that might be tricky is presentation but does that really matter? The colours can be vibrant – golds and greens – which more than makes up for the sometimes awkward disposition of the individual elements on the plate. But perhaps more than any other food it is the nostalgic quality of fish and chips that puts it into the first division for us Brits, especially the seaside version.
Blumenthal plays on this with his suggestion to serve it with an atomiser containing pickled onion vinegar – only the ozone lacking! My own preference is for naked fish and chips, without the batter that is, but using the freshest quality pan-fried fish from someone like Robert Latimer. And I once ate a luxury version at Ondine Restaurant in Edinburgh that used halibut rather than cod or haddock.
If you were to ask me to name my favourite fish and chip shop it would have to be Fish Face in Sydney – wonderful food produced in a tiny kitchen and served in a tiny dining space and offered alongside an amazing wine list consisting of dozens of Rieslings from the Barossa.
Our chefs have been working on a modified version of Blumenthal’s recipe and the results can be seen in the picture above. If they can produce this quality consistently then we should have some very happy customers at St Mary’s Inn…and some very nostalgic older ones!WHAT MAKES A GREAT PUB? HADRIAN’S WALL