Looking back at the extraordinary summer we have just witnessed – we even got plenty of rain to have a national moan about - it is clear that as a nation we are, by and large, proud of our heritage. As 2012 draws to a close we take a look at a very British institution that is said to have sustained morale through two world wars and that today still holds its own in spite of very tough opposition from the raft of quick service takeaways that have sprung up in recent years
In 1860, when Joseph Malin opened the country’s first fish and chip shop in Cleveland Street, London, he could have had no inkling of how rapidly this new concept would spread and how, over 150 years later, meals comprising fish and chips would be an integral part of our national identity.
In spite of the decline in the number of fish and chip shops – from 35,000 in 1927 to just 11,000 today – they nevertheless provide us with 382 million meals a year; that’s approximately six meals for every man, woman and child in the UK. Over the years, many fish and chip shops have had to make way for the legions of other quick service restaurants that have sprung up offering more variety, better meal deals and more enticing environments. Speak to fish and chip shop operators today, however, and they can no longer be accused of operating on their back feet.
National Fish & Chip Awards
The industry knows full well what competition is out there on the high street and is addressing the issue head on. To encourage this awareness, Seafish (the UK authority on seafood) runs the annual National Fish & Chip Awards that recognise and reward businesses producing the very best fish and chips across the UK.
Now entering their 25th year, the Awards comprise 12 categories ranging from Independent Takeaway Fish & Chip Shop of the Year to Best Newcomer and Staff Training & Development. Businesses are appraised on criteria ranging from sustainable sourcing practices, customer service, hygiene & staff training and, of course, the quality of the fish and chips.
EC asked Hugh Lipscombe, chairman of Fish ‘n’ Chick’n Group, Hertfordshire – winner of Best Multiple Fish and Chip Operator Award 2012 – how he ensured his restaurants stood out from the competition. “We offer competitive meal deals in our restaurants in line with local competition, and promote this through various media outlets,” says Hugh. “We also insist on clean, modern, pleasant surroundings for our customers to enjoy their complete dining experience. And of course we always source the highest quality products available to ensure that we only supply the very best to our customers.”
Newcomer hits the ground running
Dan Lynch – director/head chef of Chamberlains Quality Fish & Chips Oldbury, Birmingham – has been a chef for 14 years but is new to the fish & chip arena. “I have never worked in a business with so many regular customers, which I’m loving,” says Dan.
Winner of Best Newcomer Award in the National Fish & Chip Awards 2012, Chamberlains is a family-owned fish and chip restaurant that prides itself on using only high-quality ingredients. Once a month Chamberlains holds gluten-free events, where all starters, main courses and desserts offered are gluten free – a great idea in an era when more and more people are eating gluten free, either from necessity or by choice.
We asked Dan if he had any advice to share with our readers. “Invest,” insists Dan. “Invest in good people, good produce and clean surroundings; and market your business well. Remember nobody sets out to have an ‘average’ meal so put care into every serving and ensure that your customer service is excellent. All customers should leave with a smile on their face.”
Tips from the top
EC caught up with Alistair Horabin of Seniors, Lancashire, winner of Independent Takeaway of the Year in the National Fish & Chip Awards 2012. Owned by the Horabin family, Seniors has evolved over just a decade from an end of terrace chip shop packed with nostalgia to a bustling family fish emporium with a fourth store in the pipeline.
EC: What made you decide to work in the fish and chips industry?
AH: I started working in the fishing industry aged 10 when my father was an award-winning fish merchant. I believed I was to follow in his footsteps and become a fish merchant but in 2000 he bought Seniors Normoss. So from the age of 15, fish and chips became the career path for me.
EC: How important do you think it is to offer sustainably caught (MSC certified) fish?
AH: Very important. Seniors sells only cod and haddock that are sustainable from the cold, clean waters of the Barents Sea. We source plaice from a local day boat that is a member of the Seafish Responsible fishing scheme. Our hake is from South Africa and our sea bass is from Chile. Quite simply, we scour the world for the best fish.
EC: Which fish are most popular in your outlets?
AH: Haddock – it’s a northern thing. Another very popular fish here is John Dory. Demand always outstrips supply.
EC: What are your top tips for making great tasting chips?
AH: Local, highest quality products and hard work. Frying fresh, crispy and hot chips is a skill and I’m constantly pushing my staff to achieve the very best possible because chips go with everything.
EC: Do you have a favourite fish for fish and chips?
AH: My favourite fish is halibut but it’s expensive so haddock is what I eat most weeks.
EC: What do you drink with fish and chips?
AH: Peroni, Chenin Blanc or dandelion and burdock. Another must-have accompaniment is Lancashire caviar – mushy peas cooked to our secret recipe!
EC: What sets you apart from your competition?
AH: Attention to detail, motivation to be the best and our fish. All staff are fully trained and they understand our brand, our mission and enjoy working for us. I’m very proud of our team; without them, Seniors would be nothing.
EC: Can you give a tip on what makes great customer service. What do you do to engage with your customers?
AH: Ask them a question. Any question. Our top three customer questions are:
- Which fish would you like madam? The haddock is my favourite
- Have you ever tried John Dory? Would you like a free taster?
- A portion of mushy peas? One of your ‘5 a day’
These questions are a bit of fun but add value to the experience and also to your bottom line. Give the customers something they can’t get everywhere. Free tasters, fact sheets or just a laugh. Fish and chips are the nation’s favourite – make the experience the same!
- Vinegar was first recommended to be splashed over fish and chips by Victorian cook, Eliza Acton, as a means of sweetening the fish
- Fried fish began in working-class London at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, selling the leftovers from Billingsgate fish market
- One in every £100 spent on food is in a fish and chip shop
- Cod is the most popular fish sold in fish and chip shops, although haddock is number one in shops in Scotland and in a number of English regions. Other whitefish species such as plaice, hake and whiting are also popular, and many shops have a wide and varied menu including lesser known species such as John Dory, lemon sole, bass and turbot
- Nearly a fifth of all fish sold in the out-of-home market comes from a fish and chip shop
- A portion of fish and chips provides the body with protein, carbohydrate, vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin C, iron, calcium, phosphorous, as well as the trace elements iodine, fluorine, zinc and some important dietary fibre. British Nutrition Foundation statistics show that an average portion of fish and chips contains almost three times less fat (20.6%) than an equivalent portion of chicken tikka masala and pilau rice
- The quick frying methods used today and the high-quality oils used by most fish and chip shops mean that very little oil, if any, gets into the actual fish. The total fat content of an average portion of fish and chips is estimated to be 48.2g. This compares favourably with a cheese and ham sandwich with mayonnaise, which has 51.98g fat and a donner kebab in pitta bread with salad and chips, which has a total fat content of 57.74g.