Chewing the fat

So is our national dish 'a national disgrace'? Terry Durack's verdict on the sorry state of fish and chips has had tongues wagging all over the country. But did you buy his argument hook, line and sinker?
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Greasy, sodden, tasteless and repellent." No, not you, dear readers, but our restaurant critic Terry Durack's opinion on the current state of Britain's fish and chips.

In his article, "The Chips Are Down" (see related links), Durack accused our national dish of being a national disgrace. He blamed fish and chips (at around 870 calories a portion) for our obesity epidemic. He stopped just short of urging us to eat McDonald's instead (although he did point out that you could wolf down a double-cheeseburger and fries and be about 126 calories up on the deal).

At the end of Durack's broadside, we wondered if our readers would agree with him and asked you to send in opinions, recommendations, criticisms and suggestions. Maybe, we hoped, the British public knew batter. Your response was overwhelming.

A handful of you agreed wholeheartedly with Durack but wanted to point out that there was this one little place where things were very different (see "The ones that got away", above, for our top-five reader recommendations). Many people said that Durack should probably have ventured north of Watford before tarring every UK fish and chippy with the same brush.

According to your letters, fish and chips - like buying a house - is all about location, location and location. As fish is best enjoyed fresh, ran this common-sense argument, perhaps Durack should have tried it close to the coast.

Many readers were flabbergasted by Durack's opinion and staunchly defended our national dish. "Perhaps he just doesn't like fish and chips", some suggested. But most of the people who wrote in wanted to tell Durack where to go. And suggestions ranged from Hull to hell, from New York to Sydney to anywhere near Grimsby. We'll just ignore, shall we, those who saw fit to question Durack's parentage or launch scathing personal attacks on his appearance.

So here is a selection of your letters to our Save Our Fish and Chips campaign. Judging by the response, it's clearly a subject that the British public cares passionately about. Who knows, if every chippy in the UK takes Durack's criticisms to heart, we may even become a nation of high fryers again.

The ones that got away

The Magpie Café 14 Pier Road, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Flora's Tea Rooms Beach Road, Dunwich, Suffolk

Kingstons 81 Willoughby Road, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire

Burlingtons 53 Windmill Hill, Enfield, London EN2

The Sea Cow 37 Lordship Lane, London SE22

Readers' letters

Everyone north of Derby knows Southerners haven't the foggiest idea how to cook this delicacy properly. In the four years I spent in Brum, never once did I find a decent chippy - so Lord only knows how goppin' they are in London.

If Mr Durack wants fish'n'chips that melt in your mouth and fizzle your brain with flavour, then come up North for the proper stuff - Robert's Golden Cod in Doncaster is a good start. Chips in a bun smeared with mushy peas - drink on a stick. Siggy Parratt-Halbert, Doncaster

Yes, yes, yes, at last someone is prepared to expose this national scam. Terry Durack deserves a medal. I love fish and chips but have got to the stage where I will not bother because I know I will land up poisoning my system with greasy, grey mush. This must end! Gary Williams, Milton Keynes

No doubt Terry's tastebuds have become impaired over the years. When he visited Fish Central, which I have frequented for over 20 years, he either picked a very unusual occasion to dine there, or he has totally misjudged it. Yes, Fish Central is the favourite haunt of cabbies, and yes, Fish Central is lively, noisy and friendly and yes, the portions are generous. Whenever I have eaten there, my meals have been delicious. Terry should get out a bit more. Peter Curtis, Kent

Our national dish is entirely devoid of contrast. You might as well eat the paper it is served in. Iain Ballantyne, by e-mail

My local chippy, Les's Fish Bar in Crewe, would stand up to the best of Terry's tastebuds. It's not posh - fixed tables, Formica tops, no wine list - just chips which don't stick together, crispy batter, snow-white fish, mushy pies served with a sieve spoon so you don't just get a pool of green slush. A pot of tea and a round of bread and butter completes your fish dinner. SM Pennell, Crewe

You really should try Papa's in Weston-super-Mare - I would be happy to treat you. Town clerk, Weston-super-Mare

I have found a treasure of a chip shop, Murgatroyds in Bradford. We asked them to supply 150 portions of fish and chips for my wedding reception, and they didn't let us down. Everyone still remarks on the quality of the fish and chip supper that night (so much for the bride being the centre of attention). A Glennon, by e-mail

I have to agree with Terry Durack, there being no decent fish and chip shops in London. I find myself returning to Leeds on weekends to get a decent portion. The fact is, London has got more tourists than any other part of Britain. If a product doesn't meet with satisfaction, some other sucker will be along in a minute. In Leeds if your fish and chips are rubbish, you go bust! Neville Gill, Leeds

Perhaps, my friends, you have become complacent. You lack the proper respect for one of your national dishes! It happened to us here in the States with the venerable hotdog. But we have begun to realise that there is far more to a dog than a greasy, tasteless mix of mystery meat overboiled in a bun. In the past decade people all over the country extol their dogs as being the best. I'm sure the same thing will happen to you. From the other side of the ocean I remain. Robin Douglas, Massachussetts, by e-mail

You ought to go to Chez Fred in Bournemouth. The batter is so crisp it tastes like "crumps" - the bits of fried batter which we used to have on our pennyworth of chips as kids. They have two catches a day so you can get glamorous dishes such as skate. They make quite a thing of the oil they use, but as we only ever go in at 9pm, with a two-hour drive ahead of us, I've forgotten what it is! Judy Dewhirst, by e-mail

Beware the wrath of all those people who live north of Long Eaton. Unlike Southern big girls' blouses, we like our fish and chips cooked in beef dripping. Still, it's grim up North and we like to keep some secrets, so let Terry Durack stick with his Scott Websters and Pierre Whites. I will continue to queue for 30 minutes to enjoy mine in Whitby, Bridlington or Leeds. Warwick A Mann, Bridlington

Perversely, the best fish and chips I've ever had was not in London, or in fact in Britain at all. But in New York City's Pastis which is owned by expat Brit Keith McNally. A stunning testament to the frier's art. Gary Dovey, Brooklyn, USA

As a Lancastrian it galls me to admit, that the best fish and chips are in Yorkshire and the North-East. At Seahouses in Northumberland there are three café's within 100 yards of each other, where the fish is fresh, the batter light and the chips crispy. Leslie Jones, by e-mail

Although this is not strictly relevant to the great debate, I felt that I should mail you to express concern about the change in Mr Durack's appearance. Is this an occupational hazard of eating food for a living? Geoff Woollen, by e-mail

I'm so glad that someone in a position of (media) power has at last raised the issue of Britain's now disgusting national treat. For years have been searching but, unfortunately, eating less and less of a food that gives me a racing heart beat and a bloated feeling. I can now only subject myself to eating my old favourite meal on the coast. The sea air and childhood memories seem to help digest it. It hurts me, as I think it does you, to talk about this dish in these ways, but it's true, and the truth hurts. Mike Sparrow, by e-mail

Look no further than the Lord Nelson pub in Southwold. It makes batter using Broadside beer from Adnams, the local brewery. This gives it a tempura-like quality. James Darkins, by e-mail

I would like to inform Mr Durack that the ultimate critic is the public. We are the people who determine whether a restaurant is good enough to eat in. KT Carey, London

Apart from a long history of inter-breeding, Biggleswade doesn't have a great deal to offer civilised society. It does, though, possess a remarkably good fish and chip shop in the high street named the Codfather. I strongly recommend trying its mushy pea fritters. Gerard Nellington, Bedfordshire

Fish and chips have been brought down to the lowest common denominator and are no longer the crown jewel they once were. Christine Ballard, Essex

You should try the Two Brothers Fish Restaurant in Finchley. It even shuts when it can't get fresh fish. The blue-rinse locals queue out the door to get a table on a Friday night. Paul Thompson, by e-mail

Having given up on fish and chip shops locally, we regularly make the 80-mile round trip to the Kingfisher in Tewkesbury. First-class fish, crispy batter and excellent chips. We've also been all but poisoned by the dreadful Ramsden experience. Martin Denning, by e-mail

Terry follows the well-trodden journalist's path and pops into Geales, only to be disappointed. Big surprise. Just because John Cleese goes there doesn't mean it's any good. Steve Beresford, by e-mail

How can anyone say that the great British fish and chips does not exist without having tasted those in the world's once largest fishing port of Grimsby? Until you have savoured the delights of Leon's and Ernie Beckett's, you could not possibly make such a judgement. Jayne Herring, by e-mail

Bryans in Headingley is top class. My friend Maggie and I have been feasting there for more years than I can count and have never ever been disappointed. Haddock and chips, white bread and butter and a pot of tea (plus a glass of white wine for me) is what we always have and it hits the spot every time. Christine Beels, by e-mail

Fryers Plaice in Hexam is my favourite. It uses beef dripping. It's like eating a slab of fish wrapped in rump-steak fat. Delicious. George McPherson, by e-mail

Comments