This demi-paradise

It's time we faced the truth: British chips are muck, says Martin Plimmer
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There are two myths about Britain that should be taken out the back and beaten with a mallet. One is that we do chips very well. The second is that we have an extremely sophisticated sense of humour. Why then can't British chip shops serve anything as tasty as the first frites stall on the road out of Calais? And why do they have names like The Codfather and Peyton Plaice?

The idea that Britain is the chip's spiritual home is so embedded in our psyche that it has infected other nations, too. Everywhere you go in the world, you see signs advertising "Chips cooked the English way", often better, once you've scraped off the mayonnaise, than what you get at the Chip Off The Old Block down the road. Attack the idea, and British people will die defending it. It's as though you had squirted the Queen Mother with ketchup. "I buy wonderful chips," they say. Ask them where and they have to think for a long time. "The Lanesborough," they say eventually. Or "Carlo's Fryery at Llantwit Major". Or "The Bervie Chipper at Inverbervie, where Mike Fotheringham fries them in imported German or Irish beef dripping".

But what about down the road? What about the Cod Forsaken Plaice around the corner. Chips are, after all, one of the easiest things in the world to cook. You chop up a potato, dry it and plunge it into extremely hot oil, bringing the chips out when they are golden and make clister-clister noises against their neighbour. It's hard to get wrong. Add a squirt of vinegar and a cornet of newspaper detailing some aspect of the Profumo scandal and you have something lovingly, deliciously British. Yet the Cod Forsaken Plaice serves 2lb white paper sacks of sad, unloved, fatty beige sludge. How does it do it? Where does it get the raw material? What secret cooking process is it privy to, that can transform fresh, crisp potato into sad, unloved, fatty beige sludge in just five minutes? Why is it the same in virtually every chip shop in the land?

It's time we faced the truth: British chips are muck. Or rather tasteless muck, which is the worst kind of muck. I've only just realised this myself. I've been consuming them moronically for years, out of duty. One evening this summer, though, I had an epiphany on Brighton Pier. I was nibbling a 2lb bag of sad, unloved, fatty beige sludge, when the question WHY? came into my mind. What sort of person, my mind asked myself, would eat this? And the logical answer came ringing back: only a sad, unloved, fatty beige, sludge-filled sort of person. Then I pitched them in the sea for the fish to laugh at.

This week in a South London newspaper, in an advertisement box labelled "A SALT AND BATTERY", among a lot of bluster about pure groundnut oil and floury tasting potatoes, the proprietor of Olley's Fish and Chip shop, Herne Hill, announced he had won the Seafish Authority's number-one-in- London award for the second year running. Now I have to say that Olley's is good. Olley's fish is fresh and tasty and his chips, which come in double bags to retain the heat, are actually crisp. They're not bad. But they're not magic. And they should be. Every Friday my mother-in-law comes to my house to look after my children, and to a chorus of "Chips, chips!" takes whatever potatoes happen to be left in the vegetable basket and fries them in whatever oil happens to be left over, and makes magic

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