Harry Ramsden's takes off: The fish and chip formula is set to invade the world

THE couple from Egypt nervously spiked the mushy peas with a fork; a group of Scandinavians toyed with the idea of ordering a Harry's Challenge - a test to eat a giant plate of haddock and chips, after which the glutton is presented with a signed certificate; and, I do not lie, an Italian was making himself a chip buttie, writes Russell Hotten.

Harry Ramsden's fish and chip restaurant at Heathrow airport may not have the ambience of the legendary outlet in Guiseley, Yorkshire, but they have literally come from all over the world to eat there.

Now the USM-quoted company is about to take its formula to the world, investing in a string of restaurants overseas. Announcing improved half-year results yesterday, John Barnes, the chairman, said a franchisee had been recruited in Singapore and negotiations were under way in Australia. An outlet, complete with regulation chandeliers, carpets and chequered tablecloths, could open in Saudi Arabia by mid-1994. A recently opened restaurant in Hong Kong is now just the pilot for expansion in the Pacific Rim, Mr Barnes revealed.

Pre-tax profits for the six months to 28 March were up 14 per cent to pounds 87,673, on a turnover of pounds 1.24m, up 23 per cent. 'The company is doing what they set out to do,' said Alison Rennie, of the brokers Grieg Middleton. 'They are not trying to run before they can walk.' A restaurant opened in Edinburgh this month and one is planned for Birmingham in August.

Ms Rennie believes the Harry Ramsden theme can translate abroad and indications from Hong Kong have supported this. Although the outlet had not moved into profit, the company said sales were on a par with UK restaurant averages.

More anecdotal evidence, however, comes from those at the front line. The international crowd eating at terminal one seemed more than happy with their fare, though they find the English passion for fish-n-chips odd. Only one foreigner - the Italian - said he had gone there for lunch because he had heard of the famous Harry Ramsden and his biggest fish and chip restaurant in the world at Guiseley. His wife, obviously a member of the health food lobby, was put off when told that the distinctive Ramsden taste comes from frying the fish in beef dripping.

Still, that's no match for the publicity department, whose ability to make people feel that they are eating a slice of Yorkshire history is enough to make anyone try a meal at least once.

(Photograph omitted)

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