I was recently in the UK, so naturally my attention turned to fish and chips. After all, it is a British classic. No wonder: The furthest you can get from the sea in Britain is a mere 113 km. That honour goes to Church Flatts farm in Derbyshire, which ironically is a cattle and sheep farm. You can’t get much more land-based than that!
Because I stopped eating fish in the 1990s, and then recently committed to only eating sustainably-sourced fish, I hadn’t had a good English fish and chips in about 15 years. Since there has been a lot of effort in the UK to raise awareness about sustainable fish and seafood, I was really optimistic that I might be able to find a good English ‘chippy’ that served sustainable fish.
My first stop was randomly checking-out some of the chippies near the relatives I was visiting in the northwest of the country, a region rich in fishing history. I was disappointed. The standard on the menus seemed to be cod and haddock, with some places having a ‘catch of the day’ special of plaice, hake or halibut. According to UK Good Fish Guide, while some cod and haddock fisheries are stable, most are over-fished. It was not clear at any of the chippies whether the fish came from sustainable or unsustainable sources. Asking at the counter didn’t seem to help either, which suggested to me that it probably wasn’t sustainable. It’s possible that the plaice cam from the Irish Sea where stocks appear healthy, however discard and bottom trawling are a concern. Hake stocks are generally not good, period; and Atlantic halibut is red-listed.
Not to be dissuaded, I did a bit of online research and found some places in the Northwest with some nice sourcing policies, but sadly none fitted into my itinerary so I never got to them. Here they are though, as much for my own future reference as for yours!
- Seniors Fish and Chips (3 locations: Blackpool, Thornton and Lytham, Lancashire)
- Holt’s Fish and Chips (Nelson, Lancashire)
- Whelan’s Fish and Chips (Lytham, Lancashire)
- Holly Tree Fish and Chips (Blackburn, Lancashire)
- Angel Lane Chippie (Penrith, Cumbria)
- Packet Bridge Fish and Chips (Carnforth, Cumbria)
- The Codfather (Allonby, Maryport, Cumbria)
- Bryce’s Chippy (Wigton, Cumbria)
My next option was fish and chips during my day in London before returning home. London isn’t exactly known for their fish and chips, and this wasn’t the first time I’d tried to find a sustainable chippy in London. I’d tried in 2010 but I didn’t find any that I felt confident about. Perhaps I’d be lucky this time. I was!
Fortunately, the London Evening Standard had published Five Places for Sustainable Fish and Chips in February. A bit more Internet digging also found me a few more places, including a pub near Charing Cross offering vegan fish and chips! Not exactly what I was looking for, but if I was still vegetarian I would have been down there in a flash!
After consulting with my lunch date and cousin, we finally settled on Poppies Fish and Chips in the East End, not far from the legendary Brick Lane, with all its Indian restaurants, and Spitalfield’s Market. Although at first glance Poppies looks like a 1950s American diner, it’s apparently run by a family who have been making fish and chips in the area for over 60 years. The name actually comes from “Pops”, who is the owner of the restaurant.
According to the boards behind the counter, the fish comes from T Bush in the Billingsgate Fish Market, and the eel from from Mick’s Eels, also in the market. Both are from sustainable sources. The potatoes are British Maris Piper sourced from a 4th generation family business. And if fish and chips aren’t your thing, they have naturally-raised chicken from Norfolk farms and pies from Wright’s Pies in Stoke-on-Trent. For puddings, they boast traditional Sticky Toffee Pudding from Cartmel in Cumbria with Minghella Ice Cream.
When my cousin and I arrived on a rainy Monday lunchtime, the place was packed. We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table. Once seated, I decided on the cod and chips and she had the haddock. We also ordered a side of homemade mushy peas and another side of curry sauce. I also couldn’t resist having a Wyld Wood organic cider. My cousin had a Fentiman’s ‘botanically-brewed’ Victorian lemonade.
The order arrived quickly and the verdict, good. Very good! The fish was battered with its skin on, which may not be to everyone’s taste. It was fine with me, but my cousin spent a bit of time trying to pick the skin off of hers. It was light and crispy, not too oily, and the fish inside was perfectly cooked and flaky. The chips were pretty much what I expected from British chips. Thick and dry, they were perfect for dipping in the generous amount of mushy peas or curry sauce.
Since this was my first taste of fish and chips in years, I asked my cousin for her opinion. ( I figured she’d be a better judge than me.) Her verdict? Definitely good. Better than most, but not anything mind-blowing if you’re looking for the ultimate fish and chips. She also said that the prices are a bit higher than a run-of-the-mill chippy, but it is in a trendy part of London so that wasn’t surprising. Nonetheless, she said it was worth it, especially since you can feel good about where your fish is coming from.
Next time I’m in London, I’ll probably explore one of the other sustainably-minded fish and chip shops that I dug up. And with the recent challenge to London chippies to serve only sustainable fish during the 2012 olympics, I’m sure next time I’m over the pond my quest for sustainable fish and chips will only be easier. In fact, I’m looking forward to being spoiled for choice!
Here are the restaurants I found to check out:
- The Mermaid’s Tail (Leicester Square)
- The Duke of Cambridge Pub (Angel and Islington)
- J Sheekey Oyster Bar (St-Martin’s Court)
- Geales (Notting Hill and Chelsea)
- Brady’s (Wandsworth)
- The Golden Union (Soho)
- Fish! (Borough Market)
- Fish’n'Chick’n (Multiple locations)
If you know about any sustainable fish and chip restaurants in the UK, or anywhere in the world, I’d love to hear about them! Or if you’ve tried any listed in this article, how were they! Let me know!