Honours, fish and chips and investigations – hello 2014

A very Happy New Year to all!

Getting 2014 started here at the food blog with heartfelt congratulations to Manchester’s amazing Tse sisters, Lisa and Helen.

The twins, who operate the Sweet Mandarin restaurant, were each awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.

While they are probably best known to many for the Dragon’s Den appearance below, I shall personally remain in Lisa’s debt for teaching me some wok moves all those years ago when the pair of us tweeting our cookery lesson became a first for a UK restaurant. Wow, how times have moved on.

Cheers to you both for your well-deserved recognition.

A haddock fillet with light and non-soggy batter, mahogany edges protruding from the soft embrace of a scantly buttered bap. Fried in dripping, not sunflower oil. Always with scraps, those delectable leftover fragments, the pain perdu of the fryer.

This, what I can only call an ‘ode to fish and chips’ was published earlier this week on my latest project, Contributria.com – a community-funded writing platform. It was written by Kate Feld, the writer behind the enduring Manchizzle blog and is a delicious piece of food writing. If you fancy doing something similar for a future issue, the site is now open to writers to propose submissions for commission and membership is currently free. Further details on that here.

Finally, I happened to catch, briefly, some trashy TV programme over the break about how the food and health industries make us unhealthy. Before I switched over, a startling claim was made – that industrially produced bread is padded out with chicken feathers. Now whether this is true or not I haven’t had time to properly investigate – I’m guessing there’ll be many a complaint from the food lobby to Ofcom if it’s not – but it struck me that many edible products now seem to contain what can only be described as byproducts from other parts of the food industry.

I’m hoping to look at this more at some point this year and would very much like to hear from anyone who has first-hand knowledge about any such activity. Please feel free to contact me in confidence foodiesarahATme.com.

The famous Wetherby Whaler lives again – opens today

I won’t be able to make it along to this later but I couldn’t let this pass without a mention on the blog – yes, the Wetherby Whaler is back.

A ceremony to officially open its new fish and chip restaurant, the original Harry Ramsden’s in Guiseley, takes place this lunchtime with guests of honour including Harry Ramsden’s daughter and granddaughter who are travelling from Ireland.

Also invited are local dignitaries and twin sisters, then called Mavis and Wendy Raistrick, who featured in the press and in a book about the famous restaurant when they attended a celebration there in 1952. The sisters walked from their home in Horsforth to be first in line when the restaurant marked its 21st anniversary by selling fish and chips at the original price.

The former Harry Ramsden’s has undergone a £500,000 refurbishment designed to bring the restaurant up to date, while maintaining the atmosphere the restaurant was renowned for. The famous chandeliers have been updated with brand new fittings, ensuring the restaurant will deliver the same impact on 21st Century customers as it did 80 years ago.

A big congratulations to all concerned! (I’d expect there might be something on The Northerner blog soon seeing as Martin’s also partial to the odd fish supper.)

@ Nash’s, Leeds

Famous name: Jon Pertwee

I’ve no way of knowing what sort of mood he was in when he scribbled on the very full wall of fame inside this popular city centre restaurant, but I most definitely had my proper fish and chip head on when I visited for lunch recently.

Found up a dark wood staircase, this place has been serving up to appreciative diners forever, but at some stage between my last visit many years ago with one of the city’s students, and this recent visit, Nash’s (catch phrase “nobody does it batter”) has had quite a refurb and now sports an interior decor which black chandeliers and comfortable seating.

On with the food. Here’s what I found:

A proper plateful

Batter: Light and crunchy just as it should be – and not waiting for the fish to grow into it either. No super dense end bit disguising the size of the fish because there’s no need, the portion was just enough.

Fish: I had their traditional haddock. They do offer plenty of other stuff (see menu here) but the trad meal is the haddock and it was a well-cooked plentiful portion although I did spy that an extra large version is also offered.

Chips: As you’d want them to be. Plentiful, a good crisp outside and fluffy inside and black pots on the spuds. Perfectly resistant to the clinging globules of vinegar a good shake showers tem with.

Peas: Served separately but included in the price of the traditional meal these were good and properly dullish in colour. Hot and puddingy.

Tartare: Again served separately and a good helping of the homemade variety.

And all main courses are served with a slice of bread & butter and a pot of tea or coffee included with the price and there’s a bar if something a little stronger’s required.

Verdict: It’s still a family-run business (as it has been for more than 80 years) and has managed to retain that feel about it with relaxed service and unpretentious  value for money. Just what The Doctor ordered! Quite possibly.

Nash’s is at 102 Harrogate Rd, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, LS7 4LZ Tel: 0113 262 2015 Email: enquiries@originalnashs.co.uk

Update: The city centre Nash’s (where the Pertwee signature is) is at the city centre branch. http://www.nashsfishandchips.com/ (HT Leeds Grub for pointing out the two places).

@ Season’s Restaurant, Richmond, North Yorkshire

Fish and chips, large
Fish and chips, large

The kindest thing I can think to say about this experience was that the presentation was pretty impressive – just look at that large, rectangular plate and the obvious attention to detail put into the way everything is displayed.

But it’s a pity the person who spent the time placing each of those potato fingers in such a neat stack hadn’t spotted the fact that just about everything on the plate was burnt, to help them out for the future – that brown done-to-a-crisp glow is usually a bit of a give away.

Anyway we gave it our best shot and here’s what we found.

Batter: When you were a kid did your grandparents ever give you nut brittle? It looked so exciting but, even if your tooth enamel survived the experience, was surprisingly uninteresting. Little reward for effort exerted. Well the memories came flooding back. A solid experience and a challenge to get through, this had something of the heat lamp about it.

Fish: Overcooked to the point of spoiled. Once the barrier batter had been broken through, there was a small chance the fish inside might have survived but it was pretty dry. Such a shame as it looked a nice big portion.

Peas: Too sweet, too small, too smooth and too colourful. Oh dear.

Chips: They may be (called) chips, but they’re not as we know it. Squares of skin-on potato which appeared to have been baked. There was no crispness, just a warm, flaccid thing which managed to be filling without being fulfilling. Maybe a lashing or three of vinegar would have pepped it up but none was on offer.

Verdict: On the plus side, the restaurant serves a really good selection of teas so our pots of peppermint were very welcome. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, this venue in The Station building provides a relaxed atmosphere and there’s a lot on the menu to enjoy. Just not the fish and chips going by this experience and at £8.95 it’s far from cheap.

Seasons Restaurant and Cafe Bar is at The Station, Richmond, North Yorkshire.

Chips adored at Manchester International Festival

Float in praise of bacon rolls
Float in praise of bacon rolls

Food earned its rightful place at the heart of the community when the procession by artist Jeremy Deller took to the streets today.

A mobile version of Bury’s Valerie’s Cafe honoured the bacon roll but the star of the show was the amazing “Adoration of the Chip” float complete with giant cone of fries at the front and a full choir belting out their praise for the nation’s favourite deep fried delight.

See it for youself with this Qik clip, they come in  just after the Stalybridge brass band play to mark their 200th anniversary with a commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre.

(It also got everyone in the mood for chips – Liverpool Road’s fish hut seen doing a brisk trade as procession followers grabbed a tray before heading into Deansgate!)

Away from foodie concerns, the procession made for a fantastic afternoon. A clever but completely accessible artwork which celebrated such a wide variety of Manchester communities.

The goths and moshers were there, as were the kids who drive their cars at the back of the Toys R Us car park proudly taking part alongside more traditional forms such as Rose Queens and the former mill workers.

The city was a buzz, the atmosphere reflecting the sunshine – congratulations certainly due to all who made it happen.

More pictures from the parade on Flickr.

@ City Cafe

Doing some posh nosh here by trying out the fish and chips at the City Café, part of the City Inn’s smart hotel at Piccadilly.
Being rather more swanky than your average fish and chippery, this was a sit down and savour experience with a matching price tag.
The restaurant has a subdues and classy feel although I had to agree to disagree on the appreciation of the décor with Himself approving of what I thought was too much of a sea of beige with huge curtains dividing the space.
Fish: Well as you can see – it wasn’t huge! But it was good. Well textured, white and flakey is had steamed inside its batter jacket in the way that the best fish and chips does.
Batter: Another success – light with a real crunch. The coating had flavour too and gave the fish an extra boost.
Peas: None but instead some tartare sauce that was pretty bland and would have befitted from some greater caper goodness.
Chips: Hrrmph! What is all that about? You need to concentrate on every one – there only being six to enjoy. OK it’s a place with high-end dining aspiration but there seems little point in having chips – unless you actually have chips. Disappointing both in quantity and crispness.
Price: Expensive at £10.95 a head.
Verdict: Walk on by.

City Café is at Piccadilly Place, just a stone’s throw from the station. Tel: +44 (0)161 242 1000
E-mail: manchester.citycafe@cityinn.com

@ The Fish Hut, Manchester

fish hut.jpg
There’s only a few what you’d term ‘proper’ fish and chip shops in the brave new world that is now Manchester city centre and The Fish Hut in Liverpool Road is one of them.
The long-time lunchtime haunt of queuing construction workers and students has had a bit if a refurb and is now open for after work hours and on a Saturday.
If you need to have your takeout on a plate with knives and forks, there’s a small dining area on the first floor and there’s even some tables and chairs out front now (though the arrangement does require something of a balancing act).
The menu has been kept good and simple, puddings, pies, chips and gravy as well as the expected fish ‘n’.
Being a traditionalist I called in for some fish on a Friday – and don’t regret it.
Fish: Just a choice of cod or plaice but, who needs anything more? I approve, I like to know what it is too. These unidentified “fish” should be stopped. The cod was perfect, white as white can be and flaky. If I was looking to be critical I’d say the fillets are a tad on the small size but certainly just the right amount for me.
Batter: Well! I nearly resorted to expletives. Quite simply everything it should be. We had to wait about five minutes for the freshly fried fish to come out then it crunched with a bite that made that sound Heston Blumenthal presumably aims to achieve with his hungry headphones. OMG, what more can I say. A symphony of crispy crunchiness.
Chips: The Hut knows about crispness. A plentiful portion not greasy and fantastically free of those black bits which seem to be creeping in all over the place. On a return visit I’ll ask them to go a bit easier on the salt but the chips were sufficiently resistant to the vinegar.
Peas: Well there had to be a down point and this was it. Overly sweet and too mushy, these peas are nothing to shout about. The only other minus to what is an otherwise excellent fish and chip supper is the ridiculous tiny plastic forks which is about as successful as attempting to harpoon Moby Dick with suba gear. Please can we go back to the generous wooden ones?
Price: Two fish suppers, one with peas for less than a tenner and that’s in view of the Sky Bar where one glass of wine costs £12.
Verdict: Hit The Hut!
The Fish Hut is at 27 Liverpool Rd, Manchester, M3 4NW. 0161 839 0957‎

@ Manor Fish and Chips, Glossop

This particular chippy has been a long time coming. First of all there was a run-down empty shop, then a Chinese take-away and now, finally a fully functioning chip shop and Chinese take-away – right down the end of my street.
Last night I finally got the chance to give it a test drive.
Fish: Apart from the fact that this was ‘unidentified’ fish (nothing on the menu to differentiate and definitely no choice. I hate that.) it was good. I’m guessing it was hake, certain it wasn’t cod, but nicely cooked whatever the species.
Batter: Not good. Hard to put my finger on it, but if top fish is battered with a chiffon wrap, this one was constrained in a straight-jacket. Definitely not melt-in-the mouth – more like stirred in a concrete mixer and greasy too.
Chips: Bingo! A huge portion of freshly fried chips. Perhaps a little pale in colour but well crispy and hot. Thankfully I wanted them with salt and vinegar because we didn’t get a choice.
Peas: Nothing to write home about – so I won’t.
Verdict: I can safely say they’re the best fish and chips in Glossop. Those readers from Glossop will know that isn’t a great commendation but this newcomer passes muster on most counts.

Manor Fish and Chips is at the junction of Manor Park Road and the A57.

Have you tried this chip shop? What did you think? Submit your comments below.

@ Tom’s Chop House

We sampled the traditional fish and chips sitting outside in the rare sunshine of St Ann’s Square. Served with chips, mushy peas and home-made tartar sauce it’s not cheap at £12.50.
Batter: This is, without question and by far, the best fish batter I have tasted at least this ytear if not forever. Crisp, so light it melts in your mouth, completely sympathetic to the fish – I don’t know what more I can say. It’s perfect.
Fish: Good, beautifully cooked and moreish despite its generous size.
Chips: Again they were good. No unwanted black bits, served in a bowl so they stayed crisp in the face of the mushys and too many to handle. Yes it’s unheard of but Himself couldn’t finish the chips.
Peas: Not the best part of the meal – but then it did have steep competition. A bit sweet and rather too green but I am being picky.
Tartar sauce: Good, homemade style with a tang. A real addition to the plate – definitely not a garnish.
Verdict: If I ever have to host overseas visitors I will take them here. This is where our national dish is done properly. Yes it’s pricey but this is a case where you get what you pay for. Top.

Mr. Thomas’s Chop House is at 52 Cross Street, Manchester. M2 7AR Phone: 0161 832 2245.

@ Allports, Porthmadog

Fish and chips by the sea! It’s one of life’s simple pleasures and an undoubted truth that the nation’s favourite dish tastes better eaten looking out to sea. But why is that? Is there a chemical reaction between vinegar and sea air or does the connection with the sea make the fish more fish like? Perhaps it’s the added danger of avoiding the gritty crunch of sand between your teeth or the thrill of snatching dinner from the jaws of hungry gulls that helps to make the whole experience so much more pleasurable.
Hidden in the back streets of Porthmadog this slice of cheese building always has a queue outside and for good reason – these award-winners are worth the wait.
Batter: The short drive from Porthmadog to Black Rock Sands did cause a little sogginess to occur in the middle but the crispy edges (and the view) more than made up for it.
Fish: Perfect piece of haddock, white flaky and enhanced by the sea air.
Peas: Nothing to shout about. Rather overly sweet and pretty much solidified. They were also colder than the short drive would have caused. Let the side down.
Chips: A huge portion, good and crispy even with lashings of vinegar. These are the chips that holidays are made of.
Verdict: It doesn’t get better than this. The chip shop has the right look and feel, a simple menu, everything cooked to order and hot and tasty. If I had to make one criticism it’s the plasticy containers – how I long for paper wrappers but perhaps that’s just a bit of nostalgia.
Allports is at Snowdon Street Porthmadog Gwynedd LL49 9DF
(01766) 512589