Monday, 20 June 2011

The Fryer's Delight

Some of you may have gathered by now that I’m a shopkeeper by trade and have been for the past 15 years. Prior to that I was rendering my services to another shop in the West End as a salesman helping customers achieve their dreams of an orchestra or Jimi Hendrix becoming alive in their living rooms by means of two channel stereo systems. Since leaving college I’ve never been conventionally salaried or let alone handle a payslip in my hands; my hard-nosed tenacity wouldn’t allow me to work under someone else except myself. It’s my prerogative to remain so until I tumble into an abyss of doom. Jabberwocky facts aside, my shop sells record players and amplifiers with glowing tubes (we call ‘em valve amps in the industry) and this kind of niche attracts a certain lot of pilgrims from all over the world. Now for some strange reasons the majority of these visitors who descend upon the shop are Scandinavians or to be exact, Norwegians and Swedes. The anoraks (blokes mainly) drag their families along to view the wares I have on show, but they never buy anything and they just want to complete the pilgrimage by snapping photos of the shop and me, as for the latter I always decline for good reasons! In order to break up the usual tedium I unavoidably drum up the usual conversation-

‘Do you like London?’

Gasp (the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians all do this when conversing!)- ‘Oh yes we love your great city’

‘Do you find our city expensive?’

Gasp- ‘Oh no, London is cheap as lingonberries nuts compared to Oslo!’ (But then they would say that, as the Norwegians are the richest Europeans).

‘So where have you been and what have you done in London?’

Gasp- ‘Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds, your shop and…fish and chips (with a wretched sigh!)’ (The Norwegians verge on warm monotones whereas the Swedes are tonally lah-dee-dah)

‘What’s wrong with our fish n chips?’ (I often bark hereby!)

Gasp- ‘Oh not much really (now because that they’re not buying anything from me they always end up polite) but please tell us where to go for your true British national dish, chicken tikka masala.’ (Followed by a final but almighty gasp…)

As their first taste of fish and chips will also be the last, the tourists’ expectations are inexorably exceeded. The various answers I’ve been so accustomed to hearing have simply reasserted the fact that our national dish sucks! When it comes to cocking up this humble dish on an immense scale then there’s no other place worse than London. Fish and chips is found on the menus at pubs, eating concessions within popular tourist attractions and department stores, greasy spoons, kebab shops, chicken shops, etc- a win-win inclusion to trap the unwitting diners craving for a bite of the great British institution. The dearth of traditional chippies in the capital is partly to blame for this sad misrepresentation. For a major city with an urban population of more than 8 million people it’s also pathetic to know that one can only count London’s decent chippies on one hand or perhaps at a push, an additional finger on the other. I remembered an old pilgrim to my shop a couple of year’s back, Leif of Stavanger, he muttered about his first cod and chips lunch at an Italian run caff in Russell Square- 'we salt our cod because it’s a noble fish so that we can enjoy eating bit by bit but why the injustice of deep-frying it with tasteless batter and serving it with fat sloppy wet fries!' His smiling face hid the most obvious kick in my teeth and validly call forth there's no accounting for taste.

The Fryer's Delight is a well-regarded fish and chip shop in Holborn.

The place does at least resemble an authentic chippy-

deep-fryers by the front counter, Formica tables, false ceilings, white-coated cooks, pungent cooking fumes and sharp intrusive vinegar tones wafting all over the booths. It has been around for ages and it’s now run by some South American folks- spoken English was thus rudimentary but the service courtesy of the lone waitress was consistently abiding and smiling.

This place is also a favourite of the London cabbies, as the photo shows- one eating and another just walked in.

Now unlike Leif of Stavanger I wasn’t going to be put off by my first and failed fish dinner at a place of supposedly good repute so I went back three times to confirm my findings about The Fryer's Delight. As somber as things are allowed to be, the place was plainly inadequate when it came to fish and chips. It lacked the attributes so vital for any real chippy- passion about the fish, a know-how about concocting a great batter mix, how not to make the chips taste like anything except potatoes and of course the fat chosen to fry the food.

The menu

Haddock and Chips
Looks all right and all but I can assure you that it was anything but.

Now let’s briefly rant about how fresh is ‘fresh’. I accept the fact that most and if not all fish when caught are immediately flash frozen on the boats for at least a week before it reaches the market like Billingsgate. But what happens when the fillets have been further refrigerated for another week or two (the thought of a double thawing process shudders me no end!). It then reeks of fishiness; disconcerting and repelling enough to put even the most determined fish-eater off for a considerable amount of time. The haddock I had above was precisely that kind of ‘fresh’ misnomer - yuck! The batter, although not soaking with fat was woefully under-seasoned. The chips tasted entirely synthetic and soggy. And what of the myth surrounding beef dripping used as the de facto fat at The Fryer's Delight?
A load of codswallop is the plain and simple answer I could muster with confidence.

Now there’s very little any fish shop can screw up with the next two items-

Cod’s Roe-
now if I can relish in stuff like this then I’m au fait with this.

Oy Oy Savaloy!
Ok not quite the bright red thing but much the same thing- a battered jumbo sausage. Now what’s there not to like about a log of intensely processed nose to tail bits from farmed animals (dare I say usually made collectively).

The hand-written bill was undoubtedly sweet-natured and a redeeming feature of the place. (Although my accountant would balk at the omission of a date-entry!)

Cod and Chips

Alas the tiny piece of cod was as ‘fresh’ as the haddock above. It was reminiscent of poorly thawed mush.

And thank goodness for lashings of malt vinegar, a perfect ploy to obliterate any imperfections that come with any dishes served here.

The Fryer's Delight will continue to exist and flourish because of the following-

OAPs who live in the estates nearby (the ones who have been patronising the place for years but lacking the mobility to travel further afield for a better fish dinner).

Cabbies who come here in droves (by a word-of-mouth convention it seems and besides cab drivers are probably the least fussy eaters in the capital).

And of course the shop’s close proximity to the cheap hotels in and around Bloomsbury and Holborn is more than an ideal to lure the naive tourists.

The recurrence of the good reputation The Fryer's Delight has been clinging on to is hopelessly out of date; unfortunately the current owners have lost the plot and they’ll probably never understand why they’ve made a diabolical embarrassment out of England’s national dish. One to avoid.

For real fish and chips in the West End you’re better off here or here.

19 Theobald’s Road

Scores on the doors


Mr Noodles said...

Spot on! I've always thought this place was piss poor, and I can't quite believe that its oft cited as a decent chippy.

PS: It's a fish supper NOT a fish dinner!

Dad said...

For several years now I have bemoaned the fact that, living in different parts of our fair capital as we do, my resturant-visiting-path rarely crosses that of your's Les.

It was with some excitement then, when I saw this post about the Fryer's Delight. In my Beeb days, colleagues and I would take a walk up there from Bush House, waffling on about beef dripping, overly strong teabags and the like, before tucking in with gusto. Admittedly this is quite a few years back, but we always enjoyed our (occasional) lunches there.

How disappointing then, to learn/read that the place now sucks!

I have to admit however, that your cross out of lingonberries in your terrific conversation with the Norwegians, more than made up for the fact that I will never bother heading to Holborn for fish and chips again.

Tres hilair!

Anonymous said...

Ohh, one to cross off The List then!

Here is my cod roe adventure.

I heart cupcakes said...

The Fryer's Delight used to be my husbands treat lunch when he worked in Lincoln's Inn. I'm talking about 10 years ago, the fish was fresh, the chips good. Then over the years the quality diminished until a couple of years ago when he got chips he was sure had been sat there for days - stale, insipid, unpleasant and never returned again.
It's sad that great chippies are so difficult to find in London. We used to have a great one when we lived in Croydon that delivered the best fish and chips ever. I've been meaning to check out the Golden Hind for years - must go actually

bellaphon said...

Noods- tea, dinner, luncheon, supper, 宵夜…aye aye, cap’n!

Dad- I suppose one can be allowed to be critical about the quality of fish and chips in our fair capital but not so chicken tikka masala as it’s consistently same-ish and conceptually inalterable.
As for the Scandies; I find the Swedes have a great sense of humour, the Norwegians are more matter of fact but never boring, the more aloof Danes have this sense of superiority over the other two and the token Finns are simply incapable of small talk, not even a word about the photo of Jimmy Page and I on the wall!

Kake- I loved Bob’s comment about your ‘not so dear’ dish. I can categorically say that chickpeas make you fart but not so cod roe!

IHC- years ago when I was living in North Finchley there was this chippy near Tally Ho Corner that doubled up as a Chinese takeaway (now long gone). Despite the quality of the fish and chips being dire, I kept going back for more and it was only years later when I accosted the owner about the endless queues and his secret- ‘Ajinomoto in the batter!’ ‘nuff said.

My current list of decent chippies in London and in no particular order-

Golden Union, Soho
Masters Super Fish, Waterloo
Golden Hind, Marylebone
Toffs, Muswell Hill

And the following with due caution-

Sea Shell, Lisson Grove (frightfully expensive these days but on occasions the end result can be astoundingly good as well)
Two Brothers, Finchley (Going downhill rapidly since the Manzi family sold up to a halal outfit)
Geales, Notting Hill (fish and chips is supposed to be classless but these guys have other ideas)
Faulkner’s, Dalston- (still living in cloud cuckoo land about their Jurassic reputation, a place that employs clueless students studying English as a second language to cook your fish dinner, oh I mean supper!)

If only London had an Anstruther Fish Bar or Magpie Café, pipe dreams indeed.

Mzungu said...

I'm glad I read your blog tonight as I was going to go there tomorrow night for some supper. Giving a wide berth now. Phew. Now there's a few quid saved.
If you are in Highbury barn or near by, then give the Beach Hut a try. Serves super fresh fish cooked in front of you.
Only problem is, the two owners don't abide by their own opening times. They open when they open is their moto.

bellaphon said...

Jambo, bwana! Thank you for the Beach Hut tip, let's hope they open their doors on Fridays!

Anonymous said...

I used to be a huge fan of Fryer's Delight when my shop opened about 3 or so years ago, and we had the most wonderful fish and chips around---now, the quality is so bad even when I crave fried foods, I just walk past.

It's a crying shame though and I can't figure out for the life of me, why it went downhill so fast. Change of management? Hurt by recession? The fish used to be cooked so well it was custard-like, and the beef drippings inside the chips were so crisp and unctuous.

Although I guess in the end it's better for my waistline!


Chris Pople said...

Very similar experience here too. Awful dry haddock that appeared about 10 seconds after I'd ordered it. There must be a massive temptation to cut corners with regards to F&C because there are only about 2 or 3 spots in the capital worth visiting. Masters Superfish is good, in Waterloo.

Anonymous said...

Being a resident in Islington there are only 3 worth visiting; The Beach Hut, though watch out for the bones! Faulkners, which is actually just over the borough line into Hackney. But by far the best Fish n Chips in London is Kennedys of Goswell Road. Always fresh, lunchtime menu is very generous n very economical, even non fish items; the homemade pies n bangers n mash are fantastic. For the truly hungry they do the 'Cabbie Special' which is an small selection of 4-5 different fish. 11/10