New guide identifies top UK fish-and-chip eateries

Published on
August 6, 2019

The United Kingdom’s top fish-and-chip shops are now easier to locate, following publication of the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) latest “Official Guide to the U.K.’s Quality Fish and Chip Shops.

The guide, which its authors say is the industry equivalent of the esteemed culinary handbook known as the Michelin Guide, was started four years ago to publicize shops that achieve the NFFF’s Quality Award. 

This scheme identifies fish-and-chip outlets that have undergone a thorough assessment of premises and equipment, working practices, hygiene standards, and management controls, as well as a high standard of quality and taste in their fish and chips.

“We took over the Quality Award from Seafish in 2011, then the guide evolved as a means of helping fish fryers who work hard to reach the highest standards of best practice,” NFFF President Andrew Crook told SeafoodSource. 

Available in print and electronic formats, Andrew has included a search facility to enable people to search for fish and chip shops in their local areas or when they are traveling.

“The idea came to me when one of my customers asked for recommendations for fish-and-chip shops where he was going on holiday, and that customer is now on a mission to visit them all over the country,” Crook said.

Fish and chips remain the U.K.’s favorite meal, with approximately 382 million portions bought from fish-and-chip shops every year, at a value of more than GBP 1.5 billion (USD 1.82 billion, EUR 1.65 billion). 

In 2020, fish and chips will celebrate 160 years of being the U.K.’s national dish. It even has a national day, which is celebrated every June to much fanfare, and results in sales increasing in the short-term. However, for the NFFF president, who runs Skippers Traditional Fish and Chips in Chorley, Lancashire, sales go up every Friday in his shop.

“People have historically eaten fish on a Friday, and it remains such a firm tradition that I am three times busier on a Friday than the rest of the week. The majority of other fryers benefit from the same trend,” he said.

The U.K. has around 10,500 fish-and-chip shops, many of which are second- or third-generation family-owned businesses. They account for 10 percent of the U.K.’s potato crop and 30 percent of all whitefish consumed in the U.K. Of the fish, 62 percent is cod and 25 percent is haddock, with the remainder made up of species including coley, monkfish, perch, and pollock.

Frozen-at-sea (FAS) fillets dominate the market, with 90 percent of fish-and-chip shops opting for frozen product over a chilled fish fillet, with the main reasons cited for this preference being reliability of supply, sustainability, and consistency of quality. However, this subject is much debated, and an emotive one amongst fryers who use fresh fish.

According to Malcolm Large, executive director of the Frozen at Sea Fillets Association, FAS supply chains are robust and demonstrably sustainable, and are one of the reasons that fish and chips are “here to stay.”  FAS fish are caught in the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea and North Atlantic by Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian and Faroese vessels, whose catches are strictly controlled and monitored, Large said.

One of the challenges for today’s fish-and-chip industry is the popular trend towards calorie reduction in food.

“Many fryers now offer lighter meals, which may mean smaller portions, and steaming or grilling fish instead of frying it. People will always want their potatoes fried, but using oil in perfect condition at the right temperature is helpful in reducing the calorie count,” Crook said.

Crook said the industry also has growing concerns about the price of fish, and increasing competition from companies that offer home-delivered food. But he warned fryers against a “race to the bottom.” 

“I believe it is far better to maintain quality by using the best equipment and ingredients, ensuring that staff are well-trained, knowledgeable, and friendly, using sustainable fish that is [Marine Stewardship Counc]-certified, and joining our Quality Award scheme,” Crook said. “This approach won’t work for everyone in all areas, as some customers buy only on price, but there are still many who appreciate quality and are willing to pay for it.”

He likes to encourage the young generation both to eat fish and chips and to get involved in the industry and was pleased to see that 30 young people have entered the annual Drywhite Young Fish Fryer of the Year competition.

“This is a really tough competition that puts the fryers through their paces, but it is great to see many young go-getters taking hold of the future of our industry,” Crook said.  

Crook said he is also heartened by the growing interest in fish-and-chip eating from around the world.

“It’s great news, as new start-ups tend to get U.K. fryers involved in helping them through the initial stages, which means that high standards are passed on,” he said. “And it’s not just ex-pats who crave fish and chips, but people who have enjoyed them on holiday and want to be able to buy them in Vietnam, Japan, Paris, the U.S.A. … There are shops all around the world now, and while it is possible to re-create a battered fish fillet using local fish, it is really difficult to get the chips right. They just don’t have the same quality potatoes elsewhere in the world, so have to rely on frozen ‘steak chips,’ which are not quite the same.”

Meanwhile, back at home, he encourages fish and chip lovers to always seek out a shop with a 'BIG Q' Quality Award sign in the window. 

Photo courtesy of Alena Veasey/Shutterstock

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