Did I really think I could escape the UK without setting foot into a British chippy? Quite naively, yes. Some locals say it is a rite of passage if you choose to set up home here, while many tourists have it firmly on their British bucket-list, but me? I would happily trade that spot on my bucket-list for more time at that other British institution, the pub. With less than two months left in the country, I was smugly certain I had dodged a greasy bullet, but some of my darling blogger friends had other ideas. The Brit half of our bunch had a couple of points to prove to the Kiwis, and they chose the charming Mayfair Chippy as the place to do it!
All the die hard chippy fans out there will probably be tutting in despair and wagging their fingers with distain, adamant that the Mayfair Chippy is too posh to be considered a real chippy. However, as someone who doesn’t want to leave the shop smelling like they’ve just been dunked in the fryer themselves, a bit of posh suits me just fine. And besides, we had bigger fish to fry… (that terrible pun was most definitely intended). The challenge was to convince one Kiwi that chips were worth the calories and the other that British fish and chips were not only good, but perhaps even better than their New Zealand counterparts. Tall order indeed.
Before we got to the main showdown, we thought it wise to warm up a little with a round of obligatory prosecco and a selection of seafood and salads to whet the appetite. All of us being spring chickens, we were not around when the prawn cocktail was considered the height of sophistication. Instead, we delighted in the ‘retro’ nature, and lamented at how it’s gone out of fashion and is often mocked. Despite this, I for one do love the combination of bouncy prawns in the distinctive marie rose sauce with a bit of apple and avocado thrown in for good measure. I also got a little food envy when I saw the trio of oysters grace our table; they looked shiny and glorious and needed nothing more than a drizzle of vinegar and shallots and maybe a splash of tabasco for those who like an extra kick!
I don’t often look across the table and pine for vegetables (mostly because a certain someone rarely orders them) but I did lust after the heritage tomato and asparagus salad, just a little. I’ve rediscovered my love of tomatoes, not the watery imposters pawned out at bargain prices in the supermarkets, but the sweet juicy jewels like the ones here. Anyway, enough about what I didn’t have… what I did have was an excellent Cornish crab salad. The white meat was so light and airy, it almost seemed like whipped cream (albeit, one churned from the sea) while the brown meat was almost earthy by contrast. Though yin and yang, the halves both paired remarkably well with the small explosions of flavour from the watermelon, cucumber and avocado.
Now it was time to get down to the real chippy business: the fish and chips. Let’s start with the chips, in particular the ones crowned with Berkswell cheese and truffle salt (might as well embrace the poshness) which we hoped would convert one of our own into the chip-loving brigade. She seemed convinced by their balance of crunch and fluffiness, but I think it was the soft shell crab burger which really won her over. The hunger in my eyes was clearly too obvious because that batter encrusted crab sandwiched between a brioche bun with slaw and mayo was swiftly moved out of my reach… definitely a wise move.
I must admit that the Mayfair Classic with fried haddock, chips, mushy peas, tartar and curry sauce went some way to convincing me that the Brits do know how to batter fish and work a fryer. My main gripe about the chip shops here has always been that the fish is fried and left to linger in the warmer until the next hungry soul arrives… I don’t care how quick your turn over is, this spoilt Kiwi likes her fish and chips cooked to order as they are at home! However, at the Mayfair Chippy, they do cook to order so that was me silenced. The fleshy haddock was dutifully protected by the crunchy batter; both the fish and the chips were hot and not at all greasy, so full marks there!
As for the accompaniments, I don’t think I will ever go full English and get on board with vinegar, mushy peas or curry sauce. The latter in particular was too sweet and reminded me more of a chutney than a curry; give me a decent squirt of Wattie’s tomato sauce any old day. In lieu of that, I settled for the fantastic tongue-tingling tomato and onion salsa which came with the halloumi version of the Mayfair Classic. This little pottle of goodness deftly put to bed any hints of oiliness you might expect from a meal like this, I’d highly recommend you ditch the peas in favour of this. Speaking of the halloumi, I have it on good authority that the vegetarians were not an afterthought here with this offering… those golden fingers of cheese looked just as good as the fish!
For our final hurrah, we decided to share another British classic – the humble apple crumble with cream. We certainly didn’t need it after the generous dishes before it, but I’m pleased to have found company who agree that a meal never really feels complete without a sweet treat at the end. Even if they did drag me to the chippy… At least they had the good sense to choose a decent one, though this Kiwi will never concede that the Brits do fish and chips better than we do!
Are you a connoisseur of fish and chips? Where in the UK serves the best?
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