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Focus on fish & chips: frying Nemo

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

A chip off the old block: fish sustainability is increasingly on the forefront of operators' minds
A chip off the old block: fish sustainability is increasingly on the forefront of operators' minds

Related tags: Fish, Fish and chips

Besides dedicated chippies, pubs are the go-to outlet for customers on the lookout for a classic fish supper and consumers can’t get enough. 

There are roughly 10,500 fish & chip outlets in the country, with the British public consuming some 382m portions of fish & chips every year – accounting to a mean £1.2bn in crispy revenue. And whilst trends come and go, fish & chips has stalwartly held on to its place in diners’ hearts.

Sustainability

When you think “fish & chips”, the first image to come to mind may be of the classic chippie cod and chips. But due to deep concerns over the sustainability of species like cod and haddock it’s getting less fashionable – and economically viable - to stay old-school with your choice of fish.

Consumer demand for sustainability was reflected in the winners roster of 2015’s National Fish & Chip Awards, which saw Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified outlets fry their way to victory in seven categories. Frankie’s Fish & Chips, in Brae, Shetland, was named Independent Takeaway Fish & Chip Shop of the Year and given the “Good Catch” Sustainable Seafood Award.

“MSC certification helps hugely,” says Carlyn Kearney, acting manager at Frankie’s. “I think that is because generally customers are much more discerning about where their food comes from these days. When it comes to fish in particular, people in Shetland are very knowledgeable given that fishing and aquaculture accounts for a third of the local economy – so it definitely has a positive impact on our trade.”

She adds: “As far as business tips are concerned you really need to stand out from the crowd so pay a lot of attention to your customer service. Go down the quality route when it comes to produce – customers are increasingly looking for high quality, well-sourced produce cooked with care and attention. Always try to refine what you serve, innovate and try new things. They won’t always work but you’d be surprised by how experimental you can be.”

The MSC’s list of sustainable fish includes pollock, anchovies, hake, coley and pacific halibut. Sea bass, bream and cod also feature on the list but the MSC advises checking individual options with these species due to the fact that these species’ sustainability ratings depend on how and where they are fished.

George Clark, commercial manager at MSC, adds: “MSC certification goes hand in hand with the way the best fish & chip shops are running their businesses. The success of these industry-leading shops further underlines the value in the MSC programme, safeguarding fish stocks for future generations and providing customers with a clear choice for sustainable fish & chips.”

Alternatives to cod

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) claims customers have become too reliant on the “big five” of seafood: cod, tuna, salmon, haddock and prawns, touting species such as hake and mullet as potential replacements for their endangered cousins

And it’s a good time for licensees to take advantage of a wider variety of fish. Stocks of species better suited to warmer water such as sea bass and gurnard have risen over the last few years due to changes in water temperature, creating a multitude of options for adventurous chefs.

Kevin Laing, owner of Northumberland pub the Angel Inn and spin off fish & chip outlet Angelfish, said: “The MSC are always there to give you advice and it’s easier than you think to buy sustainable fish as a lot of suppliers won’t supply anything else now.

“We’re trying to get our MSC certification at the moment – I think it gives you consumer confidence and makes people aware that you are trying to do the right thing and have confidence to use you as a supplier.”

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recently spearheaded a high profile campaign encouraging fish & chip sellers across the country to sell mackerel in the place of less sustainable Atlantic fish.

However, shortly after the campaign began to make waves, the MSC took Mackerel off its list of sustainable species and Whittingstall was forced to abandon his plan to make chip shop mackerel a splash – a reminder that fish sustainability is anything but static. Environmentally-concerned operators should remember to check for regular updates to sustainability information.

Spin-off chippies

Many top chefs are opening their own fish & chip restaurants. Eric Snaith, chef/patron at Titchwell Manor, Norfolk, is set to open Eric’s Fish & Chips, in Thornham, Norfolk in April.

As well as serving up traditional fish & chips, Snaith’s concept will incorporate modern European sensibilities into the menu, offering choices such as mackerel with buttermilk beetroot and sorrel and halloumi and spinach arancini .Homemade ice cream flavours including baked white chocolate and honeycomb and apple crumble – made from the local orchard – will also be available.

“It’s always something I’ve been keen to do,” says Snaith. “I’ve always seen it as a really nice compliment to [Titchwell Manor] – it’s a dish that is so loved by the nation. I fully expect standard fish & chips to be about 80% of the market but at the same time there is no need to limit other options to horrible pies and burgers.

“The quality and freshness of the fish is so important – as well as the portioning and the size. The fillet can’t be too thin if you want a nice even cook and you have to be careful it’s not fat at one end otherwise it’s really easy to overcook it.”

He adds: “We’re using sustainable cod that gets frozen at sea – it’s an amazingly consistent product and customer awareness of sustainability is very high at the moment – it’s essential to consider it.”

Salt & Malt

Budweiser Budvar Top 50 Gastropubs winning chef Josh Eggleton, co-owner of the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna, Somerset, is pioneering his own take on the chippie, the Salt & Malt, in Chew Valley, Bristol.

The Salt & Malt consists of a takeaway, which is already open, as well as a tearoom and dedicated fish restaurant which opened on Monday 2 March.

“My first catering job was in a fish and chip shop,” says Eggleton. “Ever since then I’ve had the burning desire to do it – it’s essentially British.

As well as serving classic fish & chips, the Salt & Malt plans to offer seasonal dishes including monkfish curry and smoked haddock chowder.

Angelic offering

Kevin Laing, owner of Top 50 Gastropubs Business Innovation of the Year finalist pub the Angel Inn in Corbridge, Northumberland, has converted one of the venue’s outbuildings into a premium fish & chip shop, Angelfish.

Angelfish opens from Tuesday to Saturday and sells locally sourced seafood as well as Champagne, wine, cider, lager and ale. In its first month of business, Angelfish pulled in on average £7,500 a week – without impacting the parent pub’s sales at all. In fact, revenue from the Angelfish is set to be used to refurbish the Angel Inn’s interior dining area.

“[Customers] love it,” says Laing. “We’ve got a great beer batter made from local ale - if you have fresh fish and good potatoes, there’s not many ways you can screw up. The Angelfish held its own during the winter but we’re definitely looking forward to the summer when the tourists come.”

The Angelfish sells roughly 800 portions of fish & chips a week, with Laing having taken on three full time members of staff to work the business. Research is fundamental when setting up a fish and chip outlet, he claims.

“It depends on what quality of food you want to do but you really have to do your research in the way of supply and equipment. We got some great help when we were starting out – we had people from as far away as Tynemouth coming to give us advice.

“I have to admit I was quite nervous during the first few weeks but there’s always support available.”

Premium offer

At two-site operator the Fish & Chip Shop, led by Des McDonald, which has sites in Islington and the City, fish and chips is given a premium focus.

In addition to cod and chips, dishes include British seafood, oysters, shrimp burgers, fish finger butties a fisherman’s breakfast and Manx kippers.

Related topics: Menu Ideas, News

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