Arguably the UK’s signature dish, Fish and Chips is a British culinary institution.The history of fish and chips can be traced back to the 17th century and today, it’s still a much-loved meal that’s widely available throughout the country. So much so, that one of the most popular dishes on the menu at The Chesterfield Mayfair is the ‘traditional fish and chips experience,’ which comes with all the trimmings including mushy peas, gravy, curry sauce and pickles. Here, we take a look at the history of this iconic guilty-pleasure.
Sir Water Raleigh may be credited with introducing the potato to Britain from the New World, but it’s said that the fried potato chip originated in Belgium or France. Curiously, in 17th century England, it may well have been used as a substitute for fish rather than a side dish. The story goes that during winter, when the rivers froze over and fresh fish was nigh on impossible to source, housewives would cut potatoes into shapes resembling fish and fry them. At roughly the same time, fried fish was introduced to Britain thanks to the arrival of refugees from Spain and Portugal, typically sold by street vendors from large wooden trays that hung around their necks.
Exactly when fried fish and chips came to be eaten together is a much-debated topic, but the general consensus is that it happened around 1860, and it was a quickly adopted trend. Its rise in popularity could have been because it was a welcome change from the typically bland and uninspiring diet of working-class Brits. The meal’s classic newspaper wrapping can also be traced back to this point, as in order to cheap costs down, servings would be wrapped in old newspaper.
By the Victorian era, fish and chip shops were fuelling the Industrial Revolution and could be found across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. During the Second World War, the government went to great lengths to avoid rationing this family favourite, fearing that it would dampen morale, and some even claim that this simple dish helped Britain to win the war. It’s also reported that fish and chips played an important part on the battlefields themselves; at the D-Day landings, soldiers are said to have identified each other by shouting ‘fish’ and responding with ‘chips.’
Today, there are around 10,500 fish and chip shops in the UK, and while the British palate is nowadays exposed to international flavours, for many, fish and chips is still the ultimate comfort food. Fish and chips has even featured on plenty of celebrity wedding menus. Whilst it’s a dish loved all over the nation, there’s heated debate over what should accompany a fish and chip supper. Mushy peas, sometimes referred to as ‘Yorkshire Caviar’, has been a staple accompaniment to fish and chips since the 1970s and is particularly popular in the North of England, as is gravy. Curry sauce, meanwhile, is the most requested condiment in central England, particularly in Birmingham.
Best Places to eat Fish and Chips in London
This Soho eatery prides itself on the quality of its ingredients, with fresh fish delivered daily along with flavoursome Fenland potatoes from East Anglia. The result is an exemplary plate of Fish and Chips.
38 Poland St, W1F 7LY
The Chesterfield Mayfair
Butlers Restaurant at The Chesterfield Mayfair is known for its fantastic seafood, so it’s little wonder that the chefs understand what goes in to making authentic fish and chips. Diners can expect wild haddock, fresh from Billingsgate market, served in a beer batter that’s made from London Ale with a hearty portion of chips. The traditional fish and chips experience also comes with all the condiments, including homemade tartar sauce, gravy, curry sauce and mushy peas, as well as pickled onions, gherkins and quails eggs and a freshly baked bap.
35 Charles Street, W1J 5EB
The Chipping Forecast
Sustainably caught, best quality Cornish fish is the dish of the day at this humorously named Notting Hill establishment. Don’t miss out on the triple cooked chips either, which are fried in beef dripping for serious flavour and crispness.
29 All Saints Road, W11 1HE
This upmarket bistro, which has two locations in Fitzrovia and Soho, specialises in fresh, sustainable British seafood. Expect a tempting menu of more unusual seafood delights, such as salt cod croquette, alongside mains of whole Looe plaice and herb crusted Fraserburgh cod. Chips come in two varieties: skinny fries with rosemary salt or chunky beef dripping chips.
21A Foley Street, W1W 6DS
Kerbisher & Malt
Bringing Fish and Chips well and truly into the 21st century, Kerbisher & Malt is more of a seafood restaurant than traditional fish and chip shop. Cool, clean interiors set the scene for perfectly executed dishes including excellent fish and chips and fried calamari.
164 Shepherds Bush Road, W6 7PB
Try the Chesterfield Mayfair’s Fish and Chip experience for yourself and sample other seafood delicacies at the hotel’s acclaimed Butlers Restaurant.
Image Credits: Lead image © iStock/nicolamargaret. Fish and chips with mushy peas © iStock/NicolasMcComber. Fish and chip sign at the seaside © iStock/tirc83. The Chesterfield Mayfair Fish and Chip experience © Red Carnation Hotels. Fish and chips at Bonnie Gull © Bonnie Gull.