The Gannet’s favourite takeaway meal is splashed with vinegar and wrapped in paper, the tangy sea air flooding the nostrils as I wield my wooden fork, fighting off the attentions of seagulls and – showing little brotherly spirit – the odd gannet.
Fish and chips has been a British speciality for more than 150 years, although two groups of immigrants must share the credit: Portuguese Jews (for the fish) and Belgians (for the chips). Properly made, it is a sensational dish: the fish steams in a crisp, light batter, retaining all its flavour, for which sweet, nutty, fluffy, slightly fatty chips are the perfect counterpoint.
Some of the best I have ever eaten have been on the coast: at a couple of places in Seahouses, a fishing village on the Northumbrian coast, and at the Anstruther Fish Bar, in Fife, where queues sometimes stretch halfway along the quay. Around the corner, behind the Scottish Fisheries Museum, is Peter Jukes’s excellent Cellar restaurant, for those who prefer their fish served a little more delicately.
It is an industry with a few problems, though. In many chippies, mediocrity reigns: frozen fish of dubious quality, packet batter mix, chips kept “fresh” with chemicals for days, mushy peas aglow with artificial colouring, malt vinegar usurped by “non-brewed condiment”, oil that hasn’t been changed for years – corners are cut as often as the chips.
And fish and chips is hardly the food of the poor any more: depleted fish stocks have made cod, in particular, expensive and off-limits to the sustainably minded. It was very gratifying, then, to stumble across a little place on the Shepherd’s Bush Road, in west London, that makes proper fish and chips from sustainable stocks.
To look at Kerbisher & Malt’s menu, you might think it was a rather chichi sort of place: you can wash down your meal with a bottle of Riesling or one of Meantime’s excellent beers, and side dishes include a fennel and dill salad.
It is, however, the perfect fish and chip shop. Everything is freshly made, the cooking oil is recycled into biodiesel, packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, all the sauces (tartare, sweet chilli and lemon mayonnaise) are made on the premises, and the results are terrific. Cod and haddock are on the menu – customers demand them – but so are coley and pollock, which are both magnificent, and all the fish (properly skinned, by the way) can be ordered battered, grilled or in matzo meal. The pickled onion rings – an utterly inspired notion – are worth a visit on their own.
Hammersmith may not have quite the allure of a pretty fishing village, but at least it can boast a fish and chip shop so old-fashioned that it is utterly modern: a chippie off the old block, in fact.