'I've never met a chip I didn't like'
Tomorrow is National Fish and Chips Day, when a one and one will be half price at your local chipper. To celebrate, our feature writer and food columnist go on the batter
Burdock’s is where we begin. First we ogle the list of famous people who have allegedly eaten in the chipper, including Gilbert O’Sullivan, George Michael and a slew of supermodels who look like they’ve never experienced the joy of battered anything. Incredibly, Domini has never been to Burdock’s before. “You haven’t lived,” I tell the food writer, who spent her childhood in the Bahamas, worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, wrote a cook book, runs a foodie business empire and has two daughters.
She reckons, as takeaway food goes, that fish and chips is probably one of the least processed and therefore more wholesome options. “You wouldn’t want to be having it every day,” she says, though I’d have a contrasting opinion on that one. “But it is food that hasn’t been messed around with. What you see is essentially what you get.”
We ask for a cod and chips. Salt and vinegar? Essential. A few crispy bits? Oh, yes. After a spot of grilling – it feels like heresy with so much bubbling hot oil around – we discover our server has been working here for more than 40 years. We get our chips, our change and a welcoming tip: “There are some benches over in Christ Church, and it’s a lovely day.”
People rave about 99s in the sun by the sea, but fish and chips picnic style, with a church that’s nearly 1,000 years old as a backdrop, is an alfresco attraction the tourist board should be marketing. “It’s that vinegar smell, isn’t it? That’s what gets you about chipper food,” says Domini, getting a whiff of the steam coming from our warm parcel. She’ll be asking me about the bouquet next, I think, ripping open the paper and getting straight down to business.
My verdict: They are lovely, obviously. It’s a ginormous portion of fish and chips. From Burdock’s. QED. Domini, who seems to be taking this taste-test business seriously, is a tad more circumspect. “The batter is slightly soggy, but I’d say some people appreciate that, and the fish hasn’t got a distinct flavour; it’s a bit bland,” she says. “The chips I really like. They are comforting and familiar tasting, and they aren’t leaving a nasty greasy film in my mouth, which can sometimes be a problem.”
The crispy bits are the real taste test. They alone will prove whether this Kemp woman is worth her salt as a food writer. “It’s basically small bits of batter, pure fat,” she declares after trying a couple. “Exactly! Isn’t it genius?” I say, relieved to discover I am not hanging around with a complete amateur.
Next stop is Itsa4, in Sandymount, the restaurant that Domini owns with her sister, Peaches, where we are having a posh version of fish and chips. This is haddock in a herb crust, with crushed peas and homemade tartare sauce. “Delicious – full of flavour and light as a feather – but could be vastly improved by a nice slab of batter,” I opine into my digital recorder, feeling more like Michael Winner by the second.
For our final course of the day we go next door to Bruno Borza’s chipper. This is the part of the taste test where any objectivity I might have had – the teeniest shred, basically – goes out the window. I grew up three doors down from this chipper. I can pretty much tell the story of my life through its fish and chips, its batter burgers, its Big B Burgers and its curry sauce. Domini has only ever tasted the chips before. Never the fish.
I should probably mention that National Fish and Chips Day is the brainchild of the people behind the Irish Traditional Italian Chipper Association. The chipperati are feeling the pinch of the recession as much as anybody else, and it was hoped the day might give business a boost. Peter Borza, the association’s vice-president, says it was also formed to celebrate the fact that Italians have been frying chips for Irish people for 125 years. It all started not too far from Borza’s, actually, when Giuseppe Cervi was selling roasted chestnuts and roasted a potato by mistake. “Nobody knew what pizza or pasta was here; potato was the national dish,” says Borza. The people of Great Brunswick Street – now Pearse Street – knew a good thing when they tasted one. The famous “one and one” shorthand for fish and chips came, legend has it, from Cervi’s wife, Palma, asking customers “ Uno di questo, uno di quello?”, or “One of these, one of those?”
The Cervis opened a string of shops in the early 1900s; they were joined in the 1950s by an influx of Italians – the Apriles, Fusciardis and Macaris, to name a few – and their battered wares. Most are from Frosinone, a region south of Rome that, because of the links between the countries, has an Irish festival every year.
In Borza’s on Sandymount Green – the owners are distant relatives of Peter Borza – we order a fillet of cod and chips. I am deeply worried that Domini won’t say nice things about Bruno’s amazing cod and that I will then have to sack her from this gig – and possibly from The Irish Times Magazine.
We sit on a bench on Sandymount Green in the sunshine, sampling the fish and chips. “Excellent batter – light, crisp – flaky fish, not soggy, sweaty or bland,” she says, going back for more. “Delicious. Chips are also good, but the fish is the best. I’d take the fish from Borza’s but with the chips from Burdock’s.”
Kemp’s job is safe for now. Not so sure about mine after this hard-hitting investigative advertisement for fish and chips. It was worth it, though. Burp.
To celebrate National Fish and Chips Day, fish and chips from the 190 members of the Irish Traditional Italian Chipper Association (itica.ie) and some other shops, including all branches of Leo Burdock, are half price tomorrow
Domini Kemp's Itsa4 haddock, peas and tartare sauce
120-150g haddock fillets per person, cut in half
1 tbsp chopped tarragon, parsley, thyme
2 tbsp flour
Get three bowls or plates ready. Mix the herbs with the breadcrumbs, season and pour into bowl number three. Beat the egg and put into bowl number two. Season the flour and put in bowl number one. Then dip the haddock, one, two three: flour, egg, breadcrumbs. Heat about 2cm of sunflower oil in a frying pan. When a crumb sizzles when dropped into the oil, carefully slide the fish into the hot oil. Cook for about three minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, season with more salt, and serve. A salad with a lemon vinaigrette and lemon wedge will finish it off nicely.
200g frozen peas
splash of water
knob of butter
This will make loads, but it’s hard to blitz in small quantities. Cook the peas in boiling water. Drain and rinse until cold. Then blitz with a splash of cold water. When ready to serve, reheat and season lightly.
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 shallot, very finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped dill
1 tsp chopped tarragon
Juice of 1 lemon
Few splashes Tabasco
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
Mix and season.