East coast fish and chip shop is frying high in national competition

My Plaice Fish and Chips in Gorleston which is up for national award.Owners Neil Bains and his mothe

My Plaice Fish and Chips in Gorleston which is up for national award.Owners Neil Bains and his mother Susan. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

When Neil Bains convinced his parents to move from Gravesend, in Kent, to Gorleston to run a fish-and-chip shop, he knew they were taking a risk.

Mr Bains, a student at the time, had never cut a piece of fish before while his mum, Susan, worked in an electrical store and his dad, Major, was a cab driver.

Five-and-a-half years later – after hard work in spite of personal heartbreak – My Plaice fish and chip shop in Baker Street is in the running to become Britain's Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop of the Year.

Simply being in the race has been a huge boost for Mr Bains and his mother, who were floored by the sudden death of Major in November 2011 after a stroke.

'It took me four years to get my foot in the door and it another five years to find my feet,' said Mr Bains, now 25.

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'It has been a rough journey at times. To get this far; it hasn't really sunk in yet.'

'We'd never worked together as a family before,' said Mrs Bains, 53. 'In that first year there were times we could have strangled each other. There were a few tears, but I think it works because we are a family.'

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The Bains know fish and chips have long fuelled the nation as one of its most loved meals and, in Gorleston, continue to serve up the traditional suppers, from battered cod, haddock or skate with chips and mushy peas to sausages, curry sauce and steak and kidney pies. The chips are fried in vegetable oil and the fish is cooked to order.

'When someone says you're the best – it's priceless,' said Mr Bains. 'I think to make it you have to put your heart and soul into it and that's what we've done. We're here Monday to Saturday without fail and our customers know that. And it's not about buying the cheapest fish to make money, it's about buying the best.

'You can't cheat on quality in this business.'

When the Bains took over the fish and chip shop from previous owner Mark Weaver, whose family had run the business for three generations, Mr Weaver stayed on to help train the newcomers, a kindness for which they are still hugely grateful.

And yesterday, when the mother and son found out they were now in the top 20 fish-and-chip shops in the UK, Mr Bain said: 'I have to thank my mum and dad because they gave me this opportunity and I am not going to let them down.'

If My Plaice beats fellow independent The Boundary in Market Deeping, Lincolnshire, to become top in the east of England, the business will not only be named one of the top 10 but go on to 'fry' for glory at a national finals in January.

The 2014 National Fish and Chip Awards, organised by seafood industry body Seafish, will hold its grand final at The Lancaster London hotel on January 22, hosted by Michelin-starred chef and TV personality Jean Christophe Novelli.

Paul Williams, chief executive of Seafish, said: 'We have organised the awards for the past 26 years with the aim of showcasing the very best while setting increasingly high standards for the industry.

'This year's fish-and-chip shops have continued to rise to the challenge and we hope that they will reap the benefits for their great efforts.'

If named the regional winner, My Plaice will be invited on a study trip, organised by the Norwegian Seafood Council, to the port city of Ålesund, where staff will have the chance to learn more about the supply of fish from Norway to the UK.

If that was not incentive enough, Calum Richardson of The Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, and last year's national winner of the Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award, said turnover at his shop has shot up since scooping the prize.

For more information on the competition, visit www.fishandchipawards.com.

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