TV review: The Best of British Takeaways
- Credit: BBC
Watching paint dry can now officially stand down: there's a new 'most boring thing of all' contender – watching fish fry.
The Best of British Takeaways could have been mildly entertaining had it been a five-minute section of The One Show, but it wasn't: it was an hour long – had it been a takeaway meal, it would have been five per cent filling and 95 per cent polystyrene tray.
For reasons unknown, the BBC chose the new-look Tom Kerridge to present the show, a man who has recently lost 11 stone and has just launched a diet book in which he eschews refined carbohydrates, like chips. This was a programme almost entirely about chips: it was like sending a nun to review a brothel.
Tom was joined by presenter Cherry Healey, who once appeared on Celebrity Masterchef and presented three programmes about Britain's Favourite Supermarket Foods, so is clearly an expert on all things culinary, in this first of three shows in which the pair endeavour to find our top takeaways.
How the three chip shops that competed in the seemingly arbitrary competition were chosen wasn't clear, but in the running for Best Chip Shop As Chosen By Someone Who No Longer Eats Chips And Cherry Healey were a family business from Yorkshire, a traditional seaside shop in Devon and a hipster joint in Camden which added Ethiopian Berber herbs and Argentinian spice to its batter. No wonder northerners think southerners are insane.
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At Papas in Hull, worker Dino is a third-generation fryer who can suss out a southerner within seconds of meeting them ('They ask for cod') and regularly fries more than 200 pieces of haddock an hour.
Tim and Kelly Barnes of Krispies in Devon have a secret recipe for their batter which makes it look day-glo orange and not only do they fry their fish in it, they fry their chips, too. Twice. Because they are from the south, they prefer cod to haddock – who knew there was such a fishy divide between north and south: 'From the Midlands and down, it's cod,' explained Tim, adding romantically, 'from the Midlands up it fades into haddock.'
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It's the Visage song that never was: Fade to Haddock.
There were regular pauses in the programme for scraps of history, like the dull bit in Bake Off, where we learned stuff we've heard a billion times before, such as that it was Jewish immigrants that brought us Brits fish and chips and that the national dish was mentioned by Charles Dickens.
The aforementioned reference to the fried fish warehouse in Oliver Twist led us to Hook in Camden where chef Simon is all about the panko-breaded haddock with garlic truffle mayonnaise. Haddock in the south? It's all so confusing.
'We are new-school fish and chips, taking a whole new look at it, putting a modern spin on it,' said the Michelin-trained chef, before revealing he served his chips in a cardboard box after a focus group revealed it stopped the meal 'sweating': this was after we'd seen Papas and Krispies doing exactly the same thing, presumably without the benefit of a referendum.
Having established the competitors, it was on to the competition, which took place on Brixham harbour and involved three pointless tasks.
Test one involved the fryers serving seven customers as quickly as possible (I have no idea what this proved, as all three already have successful businesses that serve customers every day), test two was a fish identification test followed by each takeaway owner laying the creatures on a table in order of freshness, a task that involved checking for dull, lifeless eyes (mine would have been a great example), bloody gills and a horrible smell. Guest judge Mitch Tonks, a self-proclaimed 'seafood ambassador' ('on matters of UK fishing... his is arguably one of the most erudite, passionate and credible voices out there' he says – about himself – on his own website) gave the fryers some advice before they ranked their fish in order of rankness.
'It should be beautifully slimy,' he said. It was eating fish as an eight-year-old that convinced me to become a vegetarian – I remember fish as savoury jelly filled with haunted matchsticks – so I'm no seafood ambassador but even I know words like 'slimy' do nothing to promote the eating of seafood.
After the fish sniff test, the competitors were challenged to reinvent the wheel by creating a brand new dish, by which stage I was so bored that Cherry's segment on how fish and chips won the war, during which she broke down in tears as she read a letter from Churchill, seemed like light relief.
At the end of it all, Papas were crowned Lord of the Fries although really, it was the people of Yorkshire who won: the restaurant promised that if it took the title, it would serve fish and chips for 1p a portion for day on March 28.
It'll save them a trip to Argentina or Ethiopia for tea.