Why the ‘humble’ chip is no longer so humble
- Credit: copyright: Archant 2013
Hot chips are cool again and enjoying a starchy renaissance that has put them back at the top of the takeaway menu.
Up until recently, asking for mayonnaise with your chips, Belgian-style, was the height of culinary excitement when it came to the meal that essentially requires nothing more than potatoes, oil and heat.
But now, there are new chips on the chopping block. Whether you want your chips Sunday Roast style or served with a glass of fizz, triple-cooked, a la Heston Blumenthal (who has trademarked his chips, which are each pinpricked 25 times, cooked once, refrigerated and then double-fried) or cooked in beef dripping (Rick Stein), there are plenty of ways to have your chips.
Michelin-starred chef Galton Blackiston has extended his Morston Hall empire by adding a chip shop, ice cream stall and fish restaurant – No1 Cromer - to his portfolio, a project which has already been a stellar success (he missed a trick: I'd have called it The Star Chip Enterprise).
The venture is backed by Galton and Tracy Blackiston, Christopher Griffin, owner of Norfolk Farm Produce which supplies all the potatoes and produce used at the restaurant and takeaway and Spencer Gray, who has strong connections to the coast and whose grandfather used to own a number of local fishing boats that worked from Cromer and King's Lynn.
From a stunning location a stone's throw from the beach and Cromer pier, No1 Cromer has been beautifully refurbished and serves traditional fish and chips in addition to some signature dishes from Galton, such as crab cakes and mushy pea fritters.
Every last detail has been painstakingly researched, from the perfect batter to the sauces made in-house.
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'It's doing amazingly well,' said Galton, who has dreamt of running a chip shop at the coast for years.
'Absolutely hundreds of people are going to the restaurant and the takeaway and I love it as much as I knew I would.'
The Grosvenor Fish Bar, on Lower Goat Lane in Norwich, is putting the 'hip' into chips following a beautiful refit and a link-up with the neighbouring Birdcage pub meaning customers can take their food into the pub if they buy an accompanying drink from the bar.
Customers can choose from a regular menu of fish and chips or more exotic choices such as the Big Mack – mackerel in a bun – Bass with Sass – crispy sea bass in a wrap with spicy mango salsa – Rock and Roll – rock salmon in a roll – baby leaf salad with chips, toad-in-the-hole or banana, apple or pineapple fritters with chocolate or vanilla ice-cream.
The shop, built in the 1700s, has been run by the same family for more than 30 years and is now run by Christian Motta and Duane Dibartolomeo, who have transformed the shop into one of the coolest eateries in Norwich Lanes.
'There's been a chip shop here for 90 years, so we think it must be the oldest chip shop in Norwich,' said Christian, who bought the shop from his father, Mal Motta, who had been serving customers for 45 years.
'I'd been living in New York for 10 years when Dad called and said that he hadn't been able to sell the shop, that he wanted to retire and what did I think about it. I thought: 'there's a project for me…''
An interior designer, Christian set about refitting the shop and giving it a new, modern feel. The menu now reflects the image, with increasing numbers of salads being sold in addition to healthy options.
'I am absolutely loving it,' said Christian, 'I wanted to make the place somewhere people wanted to come, somewhere a bit different, somewhere that really fitted into The Lanes and I think that's what we've done.
'We still have customers who have been coming to us for 30 years and my Dad is really proud of how the shop looks now – he stands outside having a smoke, listening to people talking about the place and he is delighted.
'Fish and chip shops are traditionally quite ugly – all that Formica and fluorescent lighting – but I think that if they're going to survive and thrive in the future, they need to change with the times.'
By Christmas, the downstairs restaurant will open in the undercroft beneath the building and the private parties that the shop holds will be able to accommodate more guests.
'It's going to be beautiful. We just can't wait,' added Christian, who admits he still eats chips 'every single day!'
At Hot Chip, the latest venture from Lord Somerleyton Hugh Crossley, asking for salt and vinegar on your chips would be virtual heresy (although perfectly possible!): the Red Lion Street-based 'chip saloon' boasts a menu that batters practically any other chip shop into submission.
Chips are fried in rapeseed oil and served with a selection of sauces and toppings. Choose from seasonings such as salt and cider, cumin, sumac, salt and pepper, chilli dust or 'chip salad' with herbs and salt and cider vinegar or sauces such as barbecue, garlic and mustard mayonnaise, mushy peas, onion gravy, tartar sauce or curry sauce.
And then there are the Hot Chip Adventures which turn a pot of chips into a meal fit for a chip connoisseur: the New Yorker with beef pastrami, gherkins and melting Swiss Cheese, the Spaniard with pan-fried chorizo, Manchego cheese and quince salsa, the Veggie with pan-fried haloumi cheese and mango salsa or the Sunday Roast with roast beef, peas, horseradish cream and onion gravy are some choices on offer. You can even start the day with a chip breakfast, from chips, ham and egg to a chip, egg and bacon butty.
Somerleyton chef Steve Duffield, who has created the toppings, explained that he had spent almost a year perfecting the sauces that make Hot Chip hot property and that using rapeseed oil ensured the enrobed chips were as healthy as possible.
'I lived and breathed chips for months,' he laughed.
'Hugh came up with what he wanted on the menu and we made them happen in the kitchen. If it sounds easy – making sauces to go on chips – I can assure that it isn't. You have to make sure you're not serving soggy chips, that the sauce is just right and that the ratio of chip to sauce is perfect.
'I used to think about chips all the time, and they're not even on the menu at Somerleyton's restaurant.'
Steve, whose personal favourite sauce to enjoy with chips is garlic mayonnaise or curry sauce, said that a sweet sauce is currently in the experimental stage.
'When Hugh first suggested a mint choc chip sauce I laughed and he said: 'no, I'm serious'. I'm still warming to the idea of potatoes, chocolate and mint syrup, but we're getting there. It's about getting the chip for a sweet sauce right. I'm working on it!'
For those who still prefer their fish and chips without frills (or chocolate), there are plenty of shops still serving the more traditional fare.
I would be (rightly) lynched without mentioning my favourite chip shop in Norfolk in a celebration of the county's chip shops, Barrons Fish Bar on Norwich Road in New Costessey, which I have been visiting since I was four-years-old and a pupil at the nearby Costessey Infant School.
The shop is yet to serve fish and chips with gourmet sauces (unless you count the curry sauce in a pot) but you'd struggle to find batter. Better. See you on Saturday, Barrons.
Grosvenor Fish Bar, 28 Lower Goat Lane, NR2 1EL, 01603 625855, www.fshshop.com.
Hot Chip, 29/31 Orford Place (Red Lion Street), Norwich, NR1 3QA, 01603 761030, www.myhotchip.co.uk.
No 1 Fish and Chips, New Street, Cromer, NR27 9HP, 01263 512316.
Barrons Fish Bar, 85 Norwich Road, NR5 0EU, 01603 742357.
For more information, visit www.norfolkfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk and www.edp24.co.uk/what-s-on/norfolk-food-and-drink-festival where you will find recipes, quizzes, interviews and more.