Like many other classic British dishes, we have immigration to thank for fish and chips (and we’re not talking about curry sauce). Fish battered and fried in oil was introduced to Britain by Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. The first fish-and-chip shop was opened by Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, in Bow around 1860, while the first fish-and-chip restaurant was launched by Samuel Isaacs, the first-generation son of Whitechapel Jewish migrants, in 1896.
By the early 20th century, the dish had become so embedded in the national psyche that the British government safeguarded its supply during the First World War, while fish and chips was exempt from rationing during World War II, when Winston Churchill described the combo of fish and chips as “the good companions”.
The capital’s restaurant scene may have diversified significantly in more recent years, but plenty of plaices (sorry) still serve up superb, sustainable fish and chips — though with the rising cost of everything from gas and electricity to fish and oil, one third of British fish-and-chip shops could soon be forced to close.
Cod has historically been preferred in the south of England and haddock in the north, though these days it’s a matter of personal taste rather than geographical loyalty. Tender cod contrasts with crunchy batter and its delicate flavour makes a bland conduit for salt and vinegar; haddock has a fishier taste and a firmer texture that doesn’t flake apart as much, so is arguably better for a takeaway fish supper eaten on the go.
But whether you prefer cod or haddock, curry sauce or gravy, mushy peas or a wally, here are the best fish and chip restaurants in London, from retro caffs to luxury seafood hotspots. One thing, however, is not up for debate: always put the vinegar on first, otherwise you’re just washing away the salt.
Black-cab drivers might be a reliable guide as to which West End hotspots are flavour of the month but for a true taste of insider London it’s even better to ask a cabbie where they themselves like to eat. Follow the off-duty TX4s snaking round the back streets of Waterloo to find Masters Superfish, beloved not only of cabbies but anyone in search of good-value sustenance before or after a long shift (it doesn’t open until 4.30pm). Fish — everything from cod and haddock to plaice, skate, squid, huss and rock salmon — is delivered fresh each day from Billingsgate Market before being plunged into the deep-fat fryer; possibly the best way to enjoy a meal here is to detach the batter to savour by itself and smear mushy peas over the fish exposed underneath. Each to their own, however, though we’d strongly recommend avoiding the cod fried in mustard.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £10.75
191 Waterloo Road, SE1 8UX, 020 7928 6924
This Soho chip shop’s sustainable fish selection is cooked to order in its homemade batter and fried to perfection in a blend of oils. The chips really are exceptional — fantastically fluffy and as golden as the restaurant’s neon logo sign would suggest — while the fish comes as cod, haddock, pollock, coley and plaice, with sides of curry sauce, mushy peas and gravy as extra. Non-battered options include fishcakes and steaming hot pies (made in-house daily too) and there are vegan options as well. In a hurry? Go for a fish butty and jam as many chips as you can between the slices of soft white roll.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £14.95
38 Poland Street, W1F 7LY, goldenunion.co.uk
Poppies has a whole lot of history. Founder Pops started working in the fish-and-chip business back in 1952 — he opened his first solo restaurant half a century later, but the restaurants have been retro-styled to take diners back to early 50s East End London. But it’s quality not quirk that counts, with hefty fillets of fish — haddock for purists, halibut for poshos — supplied fresh on a daily basis by a third-generation Billingsgate fishmonger, while crunchy batter also makes a good impression. There are jellied eels for the full East End experience, though our absolute favourite thing to order here is scampi, made from chunky sweet-flavoured tails rather than an unidentifiable defrosted mush and well worth the extra wait. The original Brick Lane location has proved so popular that it’s been joined by branches in Spitalfields, Soho and Camden.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips from £13.95
E1, NW1, W1, poppiesfishandchips.co.uk
London isn’t short on historic restaurants and yet it can only be snobbishness that prevents the Golden Hind, established in 1914, being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Rules, Wiltons and Bentley’s. The fish is fried in groundnut oil with a batter that is light rather than lumpy, and the chips are gently not ferociously fried, which makes this place a good bet for anyone who genuinely enjoys fish rather than merely seeing it as a conduit for fat; cod, haddock, skate and plaice can also be ordered steamed with olive oil and oregano. Elsewhere are the expected starters of cod fishcakes and prawn cocktail and dreamy puddings of apple crumble and jam sponge with custard. The best thing of all to order here, though, are the mozzarella or feta cheese fritters that pay tribute to both Italian and Greek ownership over the years, a starter that works just as well as a side order. Reasonably smart interiors make the higher-than-average prices easier to swallow.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £18.45
71a-73 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PN, goldenhindrestaurant.com
Since opening in 1968, this Muswell Hill chippie has been repeatedly voted among the UK’s best fish shops. That’ll be due to the crunchy batter (available as matzo too), juicy fish and fluffy-centred chips — plus the unbeatably warm welcome. Toff’s is as much of a restaurant as a fish shop, though, and while traditional cod, scampi and skate are on offer, the extensive menu also includes Dover sole, halibut and sea bass, plus fish soup to start and a knockout syrup sponge with custard for pud — though kids might prefer an ice cream from Marine Ices, another vintage North London favourite. To drink, the short French wine list includes Moët & Chandon by the bottle to prove the theory that Champagne’s high acidity makes it the perfect partner to cut through the fattiness of fish and chips.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £16.95
38 Muswell Hill Broadway, N10 3RT, toffsfish.co.uk
Olley’s Fish Experience
Olley’s Fish Experience may sound like an aquarium attraction, but it’s actually a Herne Hill chippie named for the mention fish and chips gets in Oliver Twist. The Dickens references extend to the decor, modelled after the mid-1800s, even if the chippie actually opened in 1987. Olley’s may look to the past but its ethos is bang up to date, not least in a policy of only using sustainably sourced fish and seafood that has a high-profile fan in Jamie Oliver. The cooking, however, is as traditional as it comes, with scampi, whitebait and calamari followed by cod, haddock and plaice (fried, grilled or steamed), with perhaps a pea fritter on the side; much of the menu can be prepared without gluten, too. Fancy making a picnic of it? Olley’s is just over the road from Brockwell Park.
How much? Cod and chips, £11
65-69 Norwood Road, SE24 9AA, olleys.info
“Central” if you find yourself in the middle of the no-man’s-land between Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, this long-standing fish restaurant (originally opened in 1968) cheers up a bleak concrete plaza with the glow of light from within in winter and alfresco seating outside in summer. No-one, however is here for the setting; instead, cod, haddock and plaice are fried fresh to order with sides of chips, mushy peas and bread and butter and served up at bargain-basement prices that make the off-piste location feel like a delicious discovery, not least a three-course set offering prawn cocktail, fish and chips and a pudding (sticky toffee for preference) for £16.95. It’s not just battered fish here though: one might order pan-fried scallops, smoked haddock in filo pastry or chargrilled Dover sole with creamed potatoes, though it would be a shame to pass up those chips.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £9.90
149-155 Central Street, EC1V 8AP, 020 7253 4970
The takeaway menu at this pair of independent East London restaurants (Hackney and Stratford) is chip shop through and through — you can even enjoy your rock and chips with a pickled wally. Sit down inside, however, and it’s a different story. Yes, there’s super-fresh fish fried to order, served with pillowy soft chips. But Fish House is more like a seafood restaurant that just happens to have fish and chips on the menu, the sort of globally influenced diner one might find in a smart beachside suburb of Sydney. Zingy fried fish tacos with lime and coriander slaw are what the place is famous for, or there’s lightly battered tiger prawns with sriracha aioli, and a bowl of teriyaki baked salmon with quinoa, avocado, radish and sesame, for which buttered kale seems a better partner than chips.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £14.50
128 Lauriston Road, E9 7LH and 36-39 Victory Parade, E20 1FS, fishouse.co.uk
Sutton & Sons
A Stoke Newington favourite from a family who run a fishmongers on the same street, this chirpy chippy now also has branches in Hackney and Islington. Classic cod, haddock and plaice are deep-fried, trout, mackerel and sea bass are grilled, while elsewhere, whitebait comes breaded, calamari battered and prawns tempura’d, plus pretty much everything is prepared in house, from the hand-peeled chips to the homemade condiments. Fancier specials include ceviche, sashimi and seafood platters while the chip shop now also boasts a vegan menu at all locations, with a varied selection of fried “fish” including banana blossom, tofish and “scampi”, alongside a mock “prawn” cocktail and a fishcake with no fish. Sutton & Sons is licensed, too, with a short selection of big-name beers and a trio of house wines.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £13.95
E8, N1, N16, suttonandsons.co.uk
A matte black frontage and red neon sign indicate that Seventeen is a little bit cooler than the other fast-food outlets clustered around Balham tube. Inside, white tiled walls, grainy wooden benches and dangling filament lights continue the hipster styling, but the old-school cooking is comfort all the way. A mercifully short menu has fried cod, haddock and scampi, plus a four-piece plate of “fish bites” that’s great for kids; there’s a cod burger, too, retro extras include pickled onions and eggs and a monstrous pickled gherkin. Wash it all down with house red and white, though Camden Hells and Pale Ale are really the thing to drink here (or Ribena for the kids).
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £12.95
17 Chestnut Grove, SW12 8JA, 020 3417 4210
The Mayfair Chippy
Proper chip-shop priorities and contemporary seafood dining collide at The Mayfair Chippy. First and foremost it’s all about fish and chips which, if not exactly priced for the end of the pier, is cheaper than one might pay in one of the better-known Mayfair seafood restaurants. The “Mayfair Classic” (£19.25) offers the best value for money, serving up fried cod or haddock with chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce, with a choice of HP gravy or curry sauce. Making a meal of it? There’s heritage tomato salad, salt-and-pepper squid and battered king prawns to start, sticky date pudding, warm chocolate pudding and knickerblocker glory for afters, and a white-led wine list with a dozen by the glass. And because this is Mayfair, less traditional dishes include a soft-shell crab burger, mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and parsley, and vegan fish and chips made with jackfruit and tofu. Fancy.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £16.75
14 North Audley Street, W1K 6WE, mayfairchippy.com
Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill
A few rungs above your traditional chippy on the luxury scale, Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill offers a high-end take on the Friday-night stalwart. The legendary Mayfair restaurant — est. 1916 and owned by Irish chef Richard Corrigan since 2005 — specialises in fine seafood with contemporary, worldly cooking across the menu, but Corrigan has a keen eye for comfort food and the merits of a British classic. The fish part involves haddock from Cornwall or the Shetland Isles, encased in a batter made fresh each service with Bentley’s own lager and served with homemade tartare sauce; the chips are handcut and there’s a dollop of mushy peas, too. The steep price might suggest ordering fish and chips in the posh dining room on the first floor, but a red-leather high chair at the ground-floor oyster bar is by far the most fun place to sit here.
How much? Fish and chips, £26.50
11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG, bentleys.org
Fish fried in matzo might give the crisply-coated specimens at this West Hampstead classic a vividly orange hue but it does make the huge portions of cod and haddock extending over the edges of the plate sit more lightly on the stomach. Chips fried in groundnut oil are similarly grease-free and, given that the approach means you can actually taste the fish that you’re eating, halibut or Dover sole are good shouts here, too. If the cheery blue and white frontage isn’t a clue as to the Greek ownership, the hummus, tarama and bottles of Cypriot Keo beer are the giveaway.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £13.50
27-29 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DU, 020 7435 2532
Truly a name to get the mouth watering, Fryer’s Delight has combined two London food institutions — a fish and chip shop and a greasy-spoon café — under one roof for 54 years. Haddock comes steaming inside a golden batter that cracks with a tap of the fork, the chips are cooked to order and fried in beef-dripping while the mushy peas are, as they should be, more like a dipping-and-dunking sauce than anything resembling a vegetable. Elsewhere on the menu are chip butties, vinegar-doused fish cakes and pickled cucumbers, all washed down with steaming mugs of builders’ brew in an interior of checkerboard floors and formica tables. It sounds kitsch but Fryer’s Delight is the real deal, overseen by Portuguese-born long-term proprietor Osvaldo “Ozzy” Bartolo, who took over from the original Italian owners in 1998.
How much? Cod or haddock and chips, £10.75
9 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8SL, 020 7405 4114