The Fry Awards have announced the UK’s best fish and chip shops have revealed after a secret taste test.
Out of the 500 businesses up and down the country to enter this year’s competition, just 50 takeaways and ten restaurants made it onto the winner’s list.
The shops are put through their paces, being subject to not one but two visits from mystery diners who then rigorously score the establishment on a number of criteria.
Most important, of course, are the three main ingredients that go into making the homely classic meal. That is, the fish, the chips and the batter.
But then there’s all the other stuff that makes fish and chips the classic British institution many of us know and love – the service with a smile, the ease of ordering and overall lasting impressions.
With that in mind, MailOnline decided to put three of the winners to test. The taste test that is. Here are the results…
Fish Kitchen 1854, Maesycwmmer, Caerphilly – £9.45 regular cod supper
Reporter Harry Hawkins with his cod supper from Fish Kitchen 1854 in Maesycwmmer, Caerphilly, which he rated a 5/5
A regular cod supper will set you back £9.45
Our reporter said: Let’s face it, I am a bit of a fish and chip snob. I grew up in a seaside town where competition for the best takeaway was fierce.
And on the face of it, a small roadside takeaway in a village 25 miles from the coast doesn’t sound like it will meet my self-imposed standards, but we shall see.
Fish Kitchen 1854 in Maesycwmmer, Caerphilly, is owned by high school headteacher Lee Humphreys, 45, and run by his wife Samantha, 43, along with his parents Carol, 67, and Gary, 66, after they bought the dilapidated former Chinese restaurant for just £40,000 at auction and opened in November 2018.
‘It was a family dream’, said mother-of-two Sam who takes on the day-to-day running of the business along with her in-laws Carol and Garry while Lee takes on his day job as a teacher.
Carol Humphries, 67, runs Fitch Kitchen 1854, along with husband Gary, 66, and her son Lee, 45
Harry’s verdict: On first taste it is easy to see how the food impressed the judges
The family transformed the once crumbling kitchen into a smart and tidy shopfront with gleaming fryers and in just over four years the business has not only gained a popular following with customers travelling from far and wide for a fish supper but earlier this month came second in the Takeaway of the Year at The National Fish and Chip Awards 2023.
Sam manages the takeaway through the week while husband Lee helps out two nights a week after his classes finish 20 miles away at Pencoedtre High School in Barry.
Sam said: ‘The secret to the success is buying the best local potatoes, the best fish and the best oil you can, and then making sure it’s service with a smile.
‘We try to keep the food simple, yet also have a bit of creativity when needed.’
Staff at the Fish Kitchen 1854, which has been named in the UK’s top 50 fish and chip takeaways
Open for business: The Fish Kitchen 1854 is a traditional family-run establishment
I’m told this ‘creativity’ included a French-themed menu for last weekend’s Six Nations game between France and Wales, with deep-fried frogs legs as part of the serving which also included garlic mushrooms, camembert and brie.
‘We called it the Ooooh Laaaa Laaa and it went down a storm – we should have ordered double the amount of frogs’ legs to be honest,’ she said.
I ask about the significance of the year ‘1854’ in the business’ name and am pointed towards the huge Hengoed Viaduct built by Victorian engineers during the industrial revolution.
Sam told me: ‘We have a storyboard inside telling of the industrial heritage of this area. It’s important that people know the stories of our past.’
It is early lunchtime when I visit, but already locals are popping in for a bite to eat and it’s time to put the award-winning meals to the test.
Carol is behind the till and tells me that customers often travel 15 or 20 miles to pick up their fish suppers for a weekend treat – and have even had visitors from across the border in England.
‘We have people from right across the Valleys and up in Monmouth come and visit – one lady even came down from Hereford last weekend,’ she says ‘she had heard about our award and wanted to give us a try.’
It’s high praise and I’m expecting good things and when presents chunky-looking chips and a golden fillet of cod in a firm takeaway box with a fresh slice of lemon everything looks the part.
The meal is then suitably slathered in lashings of salt and vinegar before I dive in.
On first taste it is easy to see how the food impressed the judges. The chips are firm and crisp on the outside without being too greasy and yet fluffy on the inside with a distinctive potato flavour.
The fish is also excellent; it is delicate, moist and flaky and is devoured quicker than expected.
The whole meal is a treat from start to finish and one that I would happily revisit in future. Once this one is digested, of course.
The Humphreys’ are already juggling family life, a business and a school but plan on opening a second takeaway in nearby Bargoed later this year.
If Fish Kitchen 1854 is anything to go by then it is sure to also be a big success.
Stones Fish and Chips, Acton, west London – £10.95 regular cod supper with a side of mushy peas
Our reporter said: Having spoken before about the ‘heaviness’ of a traditional fish & chips, the Stones meal was surprisingly light and far less greasy than other takeaways.
The tartare sauce was the perfect accompaniment for the fish, and though the mushy peas weren’t too appealing to look at, the taste was great.
Overall, it was the best fish and chips have had in years – and certainly the best I’ve ever had in London.
The food – as well as the service – was of a restaurant-quality standard.
My trusty photographer equally enjoyed the meal and, although he usually isn’t a fan of mushy peas, said he was surprised that he finished the peas from Stones.
A regular cod supper with a side of mushy peas will set you back £10.95 at Stones Fish and Chips in west London, the only London establishment to make the list. The tartare sauce is an extra £1
Owner of Stones Fish and Chips, in west London, Amine Chaouche, who started the business less than four years ago with no catering experience
During the visit, I got speaking to the shop’s owner, a French Algerian man, who started the business less than four years ago with no catering experience.
Stones Fish & Chips has been serving Britain’s national dish since 2019, and say their key ingredient is the ‘heart and passion’ they put into making their food.
It’s also the only chippy in London to make the Fry Awards’ UK top 50.
Despite an endless selection of international cuisines on offer in the capital, hungry food lovers from all over travel to the eaterie in Acton, West London, to try the increasingly famous cod & chips they serve with their homemade tartare sauce.
Owner Amine Chaouche knew very little about fish & chips when he bought the restaurant in November 2019.
But the 41-year-old, who with his family has called London home for the past eight years, became obsessive in his pursuit to serve the most perfect fish and chips possible.
Stones Fish and Chips was named among the top 50 fish and chip takeaways in the UK at the Fry Awards 2023
Owner of Stones Fish and Chips, in west London, Amine Chaouche knew very little about fish & chips when he bought the restaurant in November 2019
Now, he’s immensely proud to be named as the only shop in the capital only the Fry Awards’ list of the best fish & chip shops across the UK.
Father-of-three Mr Chaouche explained: ‘It’s a great achievement.
‘We are very proud and have put a lot of effort and lots of training into our product.
‘In the beginning it was not so easy… I had never worked in a kitchen before.
‘I made a lot of mistakes at the start, but I went on courses with the National Federation of Fish Friers on how to source and cook the perfect fish and chips.
‘This is the result of lots of effort: we want to serve great fish and chips at a good value price.
‘I’m very happy and glad to contribute to the British culture in keeping the industry going and increasing the standards of the food.’
A cod and chips with one side – curry sauce, mushy peas, baked beans or gravy – at Stones costs £10.95, whilst a small portion of chips costs £2.95 and a large portion £4.40.
James’ verdict: It was the best fish and chips have had in years – and certainly the best I’ve ever had in London
Father-of-three and owner of Stones Fish and Chips Mr Chaouche said the award was a ‘great achievement’
Burgers – with a cod or 6oz beef patty – costs £8.65, whilst a chicken breast burger is £8.25 and a veggie burger costs £6.35, with an option to turn the burger into a meal with chips and a drink for an extra £3.
Stones’ homemade tartare sauce – a must-try – is also available for £1, and a jumbo sausage is £2.20.
Customers online describe Stones as a ‘proper fish & chip shop’ with ‘delicious’ cod.
But despite the restaurant’s continued success, Mr Chaouche says cooking fish and chips is becoming increasingly expensive.
‘Fish and oil are expensive, and we use a lot of energy in cooking our product,’ he said.
‘It makes it harder for us to keep our prices low.
Stones Fish & Chips (shop interior pictured) has been serving Britain’s national dish since 2019 – and say their key ingredient is the ‘heart and passion’ they put into making their food
Customers online describe Stones as a ‘proper fish & chip shop’ with ‘delicious’ cod
‘Traditional fish and chips are dying out a bit in London… It’s a cosmopolitan city. But we have lots of tourists coming to eat with us; there are some hotels not far from the shop.
‘Many foreign nationalities from all different backgrounds love fish and chips, and often people come for their first fish and chips here and say they love it.
‘It’s unprocessed food: fillet of fish and potato – it’s raw and unprocessed. It’s simple, natural and, cooked in the right way, healthy to eat.’
Mr Chaouche adds he does not agree with criticisms of British cuisine.
‘I have heard this idea that British food is not as good as Europe. I think, to be honest, cooking good fish and chips is something you have to be skilled in.
‘There are lots of details to make a great fish and chips, lots of parameters.’
On the secret to the best fish and chips, Mr Chaouche added: ‘The secret is to cook with great ingredients, always keep the oil clean and cook at the right temperature – around 185 degrees.
‘And always cook fresh to order. Fish and chips is very fragile; the moment you take it out it starts to break apart.
‘It’s important to deliver a great product – fish and chips is the national dish.
‘We cook with heart and passion. I’m not saying the others don’t, but we do it with heart and passion.
‘We want our customers to love our food.’
Mr Chaouche himself opts for a classic cod and chips with tartare sauce, and tomato ketchup on his chips.
His French wife, Najett, who is also 41 and works in the pharmaceutical industry, helps with any paperwork for the shop, and the couple have three young children together aged six, three and three months.
Mr Chaouche added of Stones’ inclusion as the only London restaurant on the Fry Awards’ list: ‘It’s good recognition of the effort we put into our business.
‘It shows that fish and chips are not dead in London – we are maintaining it to the highest standards.’
The restaurant is now gearing up for its busiest day of the year – Good Friday, when Christians traditionally eat fish instead of meat.
In terms of a normal week, Mr Chaouche says the Friday night rush, which intensifies from around 5:30 to 7:30, is their busiest time.
Croft Street Fisheries, Farsley, Leeds – £10.50 regular cod supper with a side of curry sauce
Our reporter said: Nestled between a Co-Op and a butchers in Farsley’s picturesque high street, the family-run Croft Street Fisheries in Farsley, Leeds has been ranked among the best 50 chippies in the UK for five consecutive years.
The list, announced by Fry Awards, is drawn up after judges go into premises unannounced and secretly scrutinise the quality of food, service and overall customer experience.
Secret diners pay two visits to chippies and mark them out of 100.
The tiny chippy, which often sees customers queuing round the block for their fix of award-winning fish and chips, was ranked 97% and 98% for their visits.
And it’s easy to see why after visiting the small team to see them in action.
For owner Jess Chandler-Bunyan, 31, fish and chips is in the blood.
Nestled between a Co-Op and a butchers in Farsley’s picturesque high street, the family-run Croft Street Fisheries in Farsley, Leeds has been ranked among the best 50 chippies in the UK for five consecutive years
She started working in her dad’s previous chippy when she was just 13 and later went on to work for her brother Rafael when he took over the Croft Street shop.
She even met her husband, Chris, while working behind the counter in the business, before he left to pursue a career in the fire service.
Jess finished third in the Young Fish Fryer awards in 2011, before leaving the industry to take a 9-5 admin job.
But when her brother was looking to sell up and buy another chippy five years ago – which has this year also made the list of best 50 takeaway fish and chip shops – he encouraged her to take it off his hands.
As well as being ranked in the top 50 takeaways, they have also been recognised for their quality by the National Fish Friers Federation, the industry body
For owner Jess Chandler-Bunyan, 31, fish and chips is in the blood. Other than the odd tweak to uniform and introducing calamari to the menu, Jess hasn’t changed much since taking from her brother
Jess said: ‘He’s been my role model, he’s been the one I look up to. He owns Hillycroft Fisheries in Morley, that’s also on the top 50 list.
‘He grew so much here and did what he wanted, but he wanted to buy another place and do the same there.
‘He called me and said ‘let’s keep it in the family’.’
Other than the odd tweak to uniform and introducing calamari to the menu, Jess hasn’t changed much since taking from her brother.
She believes it is that consistency that keeps customers coming back and the accolades coming.
As well as being ranked in the top 50 takeaways, they have also been recognised for their quality by the National Fish Friers Federation, the industry body.
And while Jess, a mum-of-one, now largely takes a backseat and oversees her seven staff, she can still be seen mucking in frying fish and serving customers when needed.
She said: ‘My role now almost incorporates the two. I do the admin side of things, I look after all the paperwork, but I still fry, I still serve customers. I love it.’
When Mail Online visited the shop, she served us a delicious fish, chips and curry sauce meal.
As we tucked in to the hearty meal, she explained the process behind the quality.
She said: ‘It’s about consistency. For a long time, nobody knew I’d taken over. I’ve kept the same staff and kept everything the same.
‘People like that consistency, they like to know they’re getting quality every time.
‘Fish and chips is a natural product, it can be hard to get that consistency. For example, potatoes are a seasonal vegetable, so in June when the new potatoes are out, they might be a bit softer.
While Jess, a mum-of-one, now largely takes a backseat and oversees her seven staff, she can still be seen mucking in frying fish and serving customers when needed
‘Some people don’t like them like that, they prefer a crispier chip, so while we might not get it exactly like that 100% of the time, we will try to get as close as we can.
‘We buy specific fish so that when you bite into out fillet, you get a good quality chunk every time.’
Jess and her team – including main friers Steven Brook, 32, and Julie Daniels, 49, – still use the same trusty range her brother bought in 2008 to fry their fish and chips.
She said: ‘Some people say we should get a new one, but we’ve looked after it. That was a major investment from my brother who saw the potential of the shop. It was a gamble, but its paid off.
‘Julie has worked here for about 16 years, she’s part of the furniture. A good frier knows when a fish is cooked without even having to look at it. You can hear it.
‘I can be in the kitchen washing up and I can hear it frying and I know its ready.’
Jess said: ‘Fish and chips has traditionally been seen as a poor man’s meal, but with the cost of living and the price of gas and products, we’ve had no option to put our prices up’
Our meal, fish, chips and curry sauce, set us back £10.50, but it was a high quality serving
The shop has a social media presence, Jess runs the Facebook and Instagram pages, and two websites – one for information and one to facilitate online orders.
But it is the regular walk-ins that Jess says are the shops lifeblood.
She added: ‘We have people who come in at the same time, on the same day, every week.
‘Fish and chips has traditionally been seen as a poor man’s meal, but with the cost of living and the price of gas and products, we’ve had no option to put our prices up.
‘We have seen those people who would come in two or three times a week reduce the amount of times they come in, but I think we are still competitively priced compared with other takeaway options.
‘People that come here know what they want. If I took the menu down, we’d probably have two people ask to see a menu in a week.’
Our meal, fish, chips and curry sauce, set us back £10.50, but it was a high quality serving.
The chips, sprinkled generously with salt and vinegar, were perfect and the fish was delicious.
The curry sauce, a personal favourite, added that extra flavour and avoided a dreaded dry chip that northerners notoriously despise. A solid 5/5 rating.