Get us in your inbox

Fish and chips
Steve Beech

Why is it impossible to get good fish and chips in London?

They’re great at the seaside, but usually crap in the capital. Why can’t London get our national dish right?

Ella Doyle
Written by
Ella Doyle

‘For me, it starts with a good-quality potato,’ says Kelly Barnes, owner of Krispies in Devon. The family-run fish and chip shop was crowned the best in the UK at 2019’s National Fish & Chip Awards. It’s not a title regularly won by a London establishment. 

‘There are some great places for fish and chips in London, but they can be few and far between,’ says London food blogger and Kent native Nicola King (@eastlondongirlblog). ‘The focus in London just doesn’t seem to be on fish and chips. It’s more of a seaside craze. There’s just something special about eating fish and chips at the beach.’ 

But hold up. Sure, we haven’t got the actual seaside in the capital, but it would be perfectly feasible to get the good stuff here. You could eat it perched on a wall with a wooden fork for the ambience, or straight from your lap in the car. We’re hardly short of great seafood restaurants, after all.

London gets a hell of a lot of cuisines right (okay, not Mexican), but it just doesn’t nail good old fish and chips. So how can it be that in a city famed globally for its delicious and diverse food scene, we can’t serve the one dish it’s actually kind of famous for?

The tourist traps

Well, this is London, after all… ‘There are a few good ones in the capital,’ says Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers. Crook owns his own fish and chip shop, Skippers of Euxton, in Lancashire, which opened in 2007. ‘But London,’ he says, ‘is made for tourists.’ 

Andrew Crook at his fish and chip shop Skippers in Euxton, Lancashire
Photograph: Tim EmmertonAndrew Crook owns Skippers fish and chip shop in Euxton, Lancashire

It’s true: if you’re a London pub hoping to get tourist trade, you have to serve fish and chips. And in that case, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s proper or not. A bit like when Americans on TikTok eat ‘British food’ on their holiday to London and they’re devouring the saddest-looking steak pie you’ve ever seen. 

This is particularly the case in West End-type pubs flying Union Jacks. ‘To be honest, when I’ve been in the pubs, they don’t do a bad job,’ says Crook, ‘but it’s just not the same as a fish and chip shop.’

But apparently, even the proper chippies in the capital do things a little differently to some of their seaside counterparts. ‘A lot of fish and chip shops in London are very traditional,’ says Barnes. ‘They use an old-style frier, which sort of drops the temperature of the chips when you throw them in, and probably creates a soggier chip.’

Nowadays, chip shops like Krispies are much more high-tech – all Dutch frying ranges and batterologists and Icelandic fish from the Barents Sea. Light, crisp batters. Less greasy newspaper. 

It ain’t cheap

Another fish and chips tradition? It’s meant to be cheap. It became popular in the UK in the nineteenth century as a convenience food for the poor working-class, who often didn’t have any access to cooking facilities. At the height of its popularity in the 1930s, there were more than 35,000 fish and chip shops in this country. In the early 2000s, that had dropped to below 10,000. At the same, the ‘chip supper’ stopped being an everyday cheap treat. Fish and Chip Fridays are supposed to come in at £20 for a family or well under a tenner for one, but chip shops are suffering badly – and owning any kind of shop in London is becoming ever-more expensive. People just don’t want to pay London prices for a battered sausage in a paper tube. 

If the government doesn’t step in we’re going to see masses of fish and chip shops go out of business

Owners might be trying to keep prices down, says Crook, but the energy crisis has been a final hit after oil prices went mad and seafood imports from Russia got slapped with a 35 percent tariff. ‘We’re at the 11th hour,’ says Crook. ‘If the government doesn’t step in we’re going to see masses of fish and chip shops go out of business.

‘And an energy cap isn’t good enough for my industry, because we’re in a much more serious situation because of the products we use.’ (For a bit of context, in a single week, the average chippy uses around 200 litres of oil and 54kg of fish, both of which now cost an arm and a leg). 

So it looks like the London £15.99 cod and chips might be here to stay. But if we want the traditional British fish and chip shop to stick around in London, we’d better get used to coughing up. After all, ‘it’s 160 years old, it survived two world wars and it’s really important, especially at the moment,’ says Barnes. ‘Fish and chips is about memories, whether you’re by the seaside or in Leicester Square.’ 

Good news: here are the London fish and chip shops that are actually great.

And: these are officially the best fish and chip shops in the UK.


    More on Love Local

      You may also like
      You may also like
      Bestselling Time Out offers