Picture this: the sun on your skin, the sand between your toes, fingers covered in chicken salt and a flock of hopeful seagulls hovering close by, their horrible little eyes fixated on your chips. Nothing tastes more resolutely of summer than the humble box of fish and chips, so join us as we voyage around Melbourne’s fish and chipperies, dropping anchor at the ten best and, tasting and rating the treasures within.
The best fish and chips in Melbourne
This is by no means your standard take-away corner shop. Tommy Ruff’s even has its own hashtag – #eatwithtommy. The newest outpost of a family of second-generation fryers is in Windsor, and this branch boasts beautiful mosaic-tiled floors, dangling lights and a glowing pirate skull – it’s all rather suave for a fish and chip shop. The menu skips between the traditional – the ‘Rod and Reel’ box contains chubby fish bites, calamari, prawn and herb-salted chips (which are our pick of the crop – crisp outside, fluffy inside and perfectly seasoned) – and more sophisticated menu items like mussels in a tomato and chilli sauce or prawn tacos with a juicy tomato salsa, cabbage slaw and a liberal dollop of smoky chipotle mayonnaise. Charming service means there’s nothing ruff about Tommy.
The nautical decor – photos of salty sea dogs on the walls and Popeye and Olive Oil on the bathroom doors – is an appropriately whimsical backdrop for a fine fish and chip experience in landlocked Fitzroy. The traditional British Fish & Chips gets top marks: a flaky slab of blue grenadier encased in golden tempura batter arches over a bundle of chunky chips. It wouldn’t be complete without a scoop of minted mushy peas, perfectly textured and the colour of Robin Hood’s tights. The chips – hand cut, no less – have more in common with a roasted potato than a French fry, and are the perfect vehicle for tartare. A grilled flake meal deal, with brown rice and a Vietnamese slaw that’s punchy with red chillies, is equally satisfying and an easy way to get a fish supper past your new year resolutions to eat better.
Coburg’s industrial streets are an unlikely location for a fish and chip shop, though the grim concrete view doesn’t deter the crowds, who have good reasons for their loyalty to Blu. The bright, split-level space bustles with tradies grabbing fish burgers, couples cooing over grilled prawns and families sharing gargantuan oval platters laden with fried things. The fried fish tastes fresh and is armoured in a thick, golden batter with reinforcements from crisp and bountiful chips. You definitely want to add a few calamari rings – these supersized beauties are big enough to lasso a shark. From the griller, a blushing-pink salmon fillet is bang on medium rare and pairs beautifully with a pear and rocket salad. Maybe the one-stop-shop element is what ensure the crowds unwavering support. All appetites are catered for, from the humble souvlaki to a luxe supper of cray fish and Moreton bay bugs.
Tank makes a very attractive bolognaise-free proposition amongst Lygon Street’s wall-to-wall Italian stallions. It’s a fresh, bright, pared-back space lit with an azure-tiled communal table and a display cabinet of fresh seafood. Tank’s classic fish and chips are a winner. Mild, sweet flathead is veiled in a pale straw-coloured tempura batter that’s so light and grease-free you’ll forget it’s deep fried; chips are dusted with an addictive herb salt and a flurry of tiny, deep-green fried parsley leaves. A notably tangy tartare seals the deal. Add on a fresh and herbaceous cabbage and carrot coleslaw as a foil to the fry.
Footscray may be renowned more for its pho than its fish, but Ebi serves up excellent Japanese/British fusion fish and chips and it totally works. Try not shouting ‘banzai!’ (hurrah!) as a pudgy, oblong hunk of blue grenadier in bronze beer batter is sprinkled with dried nori and accompanied by a bountiful serve of crunchy chips and sweet kewpie mayonnaise arrives at your table. Order a perky green side salad with Japanese pickles, lotus root and sesame dressing to help negate the grease guilt. This tiny shop also turns out bento boxes, tofu cheesecake and their legendary springy veggie balls that have made them a prime lunch destination for local hospital staff. Surely if health care workers are eating it, that’s a green light for the rest of us?
The words ‘fish market’ evoke images of gumbooted workers spruiking trays of cut-price flake. And while you can purchase fresh fish at the Fish Market in Richmond, it’s more of a polished and comfortable eat-in fish and chipper than a fresh-off-the-docks kind of place. The menu is packed with the classics – fried fish, burgers, grilled seafood, salads and skewers – and they are excellent. Particularly memorable is the light and lacey batter that sheathes the fried fish, on this occasion blue grenadier. Its shatter point makes it a textural wonder. Crisp, stout chips are worth their salt, as are the sweet potato version. Salads – Greek, tabbouleh and Asian slaw – are robust and verdant, not limp and languid affairs and provide a fresh counterpoint to the batter shatter.
Number 844 High Street Thornbury has been a purveyor of fish and chips in Melbourne for so long they remember when rock was young and Elvis was thin. The retro, green-tiled shopfront is currently occupied by Fish on High, whose industrious fryers serve a devoted takeaway crowd – there’s only a few bar stools available inside. A flake fillet comes concealed in a thick batter that is wonderfully gnarly round the edges and chips are plentiful and unashamedly carby – this fare tastes just like the fish and chips of your childhood.
Those planning to hit this old-school, no-nonsense (it’s a chippery without the frippery) joint for their Good Friday fillet should set up camp outside the Chester Street shop now. It gets busy. But if you interpret queues as indicators of quality, you’d be bang on in this case. The fish of the day, typically flake, is sweet, firm and clad in a wrinkly batter. Chips are crisp and thick, and you are accorded the fundamental, but all too rare, human right of choosing your own seasoning (chicken salt, pepper, oregano or vinegar). There are eight choices of dip too if you are a double condiment kind of person. A point of definite note is that the dim sims are a definite cut above the ghoulish approximations that usually haunt chip shops.
Sea Salt’s recent expansion means your crew can now feast indoors from a menu that casts a wide net. The fish and chips is a clean-cut version of the classic, featuring a long, flakey-fresh blue grenadier fillet in crunchy batter alongside pale, pillowy chips. Portions aren’t vast, so plunder the fisherman’s basket for additional crumbed treasures – a bouncy prawn, scallop and a few calamari rings. Flathead fillets in a chilli ginger marinade are a wholesome thrill from the grill; and for those who like their seafood in the raw there’s a sushi bar stocked with hand rolls, sushi and sashimi.
Theo’s is a no-frills fish and chip shop with just a few tables inside and out. It’s geared toward takeaway, with young families and school kids ordering up big. The USP is a gluten-free batter that’s just as crisp and moreish as its gluten-rich counterpart. Theo’s potato cakes, calamari, dim sims and rotating salads are also gluten free. The chips have that manufactured taste that wants a healthy smattering of chicken salt – the hand-cut potato cakes are a better bet. Staff, with all the wrapping skill of ancient Egyptian embalmer-priests, kindly make sure meals are packaged up at the last possible moment to prevent any sogginess.
More cheap eats this way
With so many cheap eats options in Melbourne it's not hard to eat out without breaking the bank. We've got lunch and dinner sorted if you're after a budget feed, so you can save up to go to Melbourne's best restaurants. Pro tip: you can also save a few bucks at some of our favourite BYO restaurants.