My Leeds born and bred father endearingly labelled them ‘fish and nerks’, or occasionally ‘land and sea’. Depending on the county boundaries you reside, a deep fried takeaway food whose quality and cooking style differs markedly.
Thankfully for those of us lucky enough to grace the fields, avenues and alleyways east of the Pennine Hills, west of the North Sea coastline, south of Scotch Corner and north of Derbyshire/Notts, when it comes to procuring good quality fish and chips, in my view our eateries reign supreme.
Of course there are exceptions. For instance, prior to COVID induced travel disruption, I’d an excellent fish and chip lunch from a Morecambe restaurant. A battered smorgasbord which, after consumption, led me to comment I’d just experienced the finest thing to emanate from the Lancashire town since Eric Bartholomew.
Footnote – The very same Eric Bartholomew who teamed up with Yorkshire’s own Ernie Wiseman schooled in the East Ardsley village I now reside. The duo eventually becoming Morecambe & Wise; creating a legacy as one of the most popular entertainment double acts in the 20th century.
When it came to procuring a decent portion of fish and chips, my childhood was a tough one. My dad’s move from our Leeds home in the late 1960’s to Tyneside, for job progression, subjecting me to fledgling years where the fish wasn’t skinned pre-battering. The deep frying oil used tasting more like Castrol GTX, than the flavoursome beef dripping oft utilised in the white rose county.
Consequently, apart from familial visits back to Leeds and holidays, it was rare we’d partake in a fish and nerk tea. From memory there was one shop called Bimbi’s in the town of Birtley, just south of Gateshead, whose quality was decent. However, I recall the cost being pretty prohibitive. As I’m struggling to recall any chippys close to my childhood home which produced decent quality deep fried fare, it’s fair to say Bimbi’s was very much the exception rather than the rule.
When I moved to Bedfordshire in 1987, on undertaking a role at a London financial institution, land and sea quality got even worse. At times, the fare not only bearing fish skin but also, on occasion, not even properly boned. Culinary sacrilege in my eyes.
My parents moved back to their beloved West Yorkshire in 1989, after my dad’s role moved to Ossett. It was only then, during the many tarries to see Margaret and Malcolm, did the regular troughing of top quality fish suppers become part of my existence.
Ordinarily, I’d ensure the 300 mile round trips from Bedfordshire to West Yorkshire coincided with a Leeds United home game. Fish and chips became part of my son, brother, cousin and yours truly’s match day ritual. On the way to Elland Road, stopping to lunch at either East Ardsley’s Main Street Fisheries, or Mermaid Fisheries (of Morley parish). Both establishments becoming habitual ‘warm up’ acts for the later sporting contest.
The brio borne from this ritual becoming very much part of the match day routine. A segment of the day which never disappointed. My party unable to guarantee how the rest of the day would pan out, but we could always rely on the esprit provided by the pre-game lunch.
I moved back to Leeds in 1996. For health reasons, I don’t eat fish and chips that frequently these days, however when in the vicinity of a chippy plying its trade I find the temptation to enter the premises overwhelming. Like a sailor in Greek Mythology, lured to their death by a Siren’s sweet song, the redolence of the frying fare metaphorically lassoes me towards the eatery.
Once inside, while queueing, I vow to myself I’ll just buy a portion of chips. Concluding anything else, when I’m later partaking in a large evening meal, would be gluttonous in the extreme. However, while slowly edging closer to the till, sight of the crisp battered fish destroys any semblance of self-discipline I’d left.
Consequently, when yours truly reaches the queue front, the only words I seem capable of uttering are “Fish, chips and scraps please.”
For the uninitiated, scraps are the pieces of batter which fall from the fish as it’s being deep fried. Although, in many areas of Yorkshire, they’re colloquially known as bits not scraps. For the bits camp, scraps are what happen in rougher alehouses at a weekend.
In the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, my paternal grandfather owned a popular chip shop in Gildersome. The eatery’s site located on land which later became Birstall junction (27) on the M62 motorway.
Sadly, unlike the owners of Stott Hall Farm, which stands between the eastbound and westbound carriageways, my grandad sold up the land instead of refusing to shift. In doing so robbing Yorkshire of the being the first county to have a chippy smack between motorway carriageways. Commercial lunacy, of course; however, as a writer of whimsy, that image of me and my siblings inheriting such a place humours me.
My love of this traditional deep fried dish (when prepared in Yorkshire chippys) means, although I able to walk Ilkley Moor bah t’at, I can’t walk past Main Street Fisheries bah fish, chips and scraps.