Fish and Chips are Britain's most recognizable culinary export. The dish dates back to the mid-19th Century, when it was a staple of the working class diet, and where it would remain for the next 125-odd years. The popularity of the dish has waned in the last few decades, causing many classic shops to close or add newer menu items like kebabs—though one would hardly call it an endangered tradition.
While you can find fish and chips on many menus around New York, most aren't strictly faithful to the British staple. We Brits call such offerings "fish and fries," because while the fish is generally handled well, the spuds turn out to be duds. The salient feature of the dish—beyond the battered and deep fried fish—is of course the chips, which are cut thicker than the average American french fry. Chips are closer in dimensions to a steak fry but tend not to be as flat. Proper chips are twice (or even thrice) cooked—blanched at a low temperature and then finished off in hot oil. Because of their girth and higher water content they tend to be lighter in color than American fries.
As for the fish, the most common varieties are cod, haddock, or plaice (a flat fish similar to sole). With rising concerns of sustainability, pollock is becoming more popular on both sides of the Atlantic. But you can still find haddock on American shores, and even some plaice. Regardless of the fish, it's generally coated in a simple batter of water, flour, and baking soda, though substituting beer for the water is also popular for its complex flavor and deeper color. In a proper plate of British fish and chips, the fish is darker than the chips, which take on a more blonde hue.
We trawled the city looking for looking for the most faithful representations of the dish. Here is what we netted:
A Salt & Battery
A Salt & Battery is our current favorite place for all things fish and chips, nailing all the essentials: a crisp, golden crust, thick-cut chips, and an excellent value for money all served in a place that looks like a chippy abroad. From our full review: "The fish ($11 with chips) has a delicate texture and mild flavor. It isn't as meaty as cod or pollock, but it has a pleasing litheness. It is expertly battered and fried here—the shatteringly crisp crust has a pure flavor that allow the fish to express itself."
We also think that the chips ($6) at A Salt & Battery are tops.
Chip Shop is another of one of our top picks, and in terms of the authentic chippy experience it is a toss up between it and a A Salt & Battery—both offer rousing renditions of fish and chips. We love that they serve plaice ($12 with chips), a rarity here but common in the UK. The fish is similar to sole with delicate flesh and a mild, milky flavor. Chip Shop imbues it with a cracking crust that renders the fish supremely tender. We don't love the chips quite as much as A Salt & Battery's—they are thinner and less uniform—but are still more than credible.
Jones Wood Foundry
The Upper East Side pub Jones Wood Foundry serves up a wonderful golden slab of haddock with some excellent chips. The dish looks and indeed tastes very much like the one that April Bloomfield has on her menu at The Breslin—a very good thing. The batter is the perfect thickness and has plenty of crunch.
The fish itself is cooked just past translucence, retaining plenty of succulence and an appealing creaminess. The Breslin, incidentally, is our cost-no-object fish and chip pick, but was not included here because of price and limited availability: $24 and lunch only. You can get Jones Wood Foundry's fish and chips at both lunch and dinner, $19 and $22 respectively.
This classic Irish pub serves up a respectable platter of cod and chips ($18), although it does not provide the best value—the portion of fish is on the small side. That said, the fish has a good, fresh flavor and the batter has the right amount of crunch, but it tends to be on the thin side and can get soggy. Perhaps because of the thinness the batter it has a tendency to rupture, directly exposing the fish to the oil.
The chips are a decent effort—they have enough girth to allow the flavor of the spud to come through while still exhibiting plenty of crunch. The great atmosphere at Molly's, replete with sawdust on the floor and expertly poured pints of Guinness, go some way towards compensating for the cost issue.
Wylie Dufresne's Alder serves up a brilliant rendition of fish and chips ($18), which is a remarkably restrained interpretation of the classic, considering the sorts of things the chef is known for doing to food. The essential elements of the dish are fairly straightforward: a crispy, tempura-like batter that yields to tender morsels of pollock. The chips are more like the sort of "roasted" potatoes that accompany roast meats in school and greasy spoons in the UK, which are actually fried.
But the real genius in the dish comes from the topping of powered vinegar, which adds tartness without sogging up the crust, and a pea-infused tartar sauce, which evokes the mushy peas that are sold alongside fish and chips in Britain. The dish may be a most unorthodox interpretation of fish and chips, but it nails the essential flavors and textures through science and evocation.
I must admit that I was skeptical that this quirky little Lower East Side bar could deliver the goods. As it turns out they get things half right—the fish ($7) is excellent, the chips ($5) not so much. In fact I don't consider the skinny waifs that the spot passes off as chips as anything but skin-on French fries. But the fish, which is also available as a sandwich, is surprisingly faithful to the British archetype. The pollock comes in an incredibly crisp and extra-craggily batter which has the perfect golden/bronze hue. The fish inside is tender and mild in flavor. If only the chips had measured up this one would be one of our top picks. We recommend the sandwich.
This old school Irish pub Donovan's, perhaps best known for their burger, also serves up a version of fish and chips ($18). The large portion of well-cooked cod comes with a commendably golden batter and provides good value for money, even if you don't eat the chips. And you may not want to—the "chips" are total dud, the same dull chunks of potato that come with the burger.
What's Your Favorite?
Do you have a favorite source for fish and chips in New York? Let us know in the comments.