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Setting sail to find the best fish'n'chips

Published 10 June 2007
News Review
725th article

Michael and Geraldine, as photographed by Gemma Levine at Scott's restaurant

I've decided, after deep consideration, that Britain's greatest contribution to the world of food is fish'n'chips.

I've had second-rate fried fish and chips in posh restaurants, but never from local places with gleaming vats of oil.

I remember the days when the fish was sold wrapped in old newspapers and I'd rush back to my car or home desperate to unwrap and eat. Now takeaway fish'n'chips are in plastic containers.

I've recently been grateful for that, having had to suffer further time in the London Clinic. The best food I ate came from a local fish'n'chippery, the Golden Hind. These places often have glamorous names associated with old sailing ships. You fear that, when you return for seconds, the whole thing may be out at sea tossing in the waves. Luckily the Golden Hind stayed anchored to Marylebone Lane.

Its fried plaice with chips and mushy peas are a delight. The fish is succulent and fresh, the batter light and crispy. Mushy peas and chips are tip-top. I ate this accompanied by its excellent tomato salad with raw onions. A first-class meal.

The Golden Hind is extremely popular. It's a very old-fashioned set up: a black and white tiled floor, wooden tables, a wooden coat and umbrella stand. You can eat on the premises or avail yourself of its takeaway menu. Most expensive item: halibut steak, £9.40. Cheapest: small cod boneless fillet, £3.40.

A wooden board lists the owners' names, starting with "1914-1947 Mr Esposito Italian" up to the current owner "2002 Mr Christou Greek".

For my dessert I opted for the most incredible raspberries and strawberries from a very recently opened shop in Marylebone High Street, the Natural Kitchen. This is a real find. If you live within a 600-mile radius of the area go to the Natural Kitchen. Buy your takeaway food there, or eat in its first-floor cafe. Or buy fish'n'chips at the Golden Hind. Then tell Natural Kitchen owners, Keith Bird and Martin O'Connor, that Michael Winner said it was all right for you to eat them there.

It's a serious place, the Natural Kitchen. They do everything: salads, incredible fillet steak (I ate some), lamb, wonderful biscuits, cakes, wine, cheese, muesli, the lot.

There's a big display of sausages. I thought they were heavy. Geraldine said that's because organic sausages don't have nitrates. I kept buying the strawberries and raspberries because I'd never had anything so good. They had an old-fashioned, fulsome taste.

Natural Kitchen literature (or advertising rubbish) announced it sells "organic, wild and artisan food". The raspberries and strawberries were labelled "Boyd Farming New Forest Fruit". When I checked Boyd Farming on the internet it seemed the fruit was somewhat less than wild. I'd call it tame.

Boyd farming announced it "specialises in soft fruit production . . . and is one of the leading suppliers to UK supermarkets". To me that means mass-produced. "Wild" implies growing freely among hedgerows and buttercups, picked by itinerant gypsies who come up to London in rickety horse-drawn carts, flogging their products door-to-door.

Boyd Farming goes on to say, "Modern production techniques are used throughout the growing cycle to ensure the very best quality fruit is produced with the minimum of pesticide usage." Er, hello . . . I thought "organic" meant no pesticides at all. But then adjectives used in selling food have their very own meaning.

The government recently announced plans to produce a standardised method for manufacturers and retailers to calculate the "carbon footprint of products". Another study shows supermarket products imported from New Zealand and Africa often have lower carbon footprints than the same foods produced in the UK.

I've never seen an apple, a raspberry, or even a strawberry with feet. Although I did once see a potato which looked uncannily like me.

  • On that note let us proceed to our final question. What does the photo of MW and Geraldine have to do with anything in this article? Answer: very little. Except that it was taken by Gemma Levine, a photographer who wrote a letter some time ago severely criticising me for attacking the then re-vamped Dorchester Grill.

    She followed this with a missive strongly recommending the Golden Hind. And yet another asking if she could record Geraldine and me for a book she's doing about Mayfair. She suggested doing it in Scott's of Mount Street, where I just happened to be lunching with Sir Michael and Lady Caine. "Name dropper," I hear you say.

    She's good, is Gemma. She takes two or three shots and then gets out before even I can get bored. I think it's a nice photo. At least of Geraldine.

    Winner's letters

    We paid £32,000 to join Club Wembley's Corinthian club and then £700 per person for meal and event, only to be served school dinners. There's better food and wine in our local pub. Wembley Stadium and the Corinthian club are meant to be showpieces. We say we've moved on in terms of catering experience, yet it's clear we're still in the Third World. Indeed they could probably show us a thing or two.
    Desmond White, Buckinghamshire

    Last week in Kai restaurant you looked like Quentin Crisp. I hope you'll consider calling your next tome The Naked Epicurean. Unillustrated of course.
    Alan Mead, London

    The Dorchester Grill is the worst restaurant I've ever been to in London. The abysmal decor is Scotland on acid. If only I had some LSD maybe the food wouldn't have tasted so bad. Mushy foie gras with pea foam and other slush followed by monkfish and chicken broiled until they were indistinguishable from each other. When I pointed out we'd been undercharged Pounds 5 they took so long correcting the mistake we missed the start of the film we were going to see.
    Sarah Harvey, London

    I'm surprised that someone like you refers to loo rolls as toilet rolls (Winner's Dinners, last week).
    Giles Feilding, Towcester

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk