London’s Fish-and-Chips Royalty

Discover the shops that remain dedicated to perfecting this beloved British dish.



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THE FRYER’S DELIGHT sits on Theobalds Road, Holborn, a stretch of London where the buildings look like they’re coated in a century’s worth of smog. Outside the window, the number 55 bus thunders past as the butcher from next door walks out, clutching his meal of fried cod and chips. “They’ve been here 32 years,” Fryer’s employee João Magalhães says of the butcher. “We’ve been here for 63.” At a time when shiny new buildings and Pret A Manger sandwich chains are popping up at an alarming rate, these storied institutions are the outliers. While fish and chips may be the archetypal British dish, the fact is that as many as half of the 10,500 chippies across the country now face closure.

For the uninitiated, British “chips” are more like French fries, but thickly cut. They’re often sprinkled liberally with salt, then doused in malt vinegar — the unmistakable smell of that vinegar wafts down the street from any chippy. Some diners add a dollop of ketchup, while a spoonful of curry sauce is a favorite in northern England. It's common to see a large jar filled with pickled eggs on the counter. Historically, turtle soup, a popular dish in the eighteenth century (which used real green turtle meat until the species was near extinction), was also often on the menu.


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Fish and chips on a plate may all look the same, but everything that sparkles isn’t a diamond.

When it comes to the fish, by far the most popular order is cod, with haddock coming in a close second. Some chippies offer skate wing, rockfish, and halibut. Another London tradition is cod roe and eel (more on this later). Tartar sauce is king — a mix of mayonnaise, finely diced capers, gherkins, shallots, lemon juice, and fresh parsley. The tanginess cuts through the fried fish to freshen your palette. Batter can be made in many ways, but methods using sparkling water or local beer are favorites, as the bubbles make for a light, crispy shell around the almost sweet-tasting fish.

Fish-and-chips shops started in the gritty East End of London, with the first shop said to have opened in the 1860s. It became a working-class staple by the late 1920s and, like pubs, there was a fish-and-chips shop on virtually every street corner. Even during the Second World War, fish and chips was so integral to British life that it was one of few things not rationed. “Fish and chips Fridays” have been a way to celebrate the end of the working week for generations. Traditionally, a proper fish-and-chips supper came wrapped in newspaper, which inspired the adage, “Don’t worry — today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper.”

This rich history is meaningful to so many people in the UK, but it’s increasingly tough out there for a small, independent chippy. The price of cod, haddock, and potatoes has surged astronomically — and then there are the rising energy bills. But another more elusive enemy of the chippy is a subtle cultural shift. UK high streets are becoming increasingly homogenized, with homegrown chains now being joined by US big-hitters. And even those who reject chains are often more likely to search out the latest sophisticated foodie innovation.

The Rock & Sole Plaice is the city's oldest fish-and-chips restaurant, having fed Londoners on the corner of Endell Street in Covent Garden for more than 150 years. Today it’s run by Ahmet Ziyaeddin and his brother. “There’s a draw to the place. It’s its own living entity,” Ziyaeddin tells me. “When my dad bought the place, the granddaughters of the original owner lived upstairs, and they told my dad he wasn’t good enough. After a few months, he got so fed up that he said, ‘If you think you can do better, show me,’ and they did — and it was!” For the next year, the sisters were invited in weekly, if not to cook, to demonstrate, and to sample the fish and chips to give their seal of approval. Today there’s a dedication to them on the side of the building.

A 30-minute walk away, in the City of London, is Sweetings, which has been serving fish and chips since 1830. It’s now run by Suzanne Knowler and her sister. On the menu posted at the restaurant, the phone number is listed as simply “3062.” Knowler tells me, “That means we were [about] the 3,000th business in London to have a phone number, which dates the menu as being from around 1932.”


The thing that gives me the most pleasure is in the morning when the fish arrives. I open the box and stick my head in and I smell the ocean.

Back in Holborn, enter the classic Fryer’s Delight and you half expect to see Don Draper cutting into a battered skate wing in a corner booth. Bright red tables, a checkerboard floor, and the white upright electric stove wouldn’t be out of place in the Draper kitchen. Originally opened by the Italian Ferdenzi family in the ’60s, it appears untouched ever since. Magalhães bought the business, eventually selling it to his brother-in-law, but he has continued working there because he enjoys it. “You meet different people, from schoolboys to solicitors and lawyers,” he says, adding that he has customers who have been coming in for 45 years. “If I don’t see them for a little while, I start to ask the staff if they’ve seen them.”

“You never know who’s going to walk in,” Knowler, of Sweetings, tells me. “We’ve had artists, musicians, poets, writers, chefs like Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, and Tom Conran. Fergus Henderson proposed here.” Henderson, the acclaimed British chef, also brought the late Anthony Bourdain to introduce him to mushy peas, a beloved if gummy-in-appearance British staple made from dried marrowfat peas and a little mint. Across the way in Covent Garden, at the Rock & Sole Plaice, Ziyaeddin agrees: “I don’t have to travel the world — the world comes to visit me.”

It’s easy to think of fish and chips as greasy junk food, but that would be a monumental underestimation. As Ziyaeddin passionately points out, “fish and chips on a plate may all look the same, but everything that sparkles isn’t a diamond.” Here, frying is an art form. “By the time you’ve finished your meal, you shouldn’t feel like you’ve eaten anything fried. Oil should form a case, a cocoon, and none of it should get in.” Oil management is another key skill. “It’s about getting a caramel color to it but not having it overworked so it degrades,” he says. “Then you get that smell and that bitter taste.”

For Magalhães of The Fryer’s Delight, the secret to the perfect fish and chips is twofold. “It’s the quality and the way you do it. We never have fish ready — we always make it fresh for the customers.” The batter has been a secret for 57 years. “Don’t cut any corners,” he says, “and do it from the heart.” He experimented for a full six months to perfect his batter, and he keeps it a closely guarded secret. For Knowler, the chips matter just as much as the fish. “There’s nothing worse than a soggy chip,” she tells me.

Huseyin Kanizi, who goes by Chris, has been frying fish and chips for 43 years and opened The Golden Chippy 18 years ago in Greenwich. He’d wanted to be a surgeon, but when the Thatcher government increased tuition fees, he followed his culinary interests instead. “I decided, this is England, this is what the English want, so I’m going to give it a go, and I’m going to do it better,” he tells me. “The thing that gives me the most pleasure is in the morning when the fish arrives. I open the box and stick my head in and I smell the ocean,” he says. “Twenty-six hours after it comes out of the water, it’s here. It’s like you catch it yourself.”

Unsurprisingly, the most popular order is still cod and chips, although Magalhães notes generational differences. “It’s only older people who eat skate — young people don’t even know what it is.” Ziyaeddin tells me that once-popular cod roe has fallen out of favor, and Sweetings has seen a decline in the old London classic, eels, which was a hugely popular street food in Victorian London. They were the hot dogs of their day, a cheap and filling source of protein, and one of few fish that survived in the heavily-polluted Thames.

Challenges and uncertainty aren’t new to these restaurateurs. Knowler says hiring new staff post-pandemic has been difficult. “You’ve got more chance of finding a unicorn,” she says. The Golden Chippy has had to introduce deliveries, despite concerns that fish and chips don’t travel well, while for Ziyaeddin, new avenues for success have proven difficult. “Catering has always been a hard game,” he says. “I always say I’ve been doing this 40 lifetimes, not 40 years, because every year this place finds a way to kill me, bring me back to life, and kill me again.” It’s hard work and the future is increasingly uncertain, but there’s pleasure to be had too. Magalhães says, “I enjoy it — otherwise you wouldn’t stay 30 years in one job.”

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Our Contributors

Laura Potter Writer

Laura Potter is a freelance writer and editor based in London. Her writing has appeared in some of the UK’s most influential titles, including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, Men’s Health, and Time Out.

Juan Trujillo Andrades Photographer

Juan Trujillo Andrades is a Spanish-born freelance photographer based in London. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest titles, including Men’s Health, British GQ, The Guardian, Cyclist, and Time Out. He has also worked for brands such as Audi, McLaren, and National Geographic.


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