A champion chippy
PUBLISHED: 08:39 25 July 2013 | UPDATED: 08:39 25 July 2013
Tessa Allingham lands a real catch in Bury St Edmunds
It’s Wednesday lunchtime in Bury St Edmunds. Market day. Tia, in charge of frying today at the Bury Fish & Chip Shop is keeping up with orders, deftly coating fillets with batter, slipping them into the sizzling fryer, shaking chip baskets. Customers, a mix of market-day shoppers, local workers and young families, perch on benches to eat, scuttle off with hot parcels of food, or take their time in the dining room.
Busy though it is, this is no photogenic seaside chippy with tanks of lobster and fading photos of bearded old sea-dogs – the sort of place Sunday supplements like to claim to have “discovered”. Indeed, St Andrews’ St South recently received the dubious accolade of Bury St Edmunds’ ugliest street, and it’s hard to disagree. This is a service road at the back of Poundland where bins gather, delivery vehicles loiter, buses pick up and drop off, and scaffolding clatters. It is definitely not a place to feel the spatter of salt spray on your face as you watch prettily bobbing boats and wheeling seagulls.
But order a medium cod and chips and you’re in for a treat. For what this place lacks in looks it makes up for in bucket-and-spade-loads in the food it serves.
It’s run by Chris and Tanya Jevons, formerly of the Alwyne House tea rooms in Bury’s Abbey Gardens, not to mention myriad other catering operations such as a truck stop café, pizzeria and sandwich bar.
“We’ve always been in catering and we could see the potential in this business immediately,” says Chris who bought it six years ago when the lease ended on Alwyne House. “We learnt the ropes from existing staff but quickly decided to take a different tack.”
That, plus a huge amount of determination and enthusiasm, has meant that he and Tanya have tripled turnover, selling some 300 portions of food on a busy day, with roughly a third of customers paying an extra pound to eat in the dining room. There, a vibrant mural designed by local artist Peter Kingston, is a lively backdrop to padded bench seating for around 30 and simple formica tables furnished with the chippy staples of paper napkins, Heinz ketchup, malt vinegar and salt. The mural is part of the cosmetic improvements the couple made when they took over.
You don’t have to spend too long in this friendly shop-cum-restaurant to realise many of the customers are regulars.
Why do they come back? The biggest difference, the couple say, is that this fish and chip shop serves line-caught wild fish, cooked to order, with chips that are made on site from local Maris Piper potatoes. “It’s really not complicated,” says Chris. “We wanted to do things with integrity and sell food that we would want to eat. Our fish costs 20% more than trawled fish. A large fish and chips here costs £6.40 which is maybe a bit more than other places, but we absorb most of the cost because we want to sell good food. It’s at the heart of what we do.”
Fish is ordered from two suppliers – Unique Seafood whose vessels fish the ice-cold waters of the Barents Sea for cod and haddock, and wholesalers FAS Supplies in Ipswich. Nothing is farmed, and the suppliers are both approved by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“Fish that’s been trawled is pulverised in the nets, it all gets squashed together,” Tanya explains. “Line-caught fish is unhooked and handled with care, and filleted and frozen immediately.”
“I quite often take a few pieces home for dinner. I’m only happy if we sell food I’d feed my own family.”
It’s not just the fish that’s sourced with care. Sacks of locally-grown Maris Piper potatoes are piled up. A member of staff is in every morning at 8.30 to chip the potatoes ready to be blanched before being fried one basket at a time. “We use beef dripping and change it regularly so the place doesn’t smell. It doesn’t cling to the potato like vegetable oil does either. By blanching the potatoes first the chips can be cooked fast. That way the chips stay crispy,” says Chris.
This all sounds fine, but begs the next question – does the fish-and-chip-eating public of Bury St Edmunds really care? Chris doesn’t hesitate: “No, not really. We’ve put ads in the paper, on radio and done leaflets, and there’s a huge sign about our sourcing policy, but people seem generally apathetic, which is a shame. We should take far more interest in what we eat. It’s important – just look at the recent horse-meat scandal.”
Be warned. On a Wednesday lunchtime, you may well have to queue to eat at the Jevons’ restaurant. Is that because of the quality of the food they serve, or the fact that they’re by a bus stop? Go decide for yourself.