Fish and chips: a British institution. It's a meal that's so important to the people of the UK that the government went to great lengths to ensure that it wasn't rationed during WWII, in an effort to boost morale. Thoughts of fish and chips always remind you of happy times, whether it's a well-earned treat on a Friday, a heart (and hand) warming half-time snack at the football, or as a means to soak up an evening of celebrations or commiserations.
There's one place in London that embodies our national love for this old school classic – Poppie's Fish and Chips. Pat Newland, an Irishman living in London, set up the original Poppie's in 1952. He was an industry insider, having started out on the Roman Road cutting up copies of the Daily Mirror destined for tomorrow's fish and chips at the age of eleven. Pop is still around, by the way, but he's taking a more hands-off approach these days.
Serving up fish and chips since the '60s
Aside from Pop's semi-retirement and new locations in Camden, Shoreditch and Soho, the ethos and daily routine is very much the same as it's always been at Poppie's. We spoke to Saleh, who came from Cyprus to London in the late 1960s and has been serving up fish and chips at Poppie's ever since. Our first question was this: if you could go back, would you do it all again?
"What do you think? I never gave up in 50 years, of course I would do it again." The kitchen crew are chatting, mixing the batter, trading insults and jokes – there's a real family atmosphere. That's clearly not lost on Saleh, and he credits the quality of the food to that. "You see, the quality is the same as when we started, but it's not easy to keep it that way. They looked after me – that's why I gave my life to it."
Keeping it traditional
Poppie's looks like the kind of chippie that Sexy Beast-era Ray Winstone would eat in. With orange counters and floors, and matching tiles on the walls, you feel that you're stepping into a bygone era. Jars of pickles and eggs sit on the counter, there's freshly chopped parsley and lemons waiting to garnish your plate – everything looks inviting. It's this respect for tradition, says Salih, that has kept the punters coming through the door year after year.
"The fish comes straight to Billingsgate from Peterhead – that's where they catch the best stuff. We've always used the same suppliers: they send it to London overnight, and it arrives with us first thing in the morning. We get the potatoes from Master's in Billingsgate too. We've worked with the same family for two generations."
"We fry everything in groundnut oil. It gives you a different taste, and doesn't burn so quickly. We change the oil every day to make sure the taste stays fresh, and the fish comes out a golden colour." The first fish of the day comes out of the fryer as he speaks, and he's not wrong – it almost glows a warm, golden brown that's all too inviting.
It's all about the batter
Unsurprisingly, Poppie's has its own secret recipe for the batter, which is closely guarded. It's the the hardest thing to get right – the real litmus test of a chippy's quality. This one is light and fluffy, like a delicious beer-soaked cloud. Inside, the fish is well seasoned and perfectly cooked. Their chips absolutely nail the crucial crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside balance – so much so that I had two portions. Before 11am. No regrets.
So there you have it, every portion of fish and chips you get at Poppies is the result of several lifetime's worth of experience. Whether it's Pop, or Saleh, the suppliers or the fishermen in Peterhead, your food is steeped in tradition, and not a little love. There's a reason that certain foods endure through all of fads and trends, and if you want to taste that reason, head to Poppie's.
If you want to try these famous fish and chips for yourself, get your orders in from Deliveroo. Choose from four sites: