Who would have thought that this population
of marathon-running, fat-avoiding, fit folk would be flocking
to an establishment like Park Slope’s The Chip Shop, where fried
food rules and health consciousness is out the window?
The half a block-long line of eager diners waiting to get into
the restaurant last Thursday night was a pretty good indicator
that large numbers of diners are coming back to fried food –
many of them discovering English cooking for the first time.
In spite of the negative press that has always surrounded British
food, (most of it acquired quite honestly), the fact remains
that English cuisine, and the aura that surrounds it, have a
charm all their own.
Think tiny thatched pub on the side of a winding English road.
Think Welsh rarebit or shepherd’s pie with a mug of bitters.
Think bangers and mash with steaming hot onion gravy. The accents,
the soccer talk, the charming ancestral china. I didn’t have
to stretch my imagination too far, as it happened, because Chip
Shop owner Chris Sell (think George Harrison crossed with Paul
McCartney) sat down at our table and he and my husband, Ken,
who is also English, immediately got into reminiscing about the
homeland’s fish ’n’ chips, bangers and mash and chip butty.
Ken was explaining his mother’s version of mushy pea fritter
"We called it ’pease porridge’ back then. Mum used to make
it on a Sunday night – a regular pie crust with mushed up peas
inside." Just then a mushy pea fritter was placed in front
of me – a round fritter, 2-inches in diameter, filled with mashed
peas, of course.
"Here’s my mother’s version," Chris beamed. It was
crisp and hot and mushy inside. My overall verdict: Well, uh
– I probably wouldn’t order it again.
"Do you get many requests for this?" I asked Chris
delicately (because anyone living in Brooklyn knows better than
to insult someone else’s mother).
"Oh yes," he answered, smiling broadly, "there
are a lot of young English kids in the neighborhood who come
here regularly and order that every time. We had one fellow who
came by for an order of mushy pea fritters every day for 10 days!
I guess he was homesick."
We moved on to the more widely known fare next – fish and chips,
bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie. Having lived in New Zealand
as a child, I, too, had some distinct and pleasant English food
memories I wanted to jog. How fondly I recall walking down the
streets of Wellington eating fish and chips doused in malt vinegar
from a newspaper cone after a day at the baths.
Since then, I’ve become so wary of tasteless, over-fried American
food, it rarely occurs to me to order anything fried in a restaurant.
But my fish and chips arrived and my childhood memory was put
to the test.
A plate positively heaped with chips topped by a huge fillet
of scrod, fried to golden perfection, was placed in front of
us. (You have the choice between cod and rock salmon. I’m told
the rock salmon tastes a lot fishier than the cod.) The batter
was light but substantial enough to keep the fish moist during
frying. The fish was firm but tender. The coming together of
the starchy, hot potatoes, the flaky, crisp fish, the vinegar
and salt was all just as I remembered it. It got a thumbs up
from Ken, too.
As luck would have it, I was not tempted to overeat on the bangers
and mash (mashed potatoes and English sausages). While Chris’
mashed potatoes were just the right consistency – not too smooth
or watery, not too stiff or lumpy – the soft, fatty nature of
English sausages (they’re beige, too!) has never appealed to
me. Still, The Chip Shop uses a brand called Myers of Keswick,
which according to both Ken and Chris, makes a very authentic-tasting
The shepherd’s pie (a layer of meat, vegetables or seafood topped
with mashed potatoes), which comes in four varieties – the standard
meat, vegetable, wild mushroom and Cornish seafood – arrived
piping hot in oval chafing dishes. My favorite was the meat (ground
beef cooked with a little onion, parsley and carrots), partly
because what’s good about English food is the simplicity of the
standard dishes when prepared well.
Again, the flavors weren’t remarkable or unusual, but the dish
was good comfort food at its best, down-home meat and potatoes.
We hardly felt up to dessert after our own meat-and-potato fest
but forged ahead nonetheless. The puddings, as the British call
their desserts, were all very standard English fare – fruit crumbles
(apple and blackberry, and rhubarb, both served with custard),
a trifle (mainly fruit and cake, no Jell-O), treacle pudding
(a tad dry), and a deep-fried Mars bar that Chris assured me
was a Scottish specialty, served regularly in pubs. I’m afraid
I feel some sort of warning about artery clogging needs to precede
such decadence, so consider yourselves warned.
The Chip Shop is a delightfully lively spot for diners of all
ages. It’s one large room, painted a sunny yellow, seating about
30 and opens up onto Fifth Avenue, with a carryout window on
The walls are decked out in British memorabilia – the British
flag, posters of the Beatles, the Cunard Lines, Pink Floyd, the
Sex Pistols and a copy of John Lennon’s birth certificate. There’s
a shelf going ’round the top of the ceiling that holds more memorabilia
– commemorative mugs, magazine articles about English royalty
This is unpretentious dining at its best, made all the more fun
by highlighting a cuisine that’s always gotten a bum rap.
As Chris says, "It’s honest food at an honest price."
Jolly good, too!
The Chip Shop, 383 Fifth Ave. at Sixth
Street in Park Slope, is open seven days a week for lunch and
dinner. Cash only. Entrees: $7-$11. For more information, call
(718) 832-7701. www.chipshopnyc.com