You would have every right to expect that with Hull once being a major fishing port it would have more than its fair share of places to eat fish. Certainly it has plenty of chippies, but there are surprisingly few restaurants dedicated to what used to be the city’s entire raison d’être.
You can get fish and chips in pubs and bars, obviously, and there are a couple of fish and seafood eateries but since much-lamented fish restaurant The Gainsborough closed in the early 90s there hasn’t been anywhere – like the Magpie in Whitby – that you can sit down, have fish and chips and mushy peas on a plate and pay twice as much as you would from the chippy just to pretend that you’re posh.
The fact is that there never really was. In the old days, fish was a commodity; it was landed and left the city to be sold elsewhere for profit and so restaurants couldn’t be guaranteed a supply if the catch was landed light. Consequently, three things happened – infrequent supply meant that fish restaurants didn’t prosper; secondly, Hull folk got used to eating the fish that had been caught first on a trawling trip and was therefore oldest, worth the least and had developed the strongest flavour (many Hullensians still complain that fresh-caught fish doesn’t taste of anything) and, lastly, chip shop owners bereft of fish had to create something to sell to customers. This led to the invention of Hull’s greatest single contribution to the culinary world – the pattie. More (much more) of this later.
Enough social history. Why am I telling you all this? Well, within a couple of weeks, two new sit-down fish and chip restaurants have opened in Hull. One is part of a Southern-based chain; the other is the Fish & Chip Kitchen on Princes Avenue. It’s the latest venture from Hull restaurateur Alonzo Goulbourne, who also set up Jamaican restaurant Roots and Aunt Bibby’s which, while being one of those ubiquitous smokehouse places, serves the best ribs in the area.
Alonzo has taken an old off-licence, given it a very Hull/fishing-themed interior and is offering fish, chips, mushy peas, thick sliced bread and a couple of alternatives dishes like pies and scampi. There are also some well-selected beers and a full cocktail menu. It’s all reasonably priced (cheaper than eating in a decent pub) and – this is the best word for it – proper. Proper batter, proper chips and proper made-from-dried mushy peas. I know it’s proper because I took my secret weapon along with me – my mother. After eighty-odd years of eating and making fish and chips, my mam knows when they’re proper.
Her starter of mushy pea fritters was sampled and approved with great enthusiasm, as was the main of haddock and chips. The portions are generous and every element of the dishes was as well made as you’ll get anywhere, she was happy to confirm in between belts of Chardonnay. I’m glad I took her to sample the rest of the menu because, I must confess, I indulged in a pattie overload.
[I should explain, for those unfamiliar, exactly what a pattie is. It’s mashed tatty and chopped sage, battered and deep fried. And that’s it. It’s simple, cheap, filling and utterly glorious. Like Middlesbrough’s Parmo or Scouse in Liverpool, the pattie is the food of the people of one city. Unlike those dishes, it’s entirely unknown and unavailable outside its place of birth. Admit it, unless you’re from Hull, you’d never heard of them, had you? Yet generations here have been raised on them. Personally, I’ve been eating them for the best part of five decades and I’m unashamed in proclaiming them the finest food on Earth.
For starters, I had Mini Medley Patties, which was three micro patties with wildly experimental fillings. Well, actually, one had corned beef, one had cheese and one was a normal pattie, but for a pattie traditionalist like me it was like entering a crazy parallel dimension where rules are only made for breaking. For mains, I played it safe and ordered what most Hull people will tell you is their city represented in bread – a pattie butty. It’s a pattie in a breadcake and it’s the single most sold item in every chippy within a five-mile radius. I prefer mine with plenty of chip spice (another Hull invention which is, controversially, banned in this restaurant) and very liberally doused in vinegar. Some prefer less vinegar, but they’re wrong. It was as fine an example of the dish as I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve had thousands. Literally, thousands. My mother used to be a pattie slapper (no giggling at the back), one of the brave women who used to make patties by hand in the days before the process was mechanised, and she confirmed it was a bone fide ’Ull pattie.
The Fish & Chip Kitchen had passed the test on every single level and I heartily recommend it to you. I must also apologise for turning this review into what basically amounts to an extended homage to the pattie, but with City of Culture coming the people of Hull need to start shouting about what makes them unique. This includes their cuisine and the pattie is the only thing that Hull has that nowhere else does. That it is also a sublime invention is a huge bonus.
• The Fish and Chip Kitchen, 78 Princes Avenue, Hull, HU5 3QJ. Open daily, 12-11pm. 01482 440400, www.thefishandchipkitchen.co.uk