Helmsley was a bit sniffy when a second fish and chip shop was proposed amid their quaint tea rooms and pubs. What about the smell, the waste, the traffic? Just about everything to do with the scheme irked the locals. Yet, despite a protracted skirmish, Makins opened its doors last summer.
This is not your average humble chippy, it is way too posh for that. Where Harry Ramsden's poshness came from eating fish and chips under sparkling chandeliers, Makins is a result of the 250,000 spent fitting out the dark-wood, steel, glass, and white-walled contemporary restaurant.
There's a state-of-the-art fish fryer, hip, personalised white crockery and a menu that reaches way beyond fish, chips, battered sausages and
mushy peas. There's even a few respectable wines listed alongside the tea and soft drinks.
The prices, though, are not so grand. A reasonable 10 will buy you sustainably-caught cod or haddock coated in a batter made to a special recipe and cooked in additive-free vegetable oil.
Served with this politically correct food are homemade mushy peas (or garden if you must), tartare sauce, bread, butter and Yorkshire tea. There's also battered plaice, fishcakes, scampi tails, calamari, a seafood platter, chicken goujons, and a fish pie. For the seriously posh, battered halibut or king prawns with chili jam and salad, come
in at 15.
The restaurant is on two floors and we bagged a great table upstairs overlooking the comings and goings on Bridge Street where there was not much to report on an unusually quiet Saturday night. We decided to start upmarket with a sharing plate of the giant king prawns in the special batter which is noted throughout the menu.
I didn't detect any specialness to it whatsoever but what it did deliver – as this dish should when expertly cooked – was a light, dry, crispy batter enclosing juicy gigantic prawns which were delicious when dipped in the sweet sticky sauce.
There's no way I was not going to eat fish and chips. They are my all-time favourite (especially when eaten outdoors straight from the paper) with mushy peas and no vinegar. If a chippy can get mushy peas right, the fish and chips are usually good, too. Correctly, the peas should be sloppy, not thick and dry, in texture; pale, not fluorescent green; sweet yet have a slight, sulphury back note from the bicarbonate.
Makins' peas were lovely, just the right texture for dipping chips into. The chips, made from locally grown potatoes, were also outstanding – golden, crisp outside, soft inside, and grease free.
Cod was my chosen fish, and I was particularly pleased with it – squeakily fresh, meaty and firm which fell into fat flakes. The batter on this beauty didn't fare quite as well as the one on the prawns. It was pleasing, with an even gold colour but just a touch soft.
Flavour-wise it held up well with the cod. So all-in-all not too bad, I have eaten worse.
I subscribe to the notion that tea is the best drink with fish and chips, but not on a Saturday night. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc makes a good partner and if you ever get the chance, try a glass of Champagne, a lovely match.
For variety, we ordered a fish pie as well. Good choice if fish and chips aren't your thing.
This was excellent, filled with chunks of salmon, prawns, smoked haddock and cod with a creamy sauce and the requisite thick layer of buttery mash. The bubbling sauce had dribbled out from under the mash creating lovely chewy burnt bits on the edge.
Fish and chips are 150 years old this year and we still love them. The number of "chippies" has declined from around 35,000 in the 1930s to roughly 11,000 today. They manage around 300 million servings a year, which works out at six servings for every man woman and child in the country.
Jane, the owner of Makins, is a butcher's daughter from Wakefield and married to Yorkshire farmer Chris.
Their successful farm is one of the largest soft fruit suppliers to Morrison's supermarket, so Jane could be sitting comfortably, feet up on the family farm in Garforth enjoying their success. Instead, she makes a 100-mile round trip every day to Helmsley to stand in front of the fish fryer.
Posh as she has made Makins, I love the fact that she maintains the traditions of fish and chips with the tea, the peas, the malt vinegar and the rest which sets the fish and chip shop at the heart of the community. Hopefully, the townsfolk of Helmsley will learn to appreciate it as well. They should, it's great.
Makins Restaurant & Takeway, 6 Bridge Street, Helmsley, YO62 5BG. Tel: 01439 772 465. Open: Mon and Wed: 11.30am-6 pm, Thurs, Fri, Sat: 11.30am- 7pm, Sun: 12.30pm-6pm, Closed Tuesday. Restaurant booking only after 7pm Friday and Saturday.