When a friend posted the Daily Telegraph‘s choice of the country’s best fish and chip shops a few days ago, a list considerably different to the “official” industry awards, I felt a strong urge to investigate, all the more when I spotted one such being located in Wivenhoe, a quaint little harbour town bang on the Thames estuary just to the north of Colchester – one that I had neglected to visit in 5 years of living in the Colchester area.
So I set out with the aim of killing two birds with one stone, but in the process neglected to bring a charger for my mobile phone. Consequently I have photos of the lovely little town that is Wivenhoe, but by the time I got to Henley’s Fish & Chips the battery had died, so you will have to make do with stock pictures from the net and the company website.
Truth be told it actually took me a little while to track down Henley’s Wivenhoe to a small and unprepossessing row of shops on a side road opposite the fire station. Seems Henley’s also have a branch in Braintree, which would probably be easier for me to find, but then it would lack the quaint English charm of Wivenhoe, whose pubs I look forward to sampling on another occasion.
Once I did find the shop and park it was around 2pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon, not long before the lunchtime sitting closed down. While the premises may be ordinary, the management has displayed a keen eye to market the product since the takeaway is packed with signed photos of celebs, awards from various august bodies in fish frying, a Guinness book of records entry for the fastest chip preparation and cooking (I wouldn’t be so keen to advertise that one, but we’ll return to that theme) and declarations on the quality of their ingredients and cooking.
Best of all, there is a glass display showing the wares – every variety of fish on the menu is there for your inspection, trimmed, fresh and appetising. Would that every chippie took such a pride in their product. It certainly looked inviting, though there were plenty of alternatives on an extensive menu for non-fish eaters. Were it my restaurant I might do a few home-made pies but otherwise I’d encourage the squeamish to take a bite and be won round by the joys of fresh fish – way better than battered sausages, any day!
Better still, both fish and chips were cooked fresh to order and served piping hot. I went for a large piece of authentic haddock, served in a handy box with better-than-average plastic cutlery and a paper serviette. It was, of its type, a perfect model: the fish was fresh and perfectly cooked, pearly while and flaky, beyond reproach. The batter was crispy, flavoursome and cooked through. This was applied though the correct Japanese technique of throwing droplets of batter mix on to the fish so it forms a crusty, crunchy layer with no sogginess in sight. Maybe it was their own secret recipe, though I have no information on that point.
As for the chips, they were fresh, hot and tasty but still soft. That might be a certain English tradition, but the best result is obtained from twice frying, and there are still nothing like enough chippies doing this correctly. At £1.75 for a “standard” portion they should be, though doubtless the restaurant would say the price reflects the fact that these are top notch local potatoes skinned and cooked fresh each day. Fish prices were fairly reasonable – I have no problem with £5.50 for good haddock, though £1.25 for mushy peas may be slightly higher than average.
I’m slightly sad to see a sticker advertising the fact that their cooking medium was “Frymax” – a processed vegetable fat sold in blocks – rather than a pure oil or, best of all, beef dripping. The results could be improved, though in terms of modus operandi they have it pretty well spot on.
Whether Henley’s justifies being one of the top 20 in the country might cause arguments everywhere, and there are certainly a few excellent chippies I know that don’t feature in the list. That it is very good is beyond question. Would I return? Certainly!