I always follow the Evening News Chippy of the Year award to see who wins. As anyone who lives in Edinburgh for a period of time knows because we expect brown sauce to be available our approach to a fish supper is unique – and to be cherished.
This year’s winners, St Andrews Takeaway, immediately brought back childhood memories, for you could not go to Porty’s George Cinema without visiting the St Andrews afterwards. Time has moved on and now the proud winners are keeping up with the allergy conscious times by offering gluten-free batter and you can choose your fish. We should praise such creativity, for it is necessary to keep our chippies relevant to today’s youth who might be seduced by a Chinese, Indian or kebab takeaway.
I rather suspect I’m not unusual for my generation in being able to say I could give directions around Edinburgh to strangers based on where the nearest chippy is, although some have changed their names.
As a kid I would regularly run down to the Bel Monte at Jock’s Lodge for the family’s tea. Sadly it is no longer there, but practically all my other haunts are still in business, some, like Giovanni’s at Northfield Broadway (still my personal favourite) even remain in the same family. A perfect Saturday in the Seventies was to watch Hibs win at Easter Road, then up to Rose Street for some beers, down to Giovanni’s for a Deep Fried Pizza Supper (remember those?) while watching Hibs win again on Sportscene, followed by Parkinson with Billy Connolly.
A few years later when I was disc-jockeying for Paranoid Disco, I craved late night chippies and so it was off to the Fountainbridge chippy, now Topkapi Kebab, which was open late thanks to the Clouds and Americana discos. By now I could not resist a smoked sausage or a chip rump steak supper – both with the obligatory brown sauce.
Another favourite was the Montrose in Abbeyhill, now the Kurdish Kebab House (notice the worrying trend?), where I set my personal best of three fish suppers in one day. I had gone to the Scottish Cup Final second replay against Rangers on the St Giles Hibs bus with my first fish supper from the Montrose, had another fish supper at Hampden (sadly without brown sauce) – and, after seeing Arthur Duncan’s own goal give the Gers the Cup, I needed another fish supper from the Montrose when I got back.
In the Eighties, the Clam Shell in the Royal Mile was a favourite. I’d work in the nearby shop of Evening News cartoonist Harry Gilzean on Saturday mornings and call in at the Clam Shell on the way to the match, especially after someone invented supersize Haggis suppers!
Once I went to work in London I really appreciated Edinburgh’s chippies even more – honestly, there’s nothing in the British Isles to match them. Okay, Anstruther’s Fish Bar and the Ashvale in Aberdeen were both worthy triple winners of best British chippy thanks to their fresh fish, crispy batter and insistence on using beef dripping – but they missed the magic of our brown sauce.
As a PR man I eventually worked for the Ashvale when it needed publicity to see off Harry Ramsden coming to town – but I took it as seriously as promoting Edinburgh Crystal or Holyrood Palace.
Later, after becoming an MSP, I was in Aberdeen with journalists and invited them to brave the Ashvale Challenge of finishing the largest “whale” fish supper at its sit-in – the prize being ... another whale supper! Only one other guy could join me in doing it, Tom Peterkin, now of The Scotsman, but he won, as I could only manage the second fish – he ate the chips again too!
Those days are gone now. I still love my Edinburgh fish and chips and must visit St Andrews takeaway again. Nowadays I have smaller portions or share the chips, but one thing’s certain – it must have brown sauce!