Chip shop chic

Since rebranding in January from a British, all-day dining restaurant to an upmarket fish and chip shop, trade has increased significantly for The Mayfair Chippy

Walking along Bond Street in London’s Mayfair it’s a haven of luxury brands, five star hotels and fine dining restaurants. Yet tucked down an off-shoot, just opposite the prestigious department store Selfridges, is a rare find — a 42 seater fish and chip restaurant and takeaway. Serving around 240 covers a day, it’s quickly become a destination not only for office workers and locals but also for tourists wanting to sample the food that Britain is famous for.

But this hasn’t always been the case, for the restaurant first opened in 2012 under the name of GrEat British, an eatery focusing on British food using British ingredients. Launched by George Hammer, the man behind Urban Retreat Cafe, a concession on the fifth floor at Harrods, and Events One, an events company with equally prestigious sites, GrEat British for some reason just didn’t capture the appetite of diners and was averaging around 40 covers a day. But a look over what was satisfying the taste buds revealed a niche in the market which its owner moved quickly to capitalise on.

Pete Taylor, who has been with the business since it opened and who heads up the team of five chefs now at Mayfair, comments: “When we were operating as GrEat British, fish and chips and shepherds pie were our top selling dishes. We looked around and couldn’t find many places selling good quality fish and chips, so we decided to change the restaurant name and specialise in fish dishes, with the addition of a takeaway.”

With the name change came a refurbishment which has seen oak wall panels replaced with white, London Underground inspired tiles, retro pin-board menus go up and a classic neon sign promoting the takeaway taking pride of place by the entrance. Traces of Mayfair glamour, such as marbled table tops and black and white chequered floor tiles, still exist, however, to ensure it merits is upmarket location.

On the menu is cod, haddock and plaice which with chips cost £12.75 to eat in or £9.50 to takeaway — not bad for a top London address I thought— while for just under £2 extra, diners can opt for the Mayfair Classic which includes a side of peas, curry, sauce and tartare sauce. Of course, being in Mayfair and enabling Pete to put his cheffing skills to good use, there’s also fresh oysters, crab and mussels and, for the non-fish eaters, a rib eye steak, shepherds pie and steak and kidney pudding.

Around 80% of sales here are fish, which demonstrates just how successful the move has been. But it’s also testament to Pete’s insight into fish and chips, having by coincidence helped set up a chain of six fish and chip shops for a previous boss some years earlier.

“One of the things I remember from my days in fish and chips was that the batter was as important as the fish,” remarks Pete. “From the very beginning, I wanted to do a beer batter as I just think it makes the best batter; it’s lighter and aerated and gives a nice colour. So we spent about two days in the kitchen and probably tried about 30 different recipes to get to the one we use now, which is literally beer, cornflour, sparkling water and self raising flour. I have a specification sheet  on the wall to ensure it’s consistent and we always make it 24 hours before we need to use it so the gluten rests properly.”

Just as much thought has gone into sourcing the fish, which is frozen at sea and pre-portioned into 10oz fillets. “Chefs can be a bit snobby about frozen at sea and tend to opt for fresh, but when we did blind taste tests we found that you couldn’t tell the difference and yet frozen at sea was actually more consistent,” remarks Pete.

With the kitchen downstairs mimicking the long narrow premises above, much of the prep has been taken out of the shop and happens at its central kitchen just a few miles away at Charing Cross. Here, all curry sauce, tartare sauce and mushy peas are homemade along with many of the pies, puddings and desserts. With no space for potato prepping, chips are brought in pre-prepared from a supplier Pete tracked down himself.

“We’ve gone for 18mm thick chips and they are only made from the centre parts of the potato. I don’t use any of the sides, so the chips are really nice and uniform,” Pete explains. “It means we pay a premium - I think most shops pay about 75p a kilo whereas we are paying £1.40 — but we wanted everything we do here to be that bit more special.”

As well as saving on space, the fact that much of the product arrives at the chippy pre-prepared helps tackle one of its biggest challenges - fluctuations in trade due to its location. “While one week our busiest day might be a Friday, the following week it could be a Monday, depending on what is happening in London," explains Pete. "For the two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, trade tailed off almost completely as shoppers and tourists stayed away."

Frying in rapeseed oil on a two pan Hopkins range, everything is cooked to order. There are no hot boxes incorporated into the range as the food goes straight from the frier onto a plate or takeaway box and transported upstairs via two dumbwaiters.

While the Mayfair Chippy is aiming to keep standards high — a re-inspection by the Michelin Guide after the rebrand ensured it retained its place — it’s not pretentious and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, there’s scraps on the menu free of charge and on paying the bill customers are given a bag of retro penny sweets to see them on their way.

Pete is certainly content with where the new business is heading, adding: “Like everything, there’s no one way of doing things. Everyone has their own style and we’ve made our own path and now we just want to concentrate on continuing that path.”

The only possible bone of contention could be the takeaway, which has been slow to take off, but it’s not weighing on Pete’s mind. “When we first talked about the takeaway we had a competition to see who would be right about how busy it would be. Everyone thought it would be 50/50 but it’s probably about 10% takeaway. But that’s OK, because the margins are obviously not as high in the takeaway and it’s enough to fill the quieter times.”

Determined to put quality ahead of quantity, Pete’s been quick to knock back offers from various delivery companies, staying true to his belief that fish and chips should be consumed instantly. Instead, the team is focusing on plans to grow the business with up to five potential new openings.

“When we rebranded, the shop became the Great British Fish and Chip Restaurant but then we realised there were quite a few like that,” says Pete. “So we introduced the name Mayfair, which has the whole heritage and tells people where we come from, while Chippy says what we do. We want to open other sites and I think that name will work wherever they might be.”


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