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A fisherman’s friend

The Fisherman’s Kitchen in Southsea, Portsmouth, is helping drive change in the industry not just with its fresh take on fish and chips but also the growing emphasis it is placing on being a responsible business

From a conversation with a friend on the beach one day about the lack of decent places to enjoy fish and chips in Portsmouth, Gary Moreton-Jones grasped the idea of opening a modern day chippy and ran with it.

Putting his 22 years’ experience as a chef in top end restaurants into practice, top of Gary’s list to get right were fluffy chips, quality fresh fish and a crispy batter.

“I literally spent six months nailing the chips and the beer batter,” explains Gary. “Friends of mine opened up a veg company at the same sort of time, so they went out and sourced local potatoes for us and helped us test the potatoes to make sure we got the perfect chip. Once a week they get a couple of varieties of potatoes from our local farm and they will cook them off and phone us to say what the best potatoes for chips that week will be.”

The batter received the same treatment with Gary tirelessly perfecting it until he was confident he had got a light, tempura crispness which would let the big white flakes of fish do the talking.

The fish here isn’t just battered or, come to mention it, purely cod and haddock. There’s a selection of grilled fish, including hake, mackerel and sea bass, as well as different varieties of batters - a Parmesan and coriander panko crumb for the hake, a Malaysian curry crumb to go with the king prawns and a ginger beer and coriander batter to set off the sea bass. And just in case you thought this all sounded very upmarket, it isn’t. With a big student population, The Fisherman’s Kitchen has a weekly changing loaded chips menu which so far has included classic poutine, grilled chorizo, melted cheese, jalapeños and chipotle mayo, and on Sundays, a roast beef and beef gravy loaded chips. And the locals are loving all of it.

Gary comments: “The first six months we really wanted to put our stamp down locally and say ‘look we do fish and chips really, really well’ and get customers’ confidence in us up but, to be honest, the moment we started people were coming in and asking to try the ginger beer batter, which comes out bright green!

“Although we are predominately a fish and chip shop, we do a lot of grilled fish and quite a lot of seafood and, because of that, we get people coming back three or four times a week. We’ll get people in on a Monday for grilled sea bass who then come back on a Wednesday and have grilled hake, then fish and chips on a Friday.”

As well as crafting his own path in terms of the food on offer, Gary has been keen to limit the shop’s impact on the environment. Before opening, Gary had decided to use biodegradable cardboard packaging for everything going out the door, but not long afterwards he’d gone one step further and asked all his fish suppliers who were bringing fish in polystyrene boxes to bring it in cardboard, and they agreed.

“There’s been no impact on the quality of the fish, it’s exactly the same,” explains Gary. “All the polystyrene was basically doing was insulating the fish. Now our suppliers just use ice and, because we are in when the fish comes in anyway, we unpack it immediately. Whereas the polystyrene was going straight in the bin, which filled our bins up really fast, the cardboard is all getting recycled so is a much better solution all round.

It’s been a win-win situation as Gary’s fish suppliers have turned it into a selling point by telling customers they are trying to eliminate polystyrene and asking if they would like their fish delivered in cardboard packaging too. “A lot of places have said yes and have switched over from polystyrene so it’s started a bit of a trend,” adds Gary.

As well as paper bags, cardboard boxes and biodegradable curry sauce and pea puree pots, The Fisherman’s Kitchen is tackling packaging on every front. Even its frying medium, a sunflower oil with 8% saturated fat and added Omega 3, is delivered in plastic containers which are returned and refilled with the chippy receiving £1.60 back per container.

More recently, The Fisherman’s Kitchen signed up to be a water refill station, which means customers can come in and refill their water bottles for free, helping to cut down on the number of plastic bottles going to landfill. It also sells RNLI glass bottled water, which for every bottle sold sees a donation go to the charity. Combined with using local suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint for transportation, The Fisherman’s Kitchen is taking its role of being a sustainable and responsible business seriously.

“It’s important to us as a business to have this way of thinking, but it’s also important to our customers as we get a lot of feedback on social media saying people use us because we don’t use plastic. Customers aren’t just thinking about what they are eating now but how they are eating it,” concludes Gary.

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