While many fish and chip shops are adding more meat and chicken to the menu, The Fish & The Chip in Leicester has stripped its back to focus on fish, vegetarian and vegan options. Could this be the modern day fish and chip shop?
Two years is not a very long time in business but for The Fish & The Chip, which opened in Leicester in 2017, it’s been enough for front man Aatin Anadkat to completely rethink its direction.
As well as offering traditional fish and chips, home-made burgers and sausages, the 70-seater restaurant and takeaway opened with the aim of appealing to coeliacs too. It uses a gluten free batter while staff make all its own gluten free breadcrumbs and source suitable bread and rolls. However, in the short time it’s taken for The Fish & The Chip to establish itself, a new food trend has taken root in Leicester - the rise of the plant-based diet.
In the business of giving customers what they want, Aatin made the decision to remove all meat items from the menu and focus on the growing pescetarian, vegetarian and vegan markets. He comments: “We were just getting into the swing of offering gluten free when the vegan, plant-based thing really came out of nowhere. We thought why not stretch what we’re already doing a little bit more and, as well as making the menu gluten free, make it vegan too.”
Eight months into the new venture, the team started developing an entire range of fish, vegetarian and vegan dishes from scratch and rolling them out gradually until it was ready in January this year to make the ultimate step and remove all meat items from the menu entirely. It didn’t stop there, however, The Fish & The Chip also eliminated any trace of dairy and eggs from the kitchen.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the threat of cross-contamination,” says Aatin. “I completely understand that, which is why from our point of view it was easier to say let’s just eradicate it completely and then we can say with absolute confidence we will never be in a situation where someone accidentally gets a tartare sauce made with eggs, for example, because they both look the same. Kitchens are busy places and sadly mistakes do happen.”
It’s paved the way for some exciting menu options. The chippy now offers three versions of fish and chips - traditional batter, a jerk marinated fillet and a Mediterranean style olive, lemon and garlic marinated one. The rest of the menu is made up of spins on fish and chips, for example, there’s a street food-inspired Korean style vegan fish burger, a trendy fish finger hot dog in panko crumbs, vegan squid rings made from mushrooms, and an entirely plant-based tartare sauce. It’s not your standard fish and chips fare that’s for sure.
Predicting the market
Aatin and his team are pretty adept at predicting where the market is heading and it’s not the first big change the business has undergone. Previous to the restaurant being a fish and chip shop, Aatin was running it as a fine dining restaurant complete with a cocktail bar and boutique hotel.
“We could see a change in the market coming with the rise of Deliveroo in terms of how people go out and how much they spend,” explains Aatin. “People don’t necessarily go out once a week and spend £50 now, they go out twice a week and are happy to spend £15-£20. It’s a different way of dining now.
“We also noticed that, whereas people used to come in and spend four to five hours with us and have cocktails, then dinner, followed by post-dinner cocktails, accelerate that 10 years and after two hours people are itching to go on to the next place. We needed to adapt to that, so we said let’s do something that’s a lot more casual and informal and also less reliable on skilled labour, because that’s also a big challenge in the high-end fine dining world. Good chefs are exceptionally hard to find, so we made the leap into fish and chips.”
With The Fish & The Chip having evolved again already, is a pescetarian and plant-based menu bringing in business? The answer is yes with trade being positive albeit a different demographic. Aatin adds: “We see people coming in more often now and bringing in their friends because it’s food they can’t get everywhere. We get a lot of people coming back because of the quality of our food and the fact it’s fresh. Vegan and gluten free food are all about getting the flavour right. It’s that that people remember. You can’t forget in all this that it’s still food, it still has to taste great.”
“People don’t necessarily go out once a week and spend £50 now, they go out twice a week and are happy to spend £15-£20. It’s a different way of dining now."
Naturally there are customers who are disappointed with the changes and Aatin is fully aware it has cost bookings and, ultimately, sales but he believes in what he is doing and why he’s doing it, adding: “We do have limitations in our kitchen and we can’t reintroduce meat back in without posing the risk of cross-contamination and that’s the bit we take seriously.”
Equally important as doing the right thing is turning a profit and Aatin is of the opinion that the new menu means the business is better equipped now than it was previously. “We’re actually in a stronger position, one because we’re making the items from scratch, and, two, because it’s a more sensible approach to food,” he explains. “Take fish prices. At the moment they are sky high. I think we’re paying 45% more than what we were last year, and potatoes are twice the cost, so margins are being squeezed and there is a cap on the price you can get away with charging for fish and chips. But if you can offer something a bit more innovative and different maybe those customers are willing to pay a little bit more.”
When Aatin first entered fish and chips his appetite was very much for expansion, but with the current state of the industry and the new direction for The Fish & The Chip, he has other plans. “I worry about the restaurant industry in general as it has some massive challenges,” he remarks. “What we’ve all got to understand is that these big guys that are failing, they might be failing because they are over-leveraged or because they have too much debt, but you know what? They have a huge amount of skill and knowledge and resources behind them to succeed. The reality is that a lot of small businesses - and I include us in that - don’t have that background, we don’t have an infinite amount of money and we are all in a difficult situation where we are trying to keep our heads above water and I think innovation is a good answer to that.
“When we innovate we feel we are doing something to keep us moving and to push the boundaries and it works for us.”
Instead of opening new sites, Aatin is keen to move into manufacturing the gluten free, vegetarian and vegan items his team has developed in the kitchen so as to make them available to other fish and chip shops. He’s already identified a couple of sites to start manufacturing and hopes to be ready to go in as little as three to four months. He comments: “There may be a smaller operator that is used to buying everything in and dropping it in a fryer and who doesn’t have the time or background to do what we have done but whose customers might want vegan fish, for example. If we can help others and supply back into the industry and share our innovation then we don’t have an issue with that at all.”
With the business now on a very different path to the one it set out on, could we see a rebranding of The Fish & The Chip or is it simply a modern day version of a chippy? “It does pose a few challenges I guess because people think fish and chips but when they look at the menu it’s certainly not your traditional fish and chips,” admits Aatin. “Where we’ve adapted, maybe the brand doesn’t quite fit now so it may be something we change later. But part of the challenge is that things keep evolving, you never know quite where you’re going to be or what the challenge will be.”