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Down by the waterside

Chef and restaurateur Josh Eggleton has successfully taken one brand, Salt & Malt, and tailored it to suit the different audiences that his two Bristol waterside fish and chip shops attract

Opening the first Salt & Malt in Chew Valley, Bristol, 18 months ago was a departure from Josh Eggleton’s Michelin starred pub restaurant The Pony & Trap in nearby Chew Magna. However, it wasn’t a totally unexpected move with the pub chef holding fond memories of his first job in a fish and chip shop, a place where his love for the trade started and where he says he learnt many of the basics of cooking and food preparation.

With a second Salt & Malt opening just a stone’s throw away at Wapping Wharf two months ago, fish and chips is proving to be a different beast to what Josh is used to. The footfall for one is much higher with his Chew Valley chippy serving up to 1,200 diners a week while Wapping Wharf often reaches almost double that at 2,000 diners a week.

The Salt & Malt ethos is simple, to achieve quality and to serve the very best fish and chips. At the heart of this is  sustainably sourced, fresh local ingredients with frozen at sea cod and haddock from the North Atlantic sitting alongside regularly changing daily specials that are line caught in Cornwall. It’s a formula that is clearly working at both locations, although Josh has had to tweak the offering slightly to ensure the menu appeals to two very different sets of demographics.

Salt & Malt in Wapping Wharf is a modern 25 cover restaurant and takeaway in a quirky shipping container development named Cargo 2 which overlooks Bristol Harbour. It’s small but well formed with a nautical feel which reflects the menu and a terrace offering stunning views of Bristol harbour and the Matthew, the boat which carried John Cabot to discover America. It pulls in a mixed audience, but predominately it’s a younger crowd who work in the area or who head to Cargo 2 at the weekend.

Salt & Malt on Chew Valley Lake, on the other hand, serves the local community so attracts a mix of ages from older people who use it not just as a restaurant but also a tearoom, families with small children who make great use of the play area, plus anyone else that uses the lake and walks their dogs nearby.

At Wapping Wharf parts of the menu are inspired by The Pony & Trap so, as well as cod and haddock, diners are treated to Josh’s interpretation of fish, one of his favourites being a mackerel fillet, lightly cured, blow torched and served with lightly fermented turnips.

At Salt & Malt in Chew Valley, the focus is on a traditional fish and chips menu to better suit the clientele. “This was a conscious decision to make the best out of the location but also to serve the locals and what they want at different times of the day,” remarks Josh.

As well as gently play with the idea of what fish and chips is, Josh has also chosen to offer 100% gluten free, making it simpler for families with food allergies to eat the same product all together. "Wheat shouldn’t be ignored but our gluten free recipe actually produces a better product," remarks Josh. "If a wheat based batter had been better we would have done both, but we feel we’ve come up with a batter that’s better, tastes great and is easier to digest.”

This is enhanced with a rapeseed oil Josh has sourced locally around Bristol. “It costs more but we think it’s a big contributor to the end results in our food and it makes a big difference to what we do. It’s tastier and overall produces a better product.”

Going for a high end, quality feel throughout both outlets, Salt & Malt Wapping Wharf features a Kiremko high efficiency frying range.

“Efficiency is a really important element to us and it’s cooking a better product,”remarks Josh. “We have an older range at our other Salt & Malt which isn’t as efficient so it was definitely worth the investment for the end result it produces. It has built-in filtration, which means it’s easy to use, easy to clean and is a one-stop-shop. It’s a sophisticated bit of kit.”

With such a modern brand attracting a fairly young audience, it’s surprising to hear Josh has no plans to start up a delivery service. In fact, he’s very strongly opposed to the idea, preferring his customers to come to him. “Food delivery services aren’t helping the restaurant industry. The use of them is ripping the heart out of the dining industry and letting people stay in their houses. What happened to walking into your local chippy and having an interaction with your local community? I believe this is really important.

“Also I’ve tried the services in Bristol and 60% of the time the food is cold or all at one end of the box because Bristol’s got a lot of hills! Some restaurateurs are stopping it because it damages their product; all their pizza toppings end up at one side of the box!”

However, Josh doesn’t rule out further sites, adding: “We really want to get the product right and create a continually great dining experience at both of the places we have right now. But if the right building came along on the north Somerset coast, then we’d definitely consider that as the next location.”

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