The Great British Sunday Lunch- Lillian Gish and Jockey’s Whips– why that’s Cockney for Fish and Chips!
My dad would have boxed my ears to hear such words uttered from my dainty mouth. Proper words for a proper English girl please! But, there were the odd occasions when politeness faded away. Fish fork forgotten, and the table serviette folded in the drawer, all for a day’s outing in London where we stopped at Charring Cross, just under the bridge, underneath the large green leaves of an English plane tree. There was the magic stand! A Fish and Chip man! How carefully we held the hot Fish and Chips wrapped in newspaper. It never tasted better, and we didn’t die from the ink! Somewhere in the 80’s the powers that be decided that eating Fish and Chips, in paper with ink printed all over it, wasn’t good for you. Well, there you go, I survived my childhood. Nowadays Fish and Chips are wrapped in plain paper with good lashing of vinegar and a hearty shaking of sea salt to remind the fish from where it once hailed.
The Fish and Chip stand we went to years ago is long closed. The first fish shop was opened in London by Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, and stood on what is the present site of Oldhams’ Tommyfield Market, within the sounds of Bow Bells in East London. His was the first recorded Fish and Chip shop in London, the exact year is unclear, either 1860, or 1865, but a Blue Plaque in Cleveland Street declares it as 1860.
But even before the doors were open to the first Fish and Chippie, in 1860 ish, Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, in his fabulous A Tale of Two Cities: “ husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.” Who else can refer to drops of oil as reluctant! He mentions a fried fish warehouse in Oliver Twist, which is interesting to note, as he calls it a warehouse. I wonder if that means it was an early form of takeaway restaurant? I doubt it means a true warehouse. Fish was usually sold by street vendors with large trays that hung around the necks, very much like the bagel man with his row of bagels on a long stick.
Standing on the pavement eating Fish and Chips, watching the world go by, was about to have some serious competition when Samuel Issacs born in 1856 in White Chapel London. Samuel Issacs was a thriving fish wholesaler, opened his first restaurant in 1896 serving fish and chips, bread and butter and tea for nine pence– a greasy serving of fish and carbs indeed. Can you imagine Fish and Chips being honoured with waiters, tablecloths, flowers, china, forks and knives? All this going on in Tottencourt Road, and various other locations in London! My, my, how high brow the lowly Fish and Chip has risen. His shops were so popular they grew to some 30 locations. His trademark phrase was, “THIS IS THE PLAICE!”
White linen, crystal glass, may be nice, but Fish and Chips are best eaten outdoors and wrapped in paper. There is no way to resist the moist white fish in a golden crispy batter, cosying up to thick fat fluffy chips that just cry out for lashings of salt and vinegar!
Who married chips to fish? They’re good finger food, and one rather fanciful theory is; the fried slices of potatoes do in a way look like golden fish. It might have been a substitute for fish when the rivers froze, or that was all that could be afforded that night for the table. Either way, it is a marriage that will never fail. One cannot go without the other!
Last Sunday we stayed in and missed our famous Sunday Lunch. It was an odd day, but it gave me chance to remember when we rode down to Whitstable on a sunny winter’s day.
We headed out not planning to have Fish and Chips for our Sunday Lunch. Our hearts were set on a proper Sunday Roast; roasted potatoes, minted peas, lamb, but the aroma from the fish shop was overpowering! It led us by our proverbial noses and instead of a Sunday roast, we stood on the side of the street, outside a closed charity shop, eating our fish and chips in paper, salt on our fingers, and quite happily stuffed ourselves silly in the cold fresh air of Whitstable.
Whitstable’s a seaside town in Northeast Kent, and it is famous for its oysters, which have been harvested here since Roman Times. Oysters have their day, but nothing compares to eating fish and chips within a few feet of the sea! The crisp air, the gulls crying for pieces of your lunch all make for a perfect day. Ignoring the gulls, we ate every last crumb and then we walked along the Island Wall, the closest street to the seafront. It has numerous buildings dating from the mid-19th century– the Neptune and Wall Tavern Pubs, and the Dollar Row cottages.
It was a glorious end to a day with 99p ice cream cones in hand, avoiding Squeeze Gut Alley, which we knew we could not fit through after devouring our massive portion of fish and chips. It was time to head back home and end another perfect Sunday Lunch with good friends and good food.