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Review: The Bishopston Fish Bar

Times are tough, ladies and gentlemen, and with the bailiff only ever a few missed payments from the doorstep, my quondam dining habits must be reined in. No more Grace for me, indeed, nor any of the Glassboat’s dainty delights. For as winter draws in and the purse-strings tighten, one turns neither to consommé nor to coquilles St Jacques, but to vast helpings of life-affirming carbohydrates.

Fish and Chips 1
Look at that grease.

Some time ago, while perusing a newspaper or something, I happened to stumble upon a survey. This survey was so repugnant, so utterly intolerable, that I can only assume it has since been censored by our benevolent and maternal secret police force, since I can find no record of its existence. In the absence of proof, then, reject it if you will. Shroud yourself in the comfort of denial, slather your face with the balm of ignorance. But I assure you that this survey, this depraved investigation, reported that not only Indian takeaway, but also Chinese, fried chicken and—dare I say it—burgers are now more popular with the fickle and misguided public than the laudable institution of fish and chips.

So viscerally repulsed was I by this indicator of national decline that, hurling the newspaper to the floor, I hurtled down the Gloucester Road. Before I knew it, I found my nose assailed once more by the familiarly nauseating aroma of boiling fat—lunch was served.

I never cease to be amused by the folk one encounters in a chip shop. From the decrepit old lady to the overweight youth, all provide a moment’s interesting study. Best of all, however, are the labourers, who devise any number of stomach-turning concoctions involving battered sausage, cheap faggots and the all-important free curry sauce, with the notable omission of fish of any kind.

Fish and Chips 2
I’m not doing very well with varied photographs in this article. Here is the very same fish and chips, a few minutes later!

In my experience, fish and chip shops have only a finite quantity of, well, quality, and this must be channelled into one of two directions: food or atmosphere. Any chip shop that boasts carefully written signs and an air of austere  cleanliness will by necessity serve dreary fish and meagre chips, while a shop strongly reminiscent of earlier, less fussy regulations, can be (almost) guaranteed to offer a top notch meal. I say almost, because some anomalous dealers – I recall one in St Dogmaels – manage to sell disgusting food from a disgusting shop, while only one—and this one in Dublin—is satisfying both culinarily and environmentally. The Welsh and Irish probably have a different system.

Now, finally to begin my review, Bishopston Fish Bar falls decidedly in the good food category, and quite rightly so. No-one in their right mind actually eats in a fish and chip shop, so why concentrate on the surroundings? My brother and I ordered a plaice apiece (credit must go to Kieran Small for converting me from haddock to plaice) and, having refused the offer of vinegar with a supercilious disdain, we dashed off home to gobble it.

There’s not actually all that much to say in this review. The main course was fish and chips. It was good. Bishopston doesn’t mess around with a wafer-thin crust: the fish was daubed in a hearty coat of golden batter, neither too crispy nor too soggy, with a satisfactory degree of greasiness. The chips, too, are far removed from dainty French fries, cut thick and cooked to a level of succulent softness that would be unacceptable if not bathed in salt. Thankfully, the food is all cooked fresh to order, rather than sweltering under a heat lamp for a few hours before sale. The mushy peas, which I had once, are substandard.

But all in all, Bishopston is about as good as a fish and chip shop gets, certainly my favourite in Bristol. But don’t just take my word for it: as the innumerable posters plastered on the shop will inform you, it is in fact many times ‘award winning’, and has been rated in the top fifty nationally by the illustrious ‘Fry Magazine’. I must get a subscription…

★★★☆☆

 (I mean, if I exclusively reviewed chip shops, it would get five stars, but in the grand scheme of restaurants it’s not going to, is it?)