When the chips are down - Auckland's best fish 'n chips

By Kirsten MacFarlane

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As a nation, we love our fish'n chips. A warm bundle of convenience food, with its own set of dining rituals - the rustle of paper, burst of steam, crunch of batter and slurp of tomato sauce.

We love to debate whether it should be salt and vinegar, lemon, or brown sauce. And fries go well with a cup of tea or glass of bubbly.

But our chippie shops are changing, with a breed of boutique seafood delis serving delicacies such as panko-crumbed squid and blackened snapper.

Some of these trendy chippies are even replacing the newsprint parcel with a handy takeaway box, in stark white, no less.

Still, plenty of chippies offer traditional beer batter and packets of tartare to squirt on your fries - and occasionally on your best gear.

It's a tradition that's been enjoyed for generations. Politicians are among the fish'n chip fans. Former Prime Minister David Lange and his four cohorts were known as the Fish'n Chip Brigade - and let's not forget that One Nation's Pauline Hanson was a fish'n chip shop owner.

Bart Littlejohn, from Sails restaurant, nearly caused a customer revolt when he took the fish'n chips off the menu. It was back on the menu 10 days later.

After experimenting with hand-cut chips and special crumbing methods, Sails' owner has come full circle and reverted to shoestring chips and traditional beer-batter for the fish - and that's the way the customers like it.

The Heart Foundation estimates that we wolf down $7 million of fast-food portions every year - the fat runneth over our hips.

But the campaign to change the frying habits of chippie owners is gathering strength. For the past decade, The Chip Group - made up of food service suppliers and the Heart Foundation - has been targeting fast-food outlets to help reduce the fat content of hot chips by 20 per cent.

In 2002, The University of Auckland's Department of Community of Health published a nationwide survey of fast-food outlets that measured the fat content of fries. The average was 11.5 per cent, and ranged from 5 per cent in some places to a whopping 25 per cent in others.

Andrea Bidois from the Heart Foundation says it's difficult to convince takeaway owners, who already operating on slim margins, to switch from unhealthy palm olein oil to recommended deep-frying oils such as ricebran oil or high oleic sunflower oil.

"KFC fast-food chain is among the estimated 80 per cent of fast-food outlets are still using a highly-saturated oil," Bidois says.

But there are signs that the industry is taking up the health promoters' catchcry of shake, bang and hang behind the deep fryer.

Next month The Chip Group will publish the results of a second nationwide survey, and preliminary results show the industry has improved since the survey five years ago. But given the rise in nutrition-related chronic diseases, should we keep eating deep-fried food?

For the past four years, health practitioners in the Mangere Healthy Kai programme have been encouraging retailers and customers to give up fries and eat healthy food.

After three years of intense promotion, people are changing their habits - and the programme a finalist in the Health Innovation Awards.

The golden rule is: eat fish'n chips sometimes but not often.

What's the bet this article will be chip paper tomorrow?

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BEST VALUE
Grey Lynn Seafood Market

You have to love the classic fish murals on the outside and the fresh fish displays in the window. And the takeaway prices make this chippie excellent value for money. The crumbed gurnard is surprisingly good - thick and juicy to the bite. What's more, it's one of the cheapest on offer. The grilled tarakihi is just as tasty and the chips are great.

Where: 561 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn

BEST PRESENTATION
Salt Seafood Deli

The seafood combo - with its sampling of fish and crustaceans - is a family favourite. Buy an extra scoop of chips and a few pieces of buttered bread and you can easily feed a family of five. The combo comes in handy takeaway boxes with lemon slices. If you want to eat in, this place has a classy atmosphere, with the added bonus of street entertainment and good reading matter.

Where: 476 Richmond Rd, Westlynn

BEST SETTING
Huia Beach Store & Cafe

Go west to mix salt air with your fish'n chips. Take your bundle of fries and tomato sauce to the shore across the road from the cafe and marvel at the breathtaking scenery. With its soaring volcanic mountains, Huia could be Hawaii at a pinch (of salt). And you can walk off those kilojoules with a quick romp to Little Huia.

Where: 1194 Huia Rd, Huia

And lest we forget, there's the Piha RSA. It serves superb fish'n chips, with Lion Rock making a great background. Viva also highly commends the Piha Bowling Club - it serves delicious fish'n chips and offers a healthy salad to go with them. Cheap as chips, and bowling is so fashionable these days.

BEST BATTER
The Fishmonger

Traditionalists may frown, but panko breadcrumbs have a mighty crunch. The Fishmonger chain use hot plates to cook fish coated with Japanese-type breadcrumbs, which are more aerated than normal. Fresh from the hot plate, the fish is crunchy on the outside and juicy inside - just as it should be. Your fish of the day can also be served New Orleans blackened or with a Mediterranean rub. As a boutique chippie, The Fishmonger has an array of salads and special dishes such as tuna skewers with mustard, citrus and rosemary. The seafood chowder from the Upland Village shop is dreamy. Some say it's expensive, but who cares when the seafood is top notch?

Where: The Fishmonger, 612 Remuera Rd, Upland Village and 182 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay; also in Parnell and Howick

BEST NAME
The Codfather

You have to love a shop that conjures up a name with Hollywood nostalgia - and they serve good fish'n chips too. Festooned with colourful cartoon characters, this shop raises a chuckle even before you've even placed an order. Just don't try any lame imitations from The Godfather movie, especially Richard Castellano's classic line as Pete Clemenza: "It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

Where: 84 Hinemoa St, Birkenhead

BEST POSH FISH
The Catch

The fish'n chips are to dive for, not to mention all the other seafood delights. Dine outside under the canopy, glass of wine in hand and succulent fish in the other. Eventually the tank farm in the distance takes on a celestial glow.

Where: Auckland Fish Market, 22 Jellicoe St, City

BEST FISH - FINE DINING
Sails Restaurant

Fancy silver cutlery and champagne with your fish dish? Sails restaurant has featured beer-battered fish'n chips on its menu for nearly 25 years and the regulars kick up a storm if there's any mention of it going. It may be a traditional fry-up, but it's top-of-the-line Snapper and John Dory with shoestring fries, caper, gherkin, Spanish onion and parsley mayonnaise. Book a window table and marvel at the collection of marine hardware below.

Where: Westhaven Dr, Westhaven Marina

BEST SQUID
Cortado

It was the wafting smell of the spicy squid that lured us into this takeaway and at first bite we were hankering for more - that's if you like sizzled squid with no batter. Highly recommend you stroll down to the beach to scoff.

Where: 29 Waikare Rd, Oneroa

BEST HYGIENE
Farteze Fine Food

It came close to claiming the best name - but that would have been nasty. It does take the prize for cleanliness and we even sent a spy around the back of the shop to check it was as impeccable as out front. Serves good fish'n chips to boot.

Where: 52 Oteha Valley Rd, Albany

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ON THE ROAD

If you're on the road, Viva has signposted some of the best chippies.

Best central

Market Fresh Fish grill at Auckland Fish Market. We love the mix of Euro and Asian.

Best heading west

Westgate Takeaways, Massey. Reliable chippie trying to improve chip quality.

Best heading north

Takapuna Fish Supply. Another reliable chippie with decent kai. Further north, try the fish'n chip shop at Leigh.

Best heading east

Focus on Fish, Howick - and further east, Beesties Seafood, Clevedon.

Best heading south

The Chip Ship, Royal Oak; and Fisherman's Catch, Pukekohe.

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SHAKE, BANG & HANG TEST

If you just can't resist a scoop of deep-fried chips, at least go to a takeaway that uses healthy frying methods.

The Chip Group wants to reduce the fat content in fries by 20 per cent. The group of food service suppliers and the Heart Foundation provides tips on healthy frying methods and runs the annual Best Chip Shop competition.

Producing a chip that's lower in fat is easy - use thick-cut chips cooked for three to four minutes in clean fat or oil at 180C. And they must be thoroughly drained.

So how can you tell a healthy chippie? You may not get a straight answer, but ask what oil they're using and keep a watchful eye on the "shake, bang and hang" method.

Nearly 50 Auckland fish'n chip shops registered for last year's Best Chip Shop competition. Here's Viva's seagull rating for five on the list:

Oceanz Seafood Markets, Pakuranga
Herald rating: * * * * *
Last year's regional winner of the Best Chip Shop competition, and it's still serving tasty fries.

Oneroa Fish & Chips, Waiheke Island
Herald rating: * * * *

The Fishmonger, Parnell
Herald rating: * * * *

Fishpot Cafe, Mission Bay
Herald rating: * * *

Fast Eddie's, Howick
Herald rating: * * * *

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