It was dark and drizzly the evening I ventured up to Fish & Fizz. Some may call it “ideal fish and chips weather.” I prefer “a nuisance to drive in weather.” I pulled into the Richardson strip-mall and parked next to a 1972 Austin black cab. The vehicle, which is native to the humming streets of London, stood out among all the Toyota Camrys and pickup trucks. The car belongs to restaurant owner Nick Barclay.
Inside, the walls are decorated with British flair and fish knickknacks. Wooden tables fill the dining room; families and neighborhood regulars settle into metal chairs. One wall is adorned with a cartoonish painting of beachgoers, relaxing in the sand along the Banjo Pier in the small English coastal town of Looe. The seaside destination is one that Fish & Fizz owners Nick and Kelli Barclay know well—it’s where they ran a boutique hotel and restaurant, and raised their kids. The duo isn’t new to Dallas, though. They’ve been here since the 1990s, and their previous North Texas venture, Barclay’s, was known for its British food. They served the same bubble and squeak (the Brits like to fry leftover vegetables the day after and mix them into a sort of mashed potato cake) and bread and butter pudding that they now offer at their Richardson restaurant.
But most come here for the fish and chips, a mound of golden and glistening Atlantic cod piled on a bed of thick russet fries. The fish is battered and then fried in a blend of canola and cottonseed oil. Although a bit oily, the crisp coating is thick and clings to the tender white flesh. The fries are a suitable match for the flaky fish if doused in malt vinegar and HP Sauce, the vinegary brown condiment commonly found on British tables.
The fish and chips were good. I mean, I was pretty sure they were. But I realized afterward that I had nothing to compare them to. I rarely order this dish.
I can count on two hands—and maybe a foot—the number of times I’ve had fish and chips in my life. There was the time last August, when I ordered them from a food truck in Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland. They were good. But I’d also just hiked up, and then back down, a freaking mountain. I’m pretty sure I would have been satisfied ingesting a fistful of wet moss.
I’d had them in England twice. Once five years ago at a pub in Hampstead, with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. The fish and the chips were a side note to the company and conversation. I couldn’t tell you if they were good or bad. I ate them all, so I’m sure they were, at the very least, fine. Another time was in London, but I was 10 and preoccupied with my hot pink raincoat. (I wish I still had that coat.) Another time I ate them at a park in high school. But that experience was squandered by an aggressive Canadian goose who was out for blood—and my French fries. I know that my dad really enjoys them, and I’m sure I’ve had them at a restaurant with him at some point. Here’s the thing: I don’t go out of my way to order fish and chips. So, after leaving Fish & Fizz, and feeling at a loss for comparison, I decided to explore the fish and chips scene in Dallas.
First step: ask friends where they go for fish and chips, make a list.
Second step: read articles on the internet, which other food writers have written, about fish and chips.
Third step: visit as many restaurants as I can that appear to have a promising fish and chips option.
Fourth step: collapse into a grease-fueled depression for a week and emerge wiser and with more knowledge than expected.
Fifth step: take two months to write about the experience because I’m traumatized that my skin is still, somehow, secreting fish-scented sweat. (This last part is a joke. My sweat actually smells like a fresh baked loaf of brioche, smothered in peach preserves. Give me a sniff, and see for yourself.)
Anyway, if you’re looking for some solid fish and chips in town, this is where you should go.
Meddlesome Moth: A generous serving of cod that’s battered with English bitter beer, cornstarch, ground white pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika. It’s served on top of the restaurant’s thin, Idaho made-in-house fries. The dish is served with a side of cold pea mash. This one is good. It’s also a massive portion, so you might consider sharing with a friend.
The Old Monk: Atlantic cod is battered in Smithwick’s Irish Red Ale, along with a blend of regular flour and rice flour. The exterior is like a mix between a crisp traditional batter with a hint of tempura. The fish is served with thick, steak-cut fries. The house-made tartar sauce is my favorite of all of the tartar sauces I tried. The creamy condiment blends roasted garlic, capers, olives, red onion, fresh tarragon, and dill.
Ten Bells Tavern: Thick hunks of flounder are beer-battered with Dogfish 90 and placed atop hand-cut fries, which are made in-house. The house-made tartar sauce is a mix of mayo and pickle relish. Go eat them.
The Libertine: North Atlantic cod is beer battered. The fish is served with hand-cut, double-fried, Belgian-style fries. Go eat them, too.
I reached out to a friend, who was raised in the U.K., for her thoughts on what defines good vs. bad fish and chips.
“Good fish and chips is definitely fresh local fish, fried and served with no fuss. It’s light and fresh. Frozen old rubbery fish fried in oil that tastes like a men’s locker room is bad.”
None of these tasted like a men’s locker room. They are the best fish and chips that I came across during my excursion. How does Fish & Fizz hold up in comparison? Great, actually. You should head to Richardson and try those, too. If you feel like I’ve missed your favorite, I’d love to hear about it. You’ll just have to give me a few months to get out there and try them; I’m currently on a strict zero-fried-fish diet.