Saucy East-West divide that’s as Scottish as haggis

editorial image

National Fish and Chip Day this week was a timely reminder that despite challenges from other fast foods the celebrated supper is still frying high.

However much nonsense has been talked about alleged “British” fish and chip habits, which don’t really bear close examination when you batter them down to national and regional level.

The classic “salt and vinegar” you expect as a standard option in the west mysteriously transmutes to “salt n’ sauce” when you hit the strangely different milieu of our capital city.

In Edinburgh (and other points east), the sauce in question is a brown, runny commodity which unwary visitors can find unsettling and unwelcome.

Meanwhile although pickled eggs and gherkins rightly gain a mention as accompaniments in “typical” UK fish and chip shops not enough mention is (we feel) made of pickled onions – the large sort, packed with astringent flavour.

If you do find yourself in search of a fish supper in Edinburgh arguably one of the very best options is The Tailend at 14-15 Albert Place (an inshot of Leith Walk).

As both a fish and chip shop and restaurant it manages the difficult art of being absolutely top of the range without being fussy or pretentious, and scores 11 out of 10 in every department - from service to stupendous quality.

In fact this is a seafood venture rather than just a fish proposition - for example sole, monkfish, turbot and calamari are among the options - and rather than “vinegar or sauce” there are all sorts of condiment options to suit personal preferences.

Portions are generous, fish super-fresh and expertly prepared. Presentation is perfect.

Meanwhile it has to be observed that very many of Scotland’s top fish and chip shops are Italo-Scottish in origin (a tradition which began in earnest more than a century ago).

This is perhaps more than the UK average, and in some cases it can confer some considerable additional side benefits.

Take the University Cafe in Glasgow’s Byres Road, for example.

Its adjoining fish and chip shop is easily one of the best in the city, but while ordering your fish supper (depending on the time of day) you also have the option of bumping up the already impressive calorie count with some real Italian ice cream from the cafe.

Every now and then you may decide to have home-made Spaghetti Bolognaise instead of fish and chips – a restaurant quality dish at an unremarkable fast food price.

This enterprise is a particularly good example of a well-established favourite that never went out of fashion, one shared by outlet such as Palombo’s of Balloch, the late-lamented Brattisani’s of Edinburgh’s Haymarket, or (more locally) Gennaro’s in Anniesland - there are many more.

Fish and chips was launched as a concept by Italians, but of course Scottish outlets generally have long perfected the art of deep-frying almost anything edible – sometimes to the puzzlement and consternation of visitors from down south or abroad.

“What IS black pudding?” is a constant query from curious but vaguely worried customers unfamiliar with the concept.

When informed that the short answer is “blood” it’s not unknown for some of the more squeamish to make their excuses and leave - so missing out on one of the undoubted stars of traditional Scottish fish and chip culture.

Haggis (technically a variety of blood sausage) is in pretty much the same league, and is approached with the same sort of circumspection UK tourists to the Far East display when contemplating oriental food stalls purveying various kinds of edible bugs.

Excuses can be made for battering haggis and black pudding, but Scots are on shakier ground with the local version of pizza, which few Italians in the home country could ever have imagined would become something you would choose to put anywhere near a fryer.

National Fish and Chip Day was yesterday, but for anyone who missed it a Saturday night catch-up celebration is perfectly acceptable and appropriate.

Just watch, if you’re in Edinburgh, that you don’t - like so many innocent Weegies - fall victim to that rogue east coast “salt n’ sauce” aberration.