GRANDMA Nash, Arthur Brett, the Frier Known Only As Bryan, Uncle Harry Ramsden and all, you gave us boys a good battering.... and we still lick our lips at the memory.
Doyens of the beef dripping-steeped tradition of fish and chips around Leeds, their legacy is very much alive. Bags of award-winning upstarts rival the venerable establishments and cholesterol doesn’t count when customers covet a deep-fried haddock. Odd soggy disappointment? Move on to that rival 'fisheries' in the hut next to the pub.
Now that whole world is turned upside down. Harry Ramsden’s in Guiseley is almost no more. The original outlet is doomed to closure because it’s apparently not profitable any more. The rest of the much sold-on empire threatens to go global with latest owner poultry magnate Ranjit Singh Boparan promising 100 Harry Ramsden franchises in India and China. And a mushy pea wallah in every one?
A far fry from the striped wooden shed beside a tram stop where our Harry started off in 1928. I called him Uncle in the intro because his nephew was another Harry, Corbett, the man who stuck his hand up a glove puppet bear the way chip aficionados finger the bottom of a bag in the search for the last vinegar-sodden scrap.
When Harry the Frier shifted from shed to a palatial roadside restaurant his showbiz nephew, pre-Sooty, would occasionally tinkle on the old ivories in the new palace with oak panels and chandeliers modeled on the Ritz. 250 folk sitting down at one time, a million customers a year at its zenith. I shudder to think how much beef dripping fuelled this artery-hardening orgy.
Celebs, they’ve had a few, including prime ministers. Fresh from playing the Troutbeck Hotel, Ilkley in the Sixties Jimi Hendrix chilled out over a chip supper there. A more obvious music legend customer was the late Sir Jimmy Savile.
The Ramsden’s name (now brand) has been exploited by a succession of owners over the past decade. It isn’t nostalgia ruling my tastebuds. Quality really did suffer with national expansion. I left an entire greasy portion of fish and chips once at the Manchester Airport branch. For me it was as barely edible as a KFC. Thanks to that chain reaction I never bothered to return to Guiseley to see if the sacred flame still burnt brightly there. But then there were so many toothsome alternatives just down the road.
What remains then?
Quite a lot thankfully. Here are the Big Three Fisheries that are worth a special trip to Leeds alone for. The formula is simple. Fish and chips done well require very hot fat (beef dripping preferably), which makes the thick-cut chips wonderfully crisp on the outside and fluffy within. It also means that the fish cooks so fast that done properly, the flesh inside the batter is juicy, flaking at the touch of a fork. And the batter is thoroughly cooked through.
With each we recommend a good boozer in which to cleanse the palate after. Sadly there’ll be no Leeds-brewed Tetleys. Another institution down the pan. (Traditionalists may prefer a mug of builder’s tea, heavily sugared).
Since 1934, a player. It serves lobster these days in a vaguely American diner setting, one of many upmarket foodie imports that came when Jan Fletcher of Harrogate’s Drum and Monkey took the helm. Wash down seafood pie or sea bass with a glass of rose, if you are of the effete persuasion. Reassuringly the trad chip shop fodder comes in vast portions.
Marks in the bag: 7
9 Weetwood Lane LS16 5LT (0113 278 5679 Click here).
Handy pub: Arcadia Ale and Wine Bar, 34 Arndale Centre, Otley Road LS6 2UE.
Former bank premises with eight beers on handpump.
This ivy clad cottage set back from the road to Headingley Cricket Ground was a particular favourite of John Arlott, the greatest cricket commentator to stalk the Earth (always armed with a couple of decent clarets in his ample pockets to lubricate his poetic Hampshire burr). John’s long gone to the great Long Room in the Sky but Brett’s, founded by Arthur Brett in 1919 as a sideline to his carriage business, soldiers on, seeing off competition from the admirable Midgley’s nearby.
Marks in the bag: 6
12-14 North Lane, Headingley, Leeds, LS6 3HE (013 232 3344).
Handy pub: Headingley Taps, North Lane, Headingley LS6 3HG.
Once a water pumping station, more characterful outside than in. Taylors Landlord and karaoke.
A personal favourite thanks to the mock-Tudor decor, friendly service and handiness for the city centre’s delights. Grandma Nash opened her first shop on Park Lane in Leeds in the 1920s. After a move to Chapel Allerton, the family settled on a listed former private boy’s school up on Merrion Street, clad their waitresses in smart black and white uniforms and they’ve never looked back. The thesps visiting the Grand Theatre have always loved it and so do I. The fish and chips are back to their best,too.
Marks in the bag: 8
17 Merrion Street LS2 8JE (0113 285 5960 click here)
Handy pub: North Bar, 24 New Briggate LS1 6NU.
Ever-changing art on the walls, ditto the cask and global beer from its pumps, this cool narrow bar is the antithesis of the solid old Tykeness of Nash’s but both offer uncompromising quality.
• Nash’s is not to be confused with The Original Nash’s Fish Restaurant in Chapel Allerton (motto: Nobody Does It Batter, website: click here), which has won awards in its own right.
For Confidential editor Jonathan Schofield’s Lancashire take on what makes fish and chips great click here.