The other day I decided to review the entries on this site to see what was left after the devastation caused by Covid. I deleted the ones where it was obvious from the websites that the businesses had ceased to be, but with others I needed to have a stroll round Leeds to verify their status. Some have closed, others no longer open at lunchtime and more are still in limbo. The bottom line is that of the 99 eateries I had reviewed by the beginning of the first lockdown, only 72 were still in existence. Needless to say, my mood was not the lightest it has ever been so I thought that comfort food was badly needed and it just had to be fish and chips.
Not only is fish and chips one of the ultimate comfort meals, but Graveley’s in particular brings back fond memories of a great time when life was so different. I am privileged to count as a friend one of the strongest, most inspirational, but still humble women – make that people – on the face of the planet. Many of us faced with half the tragedies she has had to endure would have crumbled and given in but she has weathered the storm and come out the other side. The most surprising thing is that she is not even from Yorkshire, although I will always regard her as an honorary Tyke. She lives in Kentucky and has been to this side of the pond three times during which she developed a taste for our National Dish, so much so that when she brought her husband across in 2016 she had fish and chips every day! As I live in Harrogate, when we were not eating them in Whitby or Scarborough, we would end the days’ outings at Graveley’s, although that branch has now changed hands. We were allowed to eat in a pub one evening when we blokes – sorry, guys – had steak and kidney pie, but even then she ordered haddock and chips. Living in Lexington there is not a lot of fresh seafood on hand so, what the heck, get it while you can.
Sitting in the food section of The Core was a far cry from the up-market restaurant in HG1 and the menu is a tad more basic, but in these circumstances it was the food that mattered. The service was also a little different from the other place, even the take-away counter, where efficiency ruled. For the first time since the end of lockdown I was able to approach a counter and order face to face although this took some doing. I stood about for a minute or two, the only one in the queue, whilst those behind the structure were doing whatever. I caught the eye of a woman and asked if the unnamed ‘fish’ on the menu was haddock, a suspicion which she confirmed. I don’t think that she was supposed to be the one taking orders as she then approached a colleague and asked her to attend to me. I felt so ignored that I confirmed with her as to whether it was correct to order from the counter or should I take a seat and wait to be served. She advised that I should let her know what I wanted and she would give me a call when it was ready. As I had not visited a chippy since the 2016 Transatlantic Fishfest I decided to go the full monty with fish, chips, mushy peas, a bread cake and tea. I paid my bill and took a seat quite close to the counter to do the Telegraph sudoku on my phone. My tea was served in double quick time but it became obvious that the food was going to be cooked to order, not a bad thing. In other food halls they give you a pager or some other electronic gizmo to let you know when the nosh is ready but here I got her dulcet Yorkshire tones at full volume. ‘Fish, chips, mushy peas and bread cake!!’ Music to my ears..
The science behind a perfect battered fish is that it should be cooked in beef dripping rather than oil, which I suspect this was. The idea is that the fat needs to be searingly hot so that the instant the fish is dropped into it, the outside of the batter seals thus preventing the dripping from penetrating and contaminating the fish. The effect is that it forms a little oven and whilst the batter continues to fry and become crispy, the fish steams inside using its own water content. Whatever the frying solution at Graveley’s it did the trick in that the batter was extremely crispy, albeit a bit on the light side for my taste, it was more like tempura batter which shattered when I tried to cut it with the wooden knife. I have no problem with this as it is a matter of taste and that of the shards was very good indeed. The haddock within was beautifully flaky with not the slightest sign of oil ingress so job done. When I had finished I did notice a residue of grease on the plate which I took to indicate that the fish had been put straight on the plate from the fryer rather than being ‘rested’ for a minute or two on a metal grid to drain. Once again, I can happily live with that.
I am not a great lover of chips but these were pretty good and you can’t have a fish lunch without them. Unlike the fish they had probably been batch cooked and kept warm until needed, in the manner of about every chippy in the country. I might not be a chip fan but I love mushy peas and these were great. I last had this delicacy in a pub where they had been sweetened with sugar and were awful, here, however, they were au naturel with the underlying hint of bicarbonate of soda giving them that slightly sour taste. Absolutely spot on. Incidentally I googled mushy peas and saw the most ridiculous recipes using garden peas, cream, butter and mint. The only way to do them is by using marrowfat peas and bicarb, soaking them overnight and boiling when needed. Just a word of warning, if you try it at home, or even if you don’t, the volume increases by a huge amount during soaking and if you overdo the portion you could wake up to a scene from a horror film all over the kitchen.
The bread cake was lovely and soft, being cut along the middle and buttered to allow for the construction of a butty should you so wish, and the tea had the bag left in so you could leave it to stew to your taste.
The bill came to £11.25 which sounds a lot for fish and chips but is not too bad at all. The one thing I noticed by perusing the menus of the restaurants on my site which are still open, is that the prices seem to have increased substantially but that is only to be expected after they have lain empty for over a year and have some catching up to do revenue-wise.
Should you not be in the mood for fish and chips, the menu has been extended to reflect the changing tastes of the great Yorkshire public, so Battered Halloumi Cheese with a Frappe anyone?
I would like to end by saying that I wish all of the owners of the businesses which have not reopened all the very best and hope that they can swiftly move on, and also to apologise to my friend in the Blue Grass State for subjecting her to a review of her favourite Britfood when she is unable to partake. I hope that it is not too long before you can get over here again and attempt to get haddock placed on the endangered species list.
All photographs by Stan Graham