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Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips review: The restaurant gets half of it right

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It’s tempting to take aim at as big a target as Gordon Ramsay, to unleash a bit of Anton Ego on a brand known for denigrating fellow restaurateurs. News that the British chef, cookbook author and television personality has opened a fast-casual fish shop, the first of two concepts on the newly expanded Wharf in southwestern Washington, found some of us struggling to keep open mind. Would Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips be another attempt by an outside force to cash in on his name in a world capital, or add something distinctive to the food scene, one of the best in America?

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I walked up to the $3.6 billion development on a recent Saturday, overpaid to park, and joined a line that stretched more than a block, underscoring the curiosity surrounding the fussy, loudmouthed chef. To ease the stress on staff, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips posts an attendant at the entrance who admits customers as interior space allows. The sentinel is the opposite of a bouncer at a trendy club, as cheery and reassuring as the store’s blue-and-red color scheme, a crown tip for the Union Jack. Inside, the chippy, opened in October, shines like a new car. The air smells of fresh cooking oil. promising signs.

It’s my turn at the counter, backed by a big red menu that requires some quick decisions. My debut order starts with fish and chips, of course, but also fried shrimp, a fish sandwich, various dipping sauces, canned wine, and (why not?) a sticky caramel milkshake. I place a stool at a counter whose window overlooks an umbrella-lined patio and the boardwalk beyond.

Waiting for my order takes a few minutes longer than at your garden variety fast food stand, giving me time to people watch and enjoy the scenery. “Is there a way to order before coming here?” an impatient customer asks the door attendant, where the line is growing by leaps and bounds by the minute. (There isn’t.) Within sight of Fish & Chips is the upcoming Hell’s Kitchen, inspired by Ramsay’s reality show. (Expect beef Wellington and sit-down service.)

My number is called, and I collect my order from a kitchen counter and waste no time scooping a hot hunk of fish off the top of a pile of “dirty” or dressed up fries. The batter on the cod is… a revelation, not armor but a light golden jacket reminiscent of a good tempura, all delicate crunch and audible crackle. The shine on my fingers reminds me that it’s fried food, but there are no drops of oil anywhere.

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The key ingredients in the crust are rice flour and powdered custard, Ramsay shared in an email to The Post. “We worked on the dough for about three months, keeping in mind that fish and chips are mostly eaten on the go and many guests may not sit down and eat their food right away.” His goal was to achieve something similar to the tempura he has experienced in Japan and throughout Asia, a style that would “retain its integrity after cooking” for more than 20 minutes. In three visits I never took food out of here; like pizza, fish and chips are best eaten on the spot. But even when the steaming pieces of cod cooled, the crust never came loose.

My fingers turn to a couple of fries scattered with crumbled chorizo, cotija cheese, jalapeno, onion, and herbs. One of a trio of “dirty” fries selections, these don’t register as English, but are convincing in the way messy foods (nachos, poutine, seven-layer bean dip) can be. For better or worse, French fries almost got lost in the kitchen sink. of toppings When I later try them “natural”, with nothing getting in the way of their performance, they are revealed as unsuitable for the job. They bend where you want them to break and have more fridge flavor than country. My suspicions are confirmed when I lean over the kitchen counter and ask a cook if the fries are made there. “Uh, we do the dirty here,” he says, which means the kitchen adds its ingredients.

There are good frozen French fries on the market. These are not them.

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Dips to the rescue! I have yet to find a sauce I wouldn’t be happy to repeat, though the richness of the fish and chips finds me asking for repeats of Ramsay’s Tartar Sauce, Horseradish Enlightened Cocktail Sauce, and Sriracha Burnt Aioli. The combination of curry and mango is also a brilliant (and fruity) moment.

One of the best things about living in Washington is the access to people from all over the world. If I ever want to know what a foreign dish should taste like on its own soil, I can reach out to expert types at the countless embassies, the State Department, the World Bank, even foreign soup kitchens.

Meet my friend Anthony Lacey, editor at a local nonprofit and blogger behind Dining With Strangers, in which Lacey invites random people over for a meal and interviews them. Lacey grew up eating fish and chips in her native UK and considers the gold standard at home to be a place called (ha!) Frydays, in the village of Anlaby, on the outskirts of Hull and close to the North Sea. . Though his favorite fish is haddock and he grew up mixing ketchup and vinegar (yes, he knows salt and vinegar is the classic seasoning), Lacey opens his mind when she joins me on my final tour of the menu.

The Brit sticks his thumb up into the dough (“No drops of oil!”), praising the crust for its crunch and its hold on the cod. The rainbow of sauces is more than you’d find across the pond, but that’s a good thing, he says, and asks if I’d like more sticky toffee shake, because otherwise he’d love to finish it. We meet again for same-size fries—”airport” fries, Lacey says, as he inspects their floury white centers.

We both agree that shrimp is sweet and rubbery and fried chicken is a pain in the ass. Ramsay says he offers chicken for the sake of appealing to the masses (“I think we all love fried chicken!”), but the one time I take a bite, the impressive exterior—the crust—gives way to a dry medium.

Maybe you want a sandwich. The shop cradles their fish and chicken, along with chopped lettuce, diced tomato, and avocado cream, on a lightly grilled naan. The bread makes a good wrap, more of a pillow than a bag of sand. The naan also keeps the focus on the filling.

Canned wine? Remember, you are eating fast food. Choose between a rosé or sauvignon blanc, both from Kim Crawford in New Zealand, and respectable quaffs. That being said, $12 a can makes me think someone should pour it for me, and into glass instead of plastic. I guess you could go the smoothie route with your lunch or dinner, but to me, they qualify as dessert. With a dedicated sweet tooth, my man Lacey doesn’t let down a drop of the sticky toffee pudding shake, each sip as decadent as it sounds. I’m partial to the relatively lighter Biscoff milkshake, its crown of whipped topping sprinkled with the ubiquitous European spiced biscuit that gives the confection its name.

When your menu is just a handful of things, you need to master every detail. Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips nails the first, misses the second, and the rest of the experience does well enough to explain any outside lines.

Gordon Ramsay Fish and Chips

665 Pier St. SW. 771-444-5590. gordonramsayrestaurants.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeout 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Prices: Sandwiches and mixed plates from $15 to $19. Sound test: 77 decibels/Must speak loudly. Accessibility: No entry barriers; ADA compliant bathrooms. Pandemic Protocols: No masks or vaccinations required from staff.

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