As an Englishman, this writer takes his fish and chips very seriously. Yes, it’s a stereotype that all Brits enjoy fish (usually cod but often haddock) and chips wrapped in newspaper, sometimes paired with brown gravy, sometimes mushy peas, occasionally curry sauce or maybe ketchup, but NEVER tartar sauce. But like the nation’s fixation with hot tea with milk and sugar, it isn’t without merit.
Like many traditional dishes around the world, fish and chips is held dear to the hearts of regular, everyday English folk because it’s a product of the working classes. It’s fundamentally British, a reminder of where we came from. Hence the fact that it’s wrapped in paper (although, for hygiene reasons, the paper used doesn’t have news-ink on it anymore. There’s an expression in England – “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrapper.” This is where that comes from.
The worst thing you can do to this most sacred of meals is to try to fancy it up. Lemon wedges, the aforementioned, sacrilegious tartar sauce, delicately placed pieces of fish (small but numerous, rather than one big slab), real plates and silverware – it’s all absolutely unnecessary and inauthentic.
But to be fair, we’re living in the United States, not Birmingham, England. It seems certain that the average Chinese person would be amused and perhaps confused by orange chicken or General Tsao. Back in Britain, dishes from other cultures are inevitably bastardized too, so it’s silly to be too precious.
We take a deep breath, we imagine that this isn’t called fish and chips that they’re serving at the comfortable Dear John’s bistro, but an American alternative called something like fish and fries, and we try to judge it based entirely on the flavor. No prejudices. After all, that’s how almost every American will venture in.
With an open mind, the meal was wonderful. The “steak fries” were crisp and hot, and bursting with fluffy potato. The white fish is flaky, and the breading (“batter” in the UK) is golden and light.
Yes, the meal is served with lemon wedges and tartar sauce, but they can be ignored (we even dried a dip into the sauce, but that’s a crazy mistake). It also comes with some thick and warm bread, which is amazing.
Another sidekick was a bowl of meatball soup which was ok, but a bit thin and not particularly tasty. The meatballs themselves seemed unseasoned, and the broth was light and a bit bland. But that’s ok – it really was just a tease for the main course.
Overall, as far as American interpretations of fish and chips go, Dear John’s is up there among the best. But it does make this Brit wonder – how would Americans react to a restaurant that served the real deal? Has anyone tried it? They really should.