What to drink with fish’n’chips? Tea? Bubbles? Beer? And does it really matter? WineChap has the answers
We all know that our national dish is now Chicken Tikka Masala (and pairing wines with your Sunday night cuzza will be the subject of a future article), but what of our iconic British dishes?
Classic Sunday roast beef, steak & kidney pudding, shepherd’s pie, or even a full English breakfast could all be front-runners, but, of course, a good old fish’n’chips leads the pack.
So what drink pairs best with really good Fish and Chips?
I was inspired to consider this essential question by the launch of Perrier Jouet’s Belle Epoque 2002, which for a venerable Champagne house was refreshingly innovative and low-key, and was hosted at Geale’s Fish Restaurant in Notting Hill.
Marylebone’s Golden Hind, Farringdon’s Golden Fish Bar and Covent Garden’s Rock & Sole Plaice are a few of the potential venues in London to explore this topic but WineChap’s select crew of food and wine writers gathered to begin the research at Kerbisher & Malt in Hammersmith, which is still making waves (pun, groan) as the best batterer in town.
Their fish is of the highest quality and the oil regularly changed in the fryer.
They also recently released a winelist – specifically designed to match their menu so are clearly taking the pairing issue seriously. The results of this first, highly controlled, (scoff) “experiment” were hardly conclusive but certainly intriguing and occasionally surprising.
Guests: Guy Woodward, editor Decanter; Henrietta Lovell, founder Rare Tea Company; Juel Mahoney, Qin Xie and Zeren Wilson, freelance writers and bloggers
“The Taittinger Rose I had brought (more on a whim than as a potential winner) was a “Cherry Drop” disaster for everyone, “a bull in a china shop” for Zeren”
As it had been a Champagne that had inspired the project we started off with De Telmont Grand Reserve. This was not a huge success – it had good flavour and texture but the bubbles got in the way.
Guy suggested a Champagne of 15 years or more ageing would work better, but once it had settled Zeren alone preferred it to the Meantime Wheat Beer (or “banana vinegar”) which otherwise was the preferred fizz.
The Taittinger Rose I had brought (more on a whim than as a potential winner) was a “Cherry Drop” disaster for everyone, “a bull in a china shop” for Zeren.
On to one of the night’s big (and I thought initially surprising) winners: La Gitana manzanilla sherry – the thinking man’s Tio Pepe.
It definitely “marched to the beat of its own drum”/”didn’t give a shit” but with the exception of Qin, who admitted a scandalous disregard for the elixirs of Jerez, it proved a popular choice, Juel having to be prised off the bottle to move on.
Of the next wine Les Croix Blanches Muscadet, she observed that just as “wines are sauce, so muscadet is lemon” – particularly appropriate for fish and chips.
The subject of condiments having been raised, this led on to a heated discussion of the merits or otherwise of vinegar, ketchup, salt, pepper, chip seasoning for flavour and that watered down brown sauce abomination preferred by the Scots.
Although it was generally agreed that ketchup was “a killer” when it came to pairing with wine, Qin remarked that the Dr Loosen ‘L’ Riesling complemented it quite well.
Otherwise the riesling did not impress overly, Zeren suggesting it was “the right grape but the wrong wine” – a steelier dry trocken kabinett style being preferable with our fare.
We agreed that introduction of a sweet chili dipping sauce for the excellent calamari would however show off the ‘L’ to better advantage.
The creamier-textured cod preferred Guy’s Fromm Chardonnay but it was supposed that a richer, oakier style might be better, even if “asking for an oaked Chardonnay is like buying condoms as a teen”
Henrietta’s Oolong tea “Iron Goddess of Mercy” sans milk loved chips – so long as they were unadulterated with any of the above, which possibly made it an unrealistic scenario although it proved quite resourceful against vinegar later on.
Riverlands Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand was a good match with Haddock, its gun flinty tones picking up the fish’s smokier profile.
Still in New Zealand, creamier-textured cod preferred Guy’s Fromm Chardonnay but it was supposed that a richer, oakier style might be even better, even if “asking for an oaked Chardonnay is like buying condoms as a teen”.
Juel commented that the trend for “Chard-bashing” is misplaced as “its a surprisingly versatile food wine”.
I suggested a ‘99 Girardin Meursault, preferably in magnum, would win round all detractors. The wheat beer was also good with the cod, as was Henrietta’s RAF Tea which, when brewed a little longer, was also great with chips and, with a healthy dollop of milk, was lovely with the coley, EVEN standing up for itself against ketchup!
By now several hours of rigorous tasting had taken place but I still managed to compile the results which are below.
Guy – Wheat beer (although moving forward the Pale Ale might be even better as less frothy)
Juel – 1st Wheat beer; 2nd Oolong Tea; 3rd Fromm Chardonnay (somehow forgot about the sherry?)
Henrietta – 1st Manzanilla (“by a huge margin”); 2nd Oolong (“the vinegar-handler”); 3rd Muscadet
Zeren – 1st Manzanilla (“relentless”); 2nd Oolong; 3rd Fromm Chardonnay (would have been happy with the de Telmont Champagne too)
Qin – 1st Wheat beer (“very versatile”); 2nd Oolong (“1st brew as 2nd becomes too bitter with vinegar”); 3rd Riesling
WineChap – 1st RAF Tea; 2nd Wheat beer; 3rd Manzanilla
Winner – Meantime Wheat Beer
Runner Up – La Gitana Manzanilla
3rd place – Rare Tea Company Oolong
Suggestions for other drinks to try with your fish and chips:
Older Vintage Extra Brut Champagne, Savagnin from the Jura (not to be confused with Sauvignon), IPA, Dry Clare Valley or Central Otago Riesling, richly-oaked Australian or SA Chardonnay.