Charlie’s Fish and Chips

By Elle Faraday

Before the 1980s, British food was the laughing stock of the culinary community. Other nationalities, most particularly the French, used to joke that ‘hell was a place where British cooks were in charge of the food preparation’. By and large, it was a deserved reputation with meals mainly consisting of boiled meats and overcooked vegetables. In this environment, eating out was very much a hit or miss affair. There was of course one exception, the old British favourite – fish and chips!
Back in London when I was growing up, I used to long for Fridays. This was not just for the couple of days away from school, but because Friday nights always meant fish and chips for supper. It was a tradition we shared with millions of families across the UK.
I was reminiscing with a friend over a drink one day and saying how despite Chiang Mai’s undoubted culinary riches, one of the few things I really missed was fish and chips. He has been in Chiang Mai a lot longer than me, and gave me one of those withering ‘You really don’t know Chiang Mai’ looks and said in exasperation, ‘Why don’t you go to Charlie’s?’
The name rang a bell and then I recalled that Charlie is the one man in town who advertises on the back of Chiang Mai’s pedal samlors. You can’t fail to have noticed them as they are all over town with the distinctive black cloth signs and bold white writing. The following Friday, I hailed one and asked him to take me for some good old fish and chips.
‘Charlie’s Fish and Chips’ is located on Kampangdin Road, Soi 1 but can be easily accessed by the road behind Wat Loi Kroh on the Loi Kroh Road. The restaurant is located in the courtyard of a house and is a fascinating fusion of two seemingly irreconcilable food traditions - the simple Thai roadside restaurant and British fast food. The great thing is that it works, and works brilliantly.
Charlie has lived in Chiang Mai for six years and opened his fish and chip shop eight months ago. ‘I’ve retired really,’ he told me, ‘but I got bored and wanted something that gave me the opportunity of meeting people. This is not a big business but it is just right for me.’
Charlie’s parents were fish and chip legends in the north west of England, owning 10 restaurants in the thriving seaside town of Blackpool. Although he was not involved directly in the family business, preferring instead to run his own fire protection company in London, the business is in his blood. ‘I grew up with fish and chips,’ he said, ‘its second nature to me and I know all of the secrets.’
The menu is intentionally simple, offering patrons a choice of fish, eggs, sausage or beans with home made chips and a small selection of sandwiches. I ordered my longed-for fish and chips and was over-the-moon to see that another of my childhood favourites was on the menu - mushy peas ! While I was waiting I savoured the simple setting with a lovely chilled glass of white wine.
When my meal arrived it was perfect. The fish was tender and moist and wrapped in the most wonderful home-made traditional batter. The chips were ‘proper’ chips made from real potatoes and not out of a bag from the freezer and the mushy peas were such an unexpected treat that I savoured every mouthful.
Charlie and his cook-in-chief, Star, were charming, humourous hosts who made me feel right at home with their relaxed welcoming attitude. They are very proud of their use of fresh ingredients every day. Charlie bones and fillets the fish himself and makes the incredible batter which, he told me with a gleam in his eye, is the secret family recipe ! I highly recommend a visit.
Charlie’s is open Sunday to Friday 12.30 – 8.30 p.m. He is also happy to do takeaway and you can order in advance so it will be waiting for you to pick up when you arrive. You can call him on 069 162 418.