Chris Lloyd tests out Barnard Castle’s Fish and Chips at 149 Oscar potential

AT 7pm on a surprisingly balmy Barney night last Friday, a couple of couples were sitting on the kerb outside Fish and Chips at 149, dining al fresco, and a queue of people was snaking out of the door onto the street.

Those in the queue were debating the news that the chippy, in Barnard Castle, had been named as the best independent chip shop between the River Tees and the Scottish borders in awards described as “the industry’s answer to the Oscars”.

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Even in Barnard Castle itself, the competition was fierce. The town’s other chippy is just around the corner and has recently changed its name from Friar Tuck to Katie’s. It is said to be almost as good.

“There’s a queue out the door there, too,” said a young girl running over with news from the front. A car horn pipped. “That’s my ex,” she said, waving. “He’s very nice, but he’s a bit like Hitler at the moment.” And she ran off happily to join him.

We were dining inside, and so were able to push through the queue of people, and their dogs, waiting for takeaways. 149 is clearly trying hard to be a cut above your average street corner chippy – the vivid blue light along the counter is the same colour as the staff’s aprons and hats, creating a corporate image. Takeaways are served in bespoke boxes, and for £3.50, regulars can get an insulated bag with which comes a free side order every time they use it.

There was a specials board – fillet of sea bass with chips and a wedge of lemon for £7.20 – and they do a full range of Gluten-free chip shop meals. But my son, Theo, and I had come for a traditional fish supper. Takeaway price for such a delicacy starts at £5.70; the restaurant price was £7.10.

Even with the queue out the door, service was quick, and Theo was particularly impressed that our food was served on fish shaped plates. Sauces – ketchup, tartar – came from little squeezy Heinz pods. The chips really were exquisite. Good and chunky, lightly golden on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside. With granules of salt sticking to them, they were a sight to behold and a treat to eat.

The fish – cod – was beautifully white and fell into iceberg-like chunks as the knife cut into it. Importantly, there were no pools of oil hiding beneath. It was delicious. Theo covered his in ketchup and cleared his fish plate within seconds.

149 is already among the 20 sub-regional finalists in the Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop of the Year competition. Next it goes fin-to-fin with Yorkshire’s finest – Miller’s Fish and Chips, in Haxby, near Whitby – to batter it out to become the North-East’s entrant in the national finals.

So let’s be truly picky. 149’s batter was crispy and tasty but in places, it was too thin – the white of the fish shone through. I think batter should be deep and crisp and even. Dry, hard fish would have been disastrous, but on the other side of the coin, is it ever possible for fish to be too moist? This fish oozed juicy succulence which dampened the crispiness of the batter.

I pondered such vital thoughts as I finished my course with curry sauce. The idea of putting curry sauce on fish fills me with horror, but I must admit that I am extremely partial to having my last chips drenched in a little Indian exoticness.

Although all proper chip shop curry sauce is yellow, its texture varies enormously. In some places it is too runny; in others it’s too gloopy; in many it is far too greasy.

149 threw me. It offered me a choice of curry sauce: “chip shop” or “spicy”. Having never before confronted with such an unexpected dilemma, I was momentarily thrown into panic. Quickly I rescued the situation by plumping for traditional chip shop curry sauce.

It was of a perfect consistency, even with a couple of pieces of fruit buried inside it, and enough heat to be noticeable but comfortable – “spicy” might have been too much.

Chip shops are not renowned for their desserts, but, in the interests of research, as 149 had them on the menu, we thought we should try. For £3.30 each, they were really good in the way that school dinners are really good. Theo had sticky toffee pudding and I had a dark chocolate sponge smothered in a non-sickly dark chocolate sauce.

The bill for two, with a cup of tea and several bottles of orange, came to £25.60, and we were done in just under an hour. To top it all, on leaving, we both received a little sweet: a piece of black-and-white minty rock with “149 fish and chips” running through it.

149 is a cut above, but the best in the North-East? I can think of few batter.

Fish and Chips at 149,

36 Galgate,

Barnard Castle,

DL12 8BH

Phone: 01833-637332

Website: 149fishandchips.co.uk

Ambience: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Food quality: 3/5

Value for money: 4/5