Colmans the Fish and chip champions in South Shields

PUBLISHED: 13:42 07 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:40 20 February 2013

Colmans the Fish and chip champions in South Shields

Colmans the Fish and chip champions in South Shields

The North East has one of the country's best fish and chip shop Colmans regularly wins awards, both for the quality and for the commitment of the owners to protecting the future of the fish at the heart of their business Words by Mark Holdstock

Colmans shop-front on Ocean Road in South Shields may be bright and colourful, but its origins go back almost a century to the Edwardian era.

The core business was started off by my grandmother, who was called Torrichi, in 1902 or 1903, says Richard Ord who runs Colmans with his wife Frances. Immigration being what it was in those days the family changed their name to Frankie. Colmans started in 1922 or 1923 when my grandmother got married.

Although cod and haddock are still the biggest sellers at 85%, alternatives are starting to squeeze in. Hake is becoming very, very popular, says Frances. More so than the pollock, and older people that still love lemon sole.

People have become worried about fish stocks over the past few years, with particular concerns as to whether too much cod or haddock is pulled from the North Sea.

Richard is acutely aware of this and works very closely with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to make sure the fish he is selling has been caught according to the strict rules designed to protect stocks of fish for the future.

Sustainability has been part of our ethos for years and years - we pioneered sustainability in the fish and chip industry.

Richard Ord says that Colmans is only one of two fish and chips shops in the country using a system called a chain of custody operated by the MSC, through which a paper trail allows fish served at Colmans to be certified as having been obtained from legal sources.

We can trace all our fish back to where it was caught, what sector of the sea it was caught in, how it was caught, what boat it was caught by.... the only thing we dont know is its name.

The haddock is `line-caught off Iceland in areas where stocks are still healthy. Other fish, particularly langoustine and lobster are caught by local boats operating from the Tyne or Wear.

Richard says the key to the quality of the fish and chips, is the freshness of the fish, and of course the batter. Crispy, crunchy, and never soggy - the idea is that is complements the fish, but never takes centre stage.

The exact formula is a closely guarded secret. When Colmans where in for the BBC Food and Farming award for the best takeaway in 2007, Richard told Alastair Little, the judge who came to visit them, that even he wouldnt get any details of what goes into it. Colmans still won.

And once the batter and the fish are sorted, at the heart of the whole fish and chip process is the frying itself.

We cook in vegetable oil, not dripping, although Ive got nothing against cooking in dripping. I just feel that vegetable oil, as well as being healthier, doesnt impart a taste. The star of the shows the fish, and I think that dripping is good for chips. But you lose a bit of the flavour of the fish with dripping.

One of the secrets for batter is hot oil and cold batter. The colder the batter the better.

A common misconception about fish and chips is that the fish is fried. The idea is that it should be steamed, and the batter acts as a sealed `packet in which that steaming takes place.

In fact for people on a low fat diet Richard says the way to have fish and chips is to peel the batter off and just eat the fish.

As well as the people who travel miles to sample the fish and chips, the walls are lined with photos of famous customers.

These range from the towns MP and former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, his former boss Tony Blair, through the stars of stage and screen such as Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street), writer Bill Bryson, and onwards into outer space with Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek The Next Generation)

For fans of Colmans there is also a `next generation
We have two sons, one who is working with us as we speak, says Richard.

The youngest one is thirteen hes still at school, the eldest one is eighteen, said Frances. He is doing his A-levels at the moment, and he is going to go on to university and then come into the business - but after hes got his degree.

So Richard and Dominic will be the fifth generation in the family firm with fish at it its award-winning heart.

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