Surviving through two world wars and sustaining millions during economic downturns, the “authentic” version of this more than 150-year-old dish finally finds its way into our shores
Personally, I find that any restaurant operator that openly shouts out that they are the “best of” whatever it serves makes it extremely tough on themselves, particularly when you are a newcomer to the marketplace
Hence, when I came across Union Jacks’ declaration of being the “best of British fish and chips” boldly inked onto their signboard at their first outlet in Damansara Uptown, there was no hesitation for me to step in to see if they are able to back up the proclamation. It wasn’t because that there was a lack of places serving fish and chips in town; just that those that truly live up to the legendary style and taste of its’ English peer are far and few between.
For the startling few that may not be acquainted with fish and chips – practically a national institution in Britain – it is a traditional English fare, consisting of moist white fish, often cod and haddock, walled in by crisp batter and commonly served with chips and mushy peas on the side.
Nestled between a much-adored Hokkien mee restaurant and several local eateries, the three-month old diner was decked out with an overall interior that mirrors many of the classically neat and uncomplicated fish and chips outlets found within London.
The “chippy” (as these fish and chips shops are commonly termed in Britain) was adorned with modest wooden dining tables with an antique-like British flag painted on top of each table. Its surrounding plain walls were highlighted by vibrant art pieces embodying the shop’s main menu attraction.
“The shop was designed to be bright, yet simple in terms of interior design with some simple touches to reflect our British concept. The idea was to ensure that the focus will be on our food,” explains Robert Teasdale, managing director of UJ Chippy (Uptown) Sdn Bhd, the operator of Union Jacks in Malaysia.
Zooming in on the food, starting with the main courses, the two-storey outlet’s bestseller is its UJ’s catch-of-the-day (RM16.90) that comes with choice of chips, fries or mashed potatoes, sauce or gravy, baked beans or mushy peas and soft drink. In keeping to its brand claim, I was glad that its signature dish was served with salt and malt vinegar and not mayonnaise and lemon as served up by many other operators.
The restaurant houses three varieties of fishes, namely pollack, flounder and Pacific cod, all directly imported from Alaska and the South Pacific. Although the flounder fish I had was not exceptional, especially after expectations were raised by the brand’s tagline, the batter was pleasantly crisp and deep fried perfectly.
While I also found the thick-cut chips a tad soggy for my preference, what stood out was its perfectly-textured mash potato, made fresh daily and not one of those widely used powdered varieties.
“To ensure we deliver on our promise of freshness and the best quality possible, we only use the very best potatoes available, which are brought in from Australia. They are peeled and prepared fresh every morning on the premises,” says Teasdale, who hails from Darlington, England and has been in the food and beverage business for over three decades.
If fish is not your thing, there are several other main courses to choose from including tiger prawns (RM26.90), oven-roasted quarter chicken (RM16.90) and traditional sausages (RM19.90). Those looking for a quick bite, can try out the Ciabatta bread sandwich (RM18.90), oven-baked pies (RM24.90) and UJ’s fishcakes (RM16.90).
For lighter options, ideal for a soothing tea-time office break, there is the choice of soup-of-the-day with bread slice, Yorkshire pudding, prawn cocktail, pineapple rings, Mars bar, apple turnover pastry and dessert of the day.
Not forgetting the kids in tow, Union Jacks’ Under 12’s junior menu comprising of fish nuggets, mini fish cake, chicken tenders, and junior fish fillet will keep your children contented. To wash it all down, the chippy has decided to keep it simple; soft drinks, beer and coffee or tea.
As Teasdale assures that his team are already working on adding more British specialities to their existing menu, he believes that their current line-up has done well to attract workers from the immediate commercial areas as well as residents from the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Located at 111G Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, the place is opened daily from 11am to 10pm. With an existing seating capacity of 68 people including a private area on the first floor, the outlet also caters to corporate functions as well as private events like birthdays and anniversaries.
Operating at an average of about 85% of its seating capacity during lunch and dinner hours since it opened in November last year, the management is already working towards introducing more food items to the menu including traditional English breakfast sets and Sunday roast, as well as to expand its reach through delivery services.
The 60-year-old geology degree holder, who previously worked in Hong Kong and Singapore, says: “The plan is to continue introducing more authentic British food to the market, especially dishes that are extremely difficult to find over here. When we first started, we thought that we would get more take-aways and that our base would be expats in KL, but two months on, we discovered that most prefer to dine in and 70% of our customers were locals.”
In terms of business expansion, Teasdale has set his sights on opening a couple more outlets in Klang Valley as well as to commence on its retail business, which he hopes to see Union Jacks’ brand made available at leading supermarkets and retailers across the country.
“The long term idea for Union Jacks is to expand the brand through various revenue models, such as franchising, product development and product retail. It’s not just about opening more stalls along the way, but also to make it easier for Malaysians to buy and enjoy quality British food fare,” he states.
Although I walked away from the restaurant not completely convinced of it being the “best of British fish and chips”, it was heartening to know that at least there is a decent option for Malaysians to get a taste of authentic British food. What would have made my day would be to have seen the fish and chips served to me wrapped in newspaper, preferably one using a “page three”.
Catching up on the facts
- When cooked the authentic way, fish and chips are 100% natural with no added colouring or preservatives.
- Besides containing less fat and calories than burgers or pizzas, white fish is also a good source of high quality protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, iron, calcium and dietary fibre.
- There are around 10,000 fish and chip shops all over the United Kingdom, selling 276 million portions of fish and chips each year.