This post is about finding the best fish and chips in London. We'll tell you how to dress the dish and about this dish's storied past.
Let's take a bite!
Our top five fish and chip restaurants in London
While we could eat fish and chips for days and days in London, we wanted to pare our list down to our top five to help you find a great place to try this dish.
Better yet, join our Free East End Food Tour which includes a stop at one of these locations!
Poppies Fish and Chips
- 8 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR
- 30 Hawley Cres, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP
- 55-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HW
The granddaddy of them all, Poppies provides more than just delicious fish and chips, it delivers an entire experience.
The owner, Pat ‘Pop’ Newland has personally been serving fish and chips in London for over 50 years and his shops provide the authentic East End experience.
Here you’ll find decor dating from the 1940s and 1950s, waitresses (‘Poppettes’) in gorgeous war-time uniforms, impeccably classic and clean tables, chairs, and serving counters, and a jukebox cranking out all the 1950s hits.
Sustainable fish sourced from a third-generation trader in Billingsgate (it doesn’t get any more London than that!) is served alongside massive portions of traditional mushy peas, delicious desserts, and even jellied eels – providing the most authentic East End experience around.
Top Tip: Why not head to Poppies on our East London Food Tour?
The Golden Union
38 Poland Street, London W1F 7LY (website)
Unlike Poppies, your grandpa might not recognize this chip shop! This family-run business provides fish and chips with a young, energetic, and modern twist.
Chunky, flaky, crunchy fish coated in beer batter is served in a small simplistic, yet atmospheric, space in the heart of Soho.
Their fish is delivered daily from sustainable waters, and patrons will have their choice of two different frying oils (which are changed at least four times a week!).
For those of you without a palate for oceanic delights, you can find pies and sausage, mushy peas, and more.
- 149-155 Central Street, King Square, London EC1V 8AP
Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list, Fish Central is located on an inner London council estate.
It's hidden away from all the trendy, upmarket restaurants and cocktail bars packed into nearby Old Street and Clerkenwell.
Opened in 1968, Fish Central provides the cheapest fish and chips on this list.
Chips here are cut by hand and salt is shaken on with much panache (and a helping hand) providing a perfect, even coating.
All produce served up has been bought locally at Borough Market, which helps keep the food delicious and the prices down.
Definitely worth a visit to this most unassuming of locations.
The Sea Shell of Lisson Grove
- 49-51 Lisson Grove, London NW1 6UH (website)
For over 30 years The Sea Shell has been serving up what many consider to be the best fish and chips in London.
Locals, visitors, and even celebrities (Lady Gaga more recently!) come to Sea Shell for a sit-down meal or a quick take away.
Fish here is delivered fresh daily, and local ingredients are combined to make their signature homemade tartar sauce.
After a fire in August 2009, the restaurant was lovingly restored and brought back to life which makes dining inside feel a little ‘posh’ – too posh for some.
But, if you want to spot celebs while tucking into some delicious fish and unlimited chips, this is the place for you.
For those on the go, take-away meals are nearly half the price of a sit-down.
Sutton and Sons
- 356 Essex Road, London N1 3PD
- 90 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7NY
- 240 Graham Road, London E8 1BP
This is one of the newest additions to our list, and one of the trendiest.
Sutton and Sons started as a high-end fishmonger in Stoke Newington before they branched out into the chippie side of things.
They started by leasing space across the street, where they combine their best fish, a beer batter, expert cooking techniques, and fluffy chips.
These guys are about so much more than just delectable fish and chips – they also serve up Maldon oysters, Cromer crab, and sustainably sourced monkfish.
If you feel like lighter fare, order your fish grilled, or elect to go for a half dozen fresh oysters (a traditional symbol of London) with a cheeky glass of prosecco.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Vegan fish and chips? Yes!
While many pubs have long offered a vegetarian fish and chips alternative made with battered halloumi cheese, vegans have always been out of luck – until now.
With the recent boom of vegan-friendly options across the capital, more and more places are offering their versions of vegan fish and chips (often called ‘tofush and chips’ on menus).
Recently, London’s first pub dedicated solely to vegan food opened its doors, and their fish and chips are making the news.
Homerton’s Spread Eagle pub has a fully vegan-friendly beer, wine, and food menu, and even the Guardian is excited about their beer-battered vegan fish and chips.
Made by wrapping tofu in seaweed and then treating it just as a piece of fish, vegans and carnivores alike are singing its praises.
While my grandfather might not have approved, many young Londoners certainly do!
Salt and malt vinegar - what else should you add?
Everyone has their own favourite condiments and side dishes when they go for fish and chips. Any combination of the below-listed items is equally as traditional!
Most chippies purposely under salt the fish and chips that they present to you because they know that you will want to add your own.
Be liberal with the good white stuff!
Made from distilled barley, malt vinegar gives fish and chips its traditional taste and tang. Without malt vinegar, you just aren’t eating a proper fish supper.
Sure, you might think it sounds a bit weird – but trust me: it is non-negotiable.
I always say that you should add the amount you think you need, and then double it – that is even better!
Similar to a French remoulade, this is a mayonnaise-based condiment that is made with capers, chives, and occasionally finely chopped gherkins.
While the big supermarket brand is made by Heinz, it is far too sugary and bland. Always go for the house-made option!
While the word ‘mushy’ might put some people off, there is nothing better than a dish of mushy peas with your fish and chips.
This is simply mashed peas, sometimes flavoured with mint, parsley, and cream.
While some people use their mushies as a side dish, I like to use them as an additional condiment on top of my tartar sauce!
This is old school! My Irish grandpa didn’t douse his fish and chips with malt vinegar – he used the brine that surrounds the pickled onions on the chip shop counter!
This is common enough that all chip shops will have a cruet of this stored behind the counter.
These are the onions from which the aforementioned brine comes from! Eaten on their own or with the fish and chips, they pack a sour potent punch.
Buttered Bread/Buttered Roll
Feeling like you need even more carbs and fat?
No problem at all. Ask for a buttered bread roll (also called a bap, a barm, or a cob) and use it to sop up all of the extra grease and crumbs.
If you want to be truly English, you can always layer your buttered roll with chips – called a chip butty, this is the ultimate hangover cure.
The same tinned beans that we love for breakfast also go well with our fish and chips. They’re saucy, sweet, and savoury – perfect with the crispy fish.
While you can get curry sauce at any London chippie, this is a true favourite in the North and in Scotland.
Chicken tikka masala has been called the official dish of Great Britain, and so it makes complete sense that we love to combine the flavours of curry with our fish supper!
If you ask for a gherkin (a pickled cucumber) at any chip shop, they might reply, “one wally, coming up.” The term "wally" is old cockney London slang for "olive."
When Eastern European immigrants and refugees came to London in the 19th Century, they sold pickles from the same wooden barrels that olives were normally sold in, and they take on the same nickname.
One non-fish menu item you’ll see at every chip shop? A saveloy sausage.
Similar to a frankfurter or hot dog, it is a bright red sausage that is either eaten steamed or battered in fish batter and cooked in the fryer – not for the faint of heart!
You’ll notice that one topping is not on this list – that is the humble tomato sauce (that’s ketchup or catsup to our North American friends)!
While some Brits certainly do have a love for the sweet red condiment, it really is quite sacrilegious to add it to a perfectly fried piece of fish and a fresh, hand-cut chip.
Trust us – a dollop of tartar sauce and a splash of malt vinegar are really the only condiments you need.
The History of Fish and Chips
So, how did this humble and unassuming plate of delicious fried fish and potatoes become one of the most sought after foods by tourists who visit the UK?
Well, we have to go back in time – very far back in time – for the answer.
Great Britain is located on an island, and we have been eating freshly caught fish on this island since the days of my caveman ancestors.
Potatoes? Those are a slightly newer innovation, brought to Britain in the 16th century by Spanish traders who had visited their native land, Peru.
However, historically we ate these foods fried in a pan in a shallow amount of oil – they were never deep fat fried.
Charles Dickens mentions ‘fried fish warehouses’ in Camden Town, but these would serve shallow-oil fried fish on buttered bread rolls.
The innovation that we know and love comes to be in 1862 when a Russian immigrant named Joseph Malin moved to Mile End, located in East London.
He was one of the more than 100,000 Eastern European Ashkenazim Jews who were forced to flee tsarist Russia and Poland in the 19th century to escape pogroms.
At this time in history, London’s East End was a desperately poor slum, known around the world as “The Evil Quarter Mile.”
As a place of criminality and poverty, it was the only place the new Jewish immigrants could afford to live when they first arrived in London.
Joseph Malin was of this wave of immigration, and he had big ideas.
He was a restaurateur minded gent, and he wanted to serve a particular type of Sephardic (Portuguese Jewish) codfish to the crowds in London.
Pescado Frito was a meal that Portuguese Jews would make the day before Shabbat – codfish dredged in matzo meal and then deep-fried in schmaltz (chicken fat) or olive oil.
They were forbidden from working on the Shabbat, so they would eat this still-crunchy fish at room temperature.
Despite being Russian, Malin loved this dish, and he decided to serve it hot alongside British chipped potatoes and a Turkish sauce (named after a Russian mountain range) tartar sauce.
People couldn’t get enough, and history was made. He began serving a loyal crowd of customers who loved the combination of flaky white fish, crispy batter, and fluffy chips.
In 1862 a local London newspaper wrote an article about this new culinary innovation. The name they gave this delicious dish? “Fish fried in the Jewish style.” That’s right – this quintessentially ‘British’ dish has a secret Jewish history that most locals don’t even know about – but now you’re in the know!
Fish and Chips become a national icon
Over the next few decades, people around the country began to discover the combination first created on the humble Mile End Road.
Long queues at Malin’s shop prompted copycats, first throughout London and then further afield. The most natural location for fish and chips to proliferate? The coast!
Having a fish and chip meal at the beach became a time-honoured tradition, with the tasty dish becoming synonymous with free time, a day out, and spending time with family.
In fact, most British people associate eating fish and chips with the pleasure of being on holiday, and it can therefore be a small taste of sunshine in the gloom of winter!
Of course, many Catholics and Anglicans around the world abstain from eating meat on Fridays, but fish is A-OK.
Therefore, a ‘fish supper’ became a popular meal every Friday for observant Christians across the country.
Many Brits still follow this tradition and eat fish and chips on Friday, even if they are not religious at all!
Fish and chips become especially associated with Britain during World War One and World War Two.
During these wars, Britain implemented rations on important ingredients, such as meat, flour, sugar, and dairy – but rations were never imposed on fish or potatoes.
When the international media and American GIs were stationed in Great Britain during the wars, they saw the Brits constantly munching away on their fish and chips and they became internationally famous.
Many of us can remember our grandparents taking us for fish and chips because they really were a favourite of previous generations.
Throughout the fat conscious ‘80s and ‘90s, they did fall out of fashion to some degree, but a wave of renewed interest in comfort food has made them popular once again.
Every visitor to London – or to anywhere in the UK – needs to give them a try at least once.
The Chip vs. Frites/Fries Debate
As a food tour guide, one of the most delightful things about my job is teaching visitors to London that British classics, despite their bad reputation, can be as delicious and elevated as the food anywhere in Europe.
One of the things I always have to explain? The concept of the ‘chip.’
I think a lot of Europeans and Americans think that we are trying to prepare ‘frites’ or ‘fries’ and are just failing miserably. This is not the case!
Chips are a culinary innovation all of their own, and they are meant to be fat, squidgy, and when you pop them open they should be fluffy like a jacket potato.
While some people favour a triple fried chip, with fried fish they should still be slightly soft.
Think about it this way – when we eat burgers (which are soft) we eat crispy fries; when we eat crispy fish, we eat soft(ish) chips.
It’s all about the perfect texture pairing!
Are fish and chips a pub food?
While you will see fish and chips listed on every single pub menu in London, the fact of the matter is that most pubs have – let’s face it – rubbish fish and chips.
Does that prevent me from ordering them after three pints of beer? No! But when I do, I know that they will likely be mediocre.
Despite what most pubs in London will have you believe, the best fish and chips are never at a pub.
Sure, there might be a few pubs that take a pretty decent bash at it, but there is no denying that the best fish and chips will always be from a chip shop, aka ‘a chippie.’
They specialize in making the perfect fish and chips, and they know exactly what temperature the fish does best at, how long to cook the chips and how to make the best tartar.
Chippies are single subject experts, while pubs are ‘jacks of all trades.’ I know which one I’d rather eat!
So there you have it – the most comprehensive guide to London fish and chips online! Have we missed your favourite shop?
Do you think we need to add even more recommendations? Let us know, and be sure to share with your foodie friends.