There is a cod, after all. And He has taken a long time to show His face in Buenos Aires, indeed Argentina, a land with a 3,000-mile coastline.
Of course, I’m not talking about Pope Francis and his timely appointment to neatly coincide with my story about fish and chips. Or the fact that his election comes two weeks before Easter, a traditional time of year for good Christians to tuck into their scaly friends.
No, no. The fact that there really, finally, is a cod is because much of the fish from Argentine waters is exported, so we never even get a sniff at it. And although beef consumption has dwindled to a poxy 52.3 kilos per person a year, according to the CICCRA meats industry and business chamber – in comparison with 98.4 kilos in 1958 – it doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers are taking the traditional Fish on Friday as a more serious cooking concept.
As for fish stats, let’s scale it up. Argentines eat five kilos a year per person, says private consultancy IES, a figure which reflects growth in the sector but is by no means close to the annual consumption of Daisy.
Still, perhaps all these numbers and figures are set to change, thanks to Chipper, a fish-and-chips restaurant that is affiliated to Britain’s National Federation of Fish Friers, a lesson in Anglo-Argentine harmony if ever there was one, given that it is one of Britain’s signature dishes.
The brainchild of Irish interior designer Susan Kennedy (see Herald, July 17, 2011) and her Argentine partner in both ways Marcelo Liska, Chipper is a first in Buenos Aires – certainly in my paltry seven years of existence here. And Susan swore me to secrecy two years ago about her plan to launch such a venture.
A nautical but nice setting on a prime Palermo Hollywood corner that is bound to give neighbouring fish restaurant La Pescadorita a run for its money, Chipper’s clean lines and navy-and-white tones are fresh and enticing.
Although the restaurant isn’t quite prepared for takeout just yet – the couple are working on the best material in which to wrap their abadejo and lenguado – there’s plenty of room for 24 swarming seagulls to sit and enjoy. (And that statement reminds me of the time I was in Cornwall and the biggest bastard of a seagull I’d ever seen stole my cod from the very cardboard plate I was eating from. How I wept.)
Take your pick of a stool at the wooden bar outside, or a table and chairs on the pavement decorated with simple yet effective blue-and-white chequered place mats. It’s best to sit outside so passersby can look on at your supper with envy.
The Brits will know there is nothing more satisfying than tucking into some greasy chips on the way home after a night out, and if they’re drenched in salt and vinegar, so much the better. Although Joe Blogg’s average chippy doesn’t offer dips to go with thick-cut fries, these four – five, if you include the really hot curry sauce – comprising blue cheese, mushy peas, garlic and regular curry are pretty special, all at 28 pesos. At Monday’s taste tasting, Time Out magazine was enamoured of the peas, while chef Christina Sunae couldn’t get enough of the dreamy blue cheese.
Other fast-food has a spot in the menu: burgers, a fish sandwich and chicken goujons are highlights, but the main event is the fish, of course.
Fifty-eight pesos gets you a metal basket of either cod or sole, accompanied by an abundant supply of fresh chips. Chunky and thick, they are perfect for splashing into a white ceramic pot of tangy tartar, handmade of course. Even though there’s a delicate spoon to pile the classic fish sauce on, it’s far faster just to whack a chip in, hand to mouth…
In a British chippie, I’d also be slathering my fish, perhaps a piece of haddock, with a layer of tartar but it’s been so very long since I’ve munched some down, I didn’t feel the need to do that. I wanted the fish, the whole fish and nothing but the fish, so help me cod. The batter was perfect, crispy on the ends but slightly soggy in the middle. The cod itself was succulent and moist, and even tasted codly – really delicious and flavoursome.
There’s been talk of doing a beer batter, but for the time being Chipper’s Peruvian chef Elmer is sticking to the classic style. However, it surely can’t be long until they give in to demand.
The menu, in perfect English and perfect Spanish, also includes grilled salmon (62 pesos), herbed fish cakes (48 pesos) and some pick-me-up-and-dip-me-in-anything fish goujons (also 48 pesos) to get the tastebuds flowing as a starter.
This ain’t no average chippy, thanks to all the delightful add-ons such as a wine list from Salta (Bodgea El Esteco, vino buffs), friendly table service, solid cutlery and tropical fish emblazoned on the bathroom walls. Chipper is here to stay, but you’d better rush down there anyway, before the Argentine Sea runs out of stock.
Wining On verdict: I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. There is a cod.
Humboldt 1893, Palermo Hollywood
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on March 17, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Allan Kelin