Meet the couple behind the UK's best chippy for 2017, the Kingfisher in Plympton
PUBLISHED: 12:59 17 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:08 17 April 2018
CATHERINE COURTENAY meets a Plymouth couple who've spent an extraordinary year in the name of the greatest British takeaway
The world loves fish and chips and one moment which proves it is when the National Fish and Chip Awards’ Best Independent Fish and Chip Shop winner is announced.
The Seafish Awards are the fish and chip equivalent of the Oscars. There are several categories, but it’s when the top takeaway is revealed that the call for interviews starts. Journalists in Germany, Spain, Italy, America, Canada and China report on the annual awards.
“Fish and chips is big everywhere, you wouldn’t believe how big it is,” says Nikki Mutton, who with her partner Craig Maw owns Kingfisher Fish and Chips, the Plympton chippy which won the 2017 title.
“The whole world goes bonkers,” says Craig. “The UK is a small island where everything is perfect for growing ingredients, the potatoes, fish, flour…it’s unique in the fact it has this ability to produce fish and chips. All the other countries are jealous, they want a piece of it but are not able to replicate it 100%.”
He recalls the moment Kingfisher was announced as the winner: “It was awesome. We were in this room with 650 people, then they called out our name and the whole room went crazy. And we just come from a small housing estate in Plymouth!”
Getting to the final is hard. The process takes eight months and involves mystery shoppers and surprise audits; judging is made on a strict list of criteria from the quality of the fish and chips to sustainability, cleanliness, marketing and staff training.
For the shop award a shortlist of ten regional winners is drawn up; the day before the ceremony each must give a presentation in front of a panel of experts.
“They are looking for an ambassador,” explains Nikki. “You become the face of fish and chips for a year. If there’s any news story about fish and chips, you are the first point of call.”
In the middle of post-awards’ interviews –which included appearing on TV show This Morning and rushing back to their shop for filming with a German TV crew – Craig and Nikki were approached about doing a pop-up for the 50th annual British Fair in Japan.
They ended up spending ten days in a department store in Fukuoka and Osaka, working from 7am to 9pm frying 9,000 portions of fish and chips.
“The store opened at 10am and by two minutes past, the queue was 50 deep. It stayed like that all day,” says Craig.
More pop-ups and TV interviews followed, along with visits to the Plympton shop by tourists from Australia, Canada and Hong Kong.
Craig came to Devon from Sheffield 20 years ago to run the new Plympton shop, and was told he’d have first refusal if it ever came up for sale. Fifteen years later it did – but it was tough raising the money. Nikki took a job as a manager in Tesco, to help build up some cash, working at Kingfisher every evening.
“We really stretched ourselves to get it. By the time we opened on our first day we only had just enough money to get our first potato delivery,” says Craig.
Since then the couple have won more than 30 awards. They also hold the world record for the number of MSC certified fish on the menu – 13 species. They have no plans to open more shops, such is their dedication to Plympton; all they ever wanted to do was make and serve the fish and chips that they enjoy.
Nikki, who’s lived in Plymouth all her life, remembers her family getting fish and chips for a rare treat. For Craig it was a regular event. “Every Saturday lunchtime, my mum would give me the list and some money and I’d have a two-mile walk to get them, a four-mile round trip.
“I’d have been about age 10 or 12, and I remember getting a sneaky Yorkshire fishcake to have on the way back,” he laughs.
“The thing about fish and chips is, they can take you back to a moment in life when you had a good experience, a fond experience,” he reflects.
Kingfisher is fighting the war against plastic during March and April with customers who spend over £20 getting a free thermal insulated bag for life.
The 2018 fish and chip shop of the year is Millers Fish and Chips in Haxby, York. In Devon, The Pelican in Barnstaple won the Best Restaurant title as well as the Seafood Week Campaign award and Krispies in Exmouth won the Marketing Innovation award. Habourside Fish and Chips in Plymouth was a regional winner and came third overall in the fish and chip shop category.
There are regional preferences for fish and chips. In Scotland they use dripping, in Yorkshire it’s haddock, whereas down south we like cod and vegetable oil.
There are currently about 10,500 fish and chip shops in the UK and we eat 382 million portions every year.