The best fish 'n' chips in Seoul
For a truly good curry, go to India. For real biscuits and gravy, visit the American South. And for genuine fish ‘n’ chips, take a trip to … Sinchon.
That’s right. Sam Griffiths, 24, and Charlie McAlpine, 23, are the reason. Disgusted by sub-par fish ‘n’ chips in their native England and driven by hallucination, the two young men headed to Seoul about a year ago. For the last three months, they’ve been dishing out the most famous dish of their native land, taking care to do it the right way. The way it might have been dished out in England 100 years ago. Or maybe even better than that.
The pair serve the fish ‘n’ chips at Battered Sole, their second-floor pub in the heart of Sinchon.
Theirs is a story of youthful idealism. They became friends while studying at the University of London. Fish ‘n’ chips in London are either low-quality or too expensive, they said. To get the good stuff, McAlpine began experimenting with homemade fish ‘n’ chips. His recipe became locally famous, and friends started dropping by just to get a taste. One day, flu-ridden in a fevered half-sleep, McAlpine had a vision: I must make fish ‘n’ chips in Seoul.
McAlpine does have some connection to Seoul; he studied here for two summers when he was in his late teens. Also, his mom is Korean. Griffiths has none. Neither can speak Korean. They do have a third partner: a Korean businessman who was an acquaintance of Griffiths’ father. But mostly, they’re starting from scratch — a scenario which also happens to be what makes their food so good.
McAlpine and Griffiths reject just about every notion held by the fish friers of modern England. They don’t make their batter from a powder; they don’t buy pre-cut fish fillets. They don’t use potatoes from a bag. They even go so far as to make tartar sauce from scratch, emulsifying oil and lemon juice and egg yolks with a food processor. The result is labor-intensive food, but food they are proud of.
Even their ingredients are more authentic than what fish ‘n’ chips eaters in England get. Stocks of Atlantic cod, the fish traditionally used to make the dish, are dangerously low. As a result, English fish ‘n’ chip shops have turned to Pacific cod, a similar and more abundant fish. Whereas Pacific cod must make a journey of thousands of miles to end up on English tables, it’s native to the waters around Korea. McAlpine and Griffiths buy theirs in huge fillets from a market near World Cup Stadium.
The duo make their beer batter from scratch and fry fillets to order. They’re especially proud of the technique they use to fry their chips. The chips are “triple-cooked,” which means they’re boiled, then cooled, then fried, then cooled again, then fried again at high heat. Triple-cooking increases the “dry matter” on the outside of the chips, making them especially crisp. Their fish and chips both have the deep-golden-brown color of properly fried food. And of course, in true British form, they serve their fish ‘n’ chips with mushy peas.
“To get a good plate of food, all you need is to get good ingredients and cook them correctly,” McAlpine said.
The pair has also put its love of England into the design of the shop. The walls are slate-gray and covered with photos of The Who and The Rolling Stones. There’s a picture of the Queen, and one of the Duke of Edinburgh.
They said they designed the restaurant to be the kind of place they’d like to hang out in. And they do hang out there, sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day, making uncompromising food in a strange land.
To get to Battered Sole, walk straight out of Sinchon Station Exit 3. Continue north for about four blocks and turn left down the alley just before Starbucks. Battered Sole is on the right.