Nelson's best fish and chips

TIP TOP CHIP SHOP: Milton St Fish and Chips was judged to be the best in Nelson by our reviewer.
TIP TOP CHIP SHOP: Milton St Fish and Chips was judged to be the best in Nelson by our reviewer.

You can't get more Kiwi than a feed of "shark 'n' tatties" with a large dollop of tomato sauce and a sprinkle of salt. Even better eaten while sitting on the bonnet of your car overlooking a great view of the Haven. And better still, ripping open the warm paper and finding perfectly cooked fish and chips.

for Victory Square Fish and Chips has the best hot chips between Timaru and Cook Strait, according to the "Best Chip Shop" competition. The competition guidelines cover chip size, oil temperature and maintenance, cooking/deep-frying, basket drainage, filtering and cleaning, salt, and portion size.

When thinking about my best fish and chips meal, I am also interested in the fish, shop hygiene and smell, waiting time and price. I have developed the "THIS" index (Tatties, Healthiness, Incidental, Shark) to rate fish and chips.

The Chip Shop finalists were decided by public text voting, mystery judging and laboratory analysis. I chose a less scientific approach and asked 20 friends to help me find Nelson's best fish and chip shop.

New Zealanders eat seven million servings of chips a week. A standard chip serving is 330 grams, which means that a whopping 2.3 million kilograms of potatoes must be peeled annually to supply Kiwis. I understand why most takeaway shops in New Zealand buy ready-made chips and why growers are trying to perfect a rectangular potato.

The perfect chip is a personal thing. I prefer crispy chips, like the ones from Queen St Fish Supply. Others like them soggy and let them sweat in the paper before eating. One friend told me that the best chips are frozen – and when they thaw out during cooking, they get mushy and absorb more fat and thus have a better taste.

When talking about their favourite shark 'n' tattie experience, my respondents often said that good fried food was not "too fatty".

The bigger the chip, the less oil is absorbed and the healthier (or less unhealthy) they are. Also, if the oil is not hot enough, the food soaks up more oil, resulting in a greasier product. French fries, with a large surface area per chip, are therefore more fatty than chunky chips.

Lard is thought to produce crisper and tastier chips, but plant-based oils produce "healthier" fried food, with less of the bad saturated and trans fats. Like many things in life, a trade-off between what is good for you and what you really like is needed. The consensus seems to be that fish and chips should be an "occasional" food, eaten only once a month.

A scoop of chips and a piece of fish generally costs about $7 in Nelson. Apparently, in Invercargill you pay $4. One of my respondents said that their meal from Haven Fish and Chips was "possibly the most expensive we've ever bought but easily the yummiest, too".

The standard industry response to complaints is that prices are higher in Nelson because of the better quality product. Something like "pay peanuts and you get monkeys".

Well, you won't find monkeys on the menu, but there are many other delights to be had at most takeaway shops. At Milton St, the homemade Thai fish cakes are delicious; at Haven Fish and Chips there are seafood kebabs; at Mapua Wharf there is the added bonus of being able to pick up salmon pate and smoked fish in the same shop; and at Queen St Fish Supply there are yummy burgers, and the staff are very polite. An added attraction at Queen St Fish Supply and Milton St is that the staff will deliver next door to the Sprig & Fern.

With chips I like a piece of perfectly cooked fish. During my research, I found many sea beasts other than shark in the batter: hoki, snapper, tarakihi, gurnard, blue warehou, elephant fish, silver trumpeter, southern kingfish and blue cod.

As always with fish, fresh is best. It shouldn't be overcooked and it should have a perfect batter coating it. Outlets increasingly offer crumbed and grilled fish as a healthier option. Another idea is to remove the batter from fish before eating – you get the flavour without the fat. Apparently, Hales Corner is the place to go if you are after crunchy batter.

With so many outlets available, how do you ensure a top fish and chip experience?

I found one consumer on the internet who said of Victory Square Fish and Chips, "the very best fish & chips in nelson have fish and chips 3 times a week from here and I'm not lien (sic)".

This person might not be lean, either, eating three servings a week, but I suspect that they will be very happy with their local's award as best "chippie".

For my 20 friends, using our expanded criteria of tatties, health, incidental and shark, the Milton St Fish and Chips received top rating.

Elizabeth's Best Fish and Chips
Rated using the THIS Index (Tatties, Health, Incidental, Shark)

1. Milton Street Fish and Chips
2. Queen Street Fish Supply
3. Haven Fish and Chips