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Review | Gordon Ramsay gets half right at his Fish & Chips at the Wharf

Remark

It’s tempting to poke a target as big as Gordon Ramsay, to unleash a little Anton Ego on a brand known for dressing up fellow restaurateurs. The news that the British chef, cookbook author and TV personality was rolling out a fast-casual fish shop, the first of two concepts at Southwest Washington’s recently expanded Wharf, found some of us fighting to keep an open mind. to keep. Would Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips be another attempt by an outside force to cash in on their name in a world capital, or would it add something distinctive to the food scene, one of America’s best?

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I pull up to the $3.6 billion development on a recent Saturday, pay far too much for parking, and join a queue that stretches more than a block, underscoring the curiosity surrounding the discerning, foul-mouthed cook. To ease the stress on the staff, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips places an attendant at the entrance who admits customers if space is available inside. The sentry is the opposite of a doorman at a hot club, as cheerful and reassuring as the storefront’s blue-and-red color scheme, a crown tip for the Union Jack. Inside, the chippy, which opened in October, shines like a new car. The air smells of fresh cooking oil. Promising signs.

It’s my turn at the counter, supported by a big red menu that requires some quick decisions. My debut request naturally starts with fish and chips, but also fried shrimp, a fish sandwich, various sauces for dipping, canned wine and (oh, why not?) a sticky toffee shake. I prop up a stool at a counter whose window overlooks an umbrella-shaded patio and the waterfront beyond.

Waiting for my order takes a few minutes longer than at your garden fast food restaurant, giving me time to people watch and take in some of the scenery. “Is there a way to order before you get here?” an impatient customer asks the doorman, where the queue is growing by the meter. (There isn’t.) Within Fish & Chips’ purview is the upcoming Hell’s Kitchen, inspired by Ramsay’s reality TV show. (Expect beef wellington and sit-down service.)

My number is called and I pick up my order from a counter and don’t waste time picking a piece of hot fish from a pile of “dirty” or dressed chips. The batter on the cod is… a revelation, no armor but a light golden jacket reminiscent of good tempura, all delicate crunch and audible crackling. The shine on my fingers reminds me it’s fried food, but there are no oil drops anywhere.

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The main ingredients in the crust are rice flour and pastry cream powder, Ramsay shared in an email to The Post. “We worked on the batter for about three months, bearing in mind that fish and chips are largely take-out and many diners may not immediately sit down and eat their meal.” His goal was to get something close to the tempura he’s experienced in Japan and across Asia, a style that would “keep its integrity after cooking,” over 20 minutes. In three visits I never got food from here; like pizza, fish and chips are best eaten on the spot. But even as the steaming pieces of cod cooled, the crust never went limp.

My fingers go to some fries sprinkled with crumbled chorizo, cotija cheese, jalapeño, onions and herbs. One of a trio of “dirty” fries selections, these don’t register as English, but they’re convincing in the way messy food—nachos, poutine, seven-layer bean dip—can be. For better or worse, the fries almost go to waste in the sink of siege. Later when I try them “of course” – with nothing to get in the way of their performance – they reveal they are miscast for the job. They bend where you want them to break, carrying the flavor of the fridge more than the field. My suspicions are confirmed when I lean over the counter and ask a chef if the fries are made there. “Uh, we make the dirty ones here,” she says, meaning the kitchen adds their toppings.

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Dive to the rescue! I’ve yet to come across a sauce I’d hate to repeat, though the richness of fish and chips makes me ask for repeats of Ramsay’s coppery tartar sauce, horseradish-lightened cocktail sauce, and aioli fired up with sriracha. The combination of curry and mango is also a bright (and fruity) moment.

One of the great things about living in Washington is access to people from all over the world. If I ever want to know what a foreign dish should taste like on its own turf, I can contact expert types from the myriad of embassies, the State Department, the World Bank – even regular diners from abroad.

Meet my friend Anthony Lacey, an editor for a local nonprofit and the blogger behind Dining With Strangers, in which Lacey invites random people over for a meal and interviews them. Lacey grew up eating fish and chips in his native UK and considers the gold standard back home in a place called (ha!) Frydays, in the village of Anlaby, outside Hull and near the North Sea. While his favorite fish is haddock and he grew up mixing ketchup and vinegar — yes, he knows salt and vinegar is the classic seasoning — Lacey opens his mind when he joins me on my latest tour of the menu.

The Brit gives his thumbs up to the batter (“No drops of oil!”) and praises the crust for its crispness and grip on the cod. The rainbow of sauces is more than he’d find on the other side of the pond, but that’s a good thing he says, asking if I’d like any more of the sticky toffee shake, because if not he’d like it eat. We’ll get back together over the same size chips — “airport fries,” Lacey says, inspecting their floury-white centers.

We both agree that the shrimp is sweet and springy and the fried chicken is something to worry about. Ramsay says he offers chicken for the sake of mass appeal (“I think we all love roast chicken!”), but the one time I bite, the great outside—the crust—gives way to a dry center .

Maybe you want a sandwich. The shop cradles its fish and chicken, along with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and avocado cream, in lightly grilled naan. The bread makes a good wrap, more pillow than sandbag. The naan also keeps the focus on the filling.

Canned wine? Don’t forget you are eating fast food. Choose from a rosé or sauvignon blanc, both from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford and respectable quaffs. That said, $12 a can makes me think someone should pour it for me, and in glass instead of plastic. I suppose you could go the shake route with your lunch or dinner, but to me they qualify for dessert. With a devoted sweet tooth, my husband Lacey doesn’t leave a drop of the gooey fudge shake, every sip as decadent as that sounds. I favor the relatively lighter Biscoff shake, the crown of whipped topping sprinkled with the spiced biscuit, ubiquitous in Europe, which takes its name from the confection.

When your menu is just a handful of things, you need to master every detail. Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips nails the former, misses the latter, and does well enough through the rest of the experience to lay out every line outside.

Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips

665 Wharf St. SW. 771-444-5590. gordonramsayrestaurants.com. Open: Indoor/outdoor dining and takeout Sunday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 11pm. Prices: Sandwiches and combo plates $15 to $19. Soundcheck: 77 decibels/Must speak with voice raised. Accessibility: no barriers to entry; ADA compliant restrooms. Pandemic Protocols: No masks or vaccinations are required from staff.

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