Gordon Ramsay gets half straight from his Fish & Chips at the Wharf

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It’s tempting to push a target as big as Gordon Ramsay, to drop a bit of Anton Ego on a known brand to dress fellow restaurateurs. News that the British chef, cookbook author and TV personality has launched a fast-casual fish shop, the first of two concepts at the newly expanded wharf in southwest Washington, has found some of us wondering. fighting to keep an open mind. Would Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips be another attempt by an outside force to cash in on their name in a global capital, or would it add something distinctive to the culinary scene, one of America’s best?

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I drove up to the $3.6 billion development on a recent Saturday, paying way too much for parking and joining a line that stretched more than a block, underscoring the curiosity surrounding the demanding leader and loo-mouthed. To relieve staff stress, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips has a gate attendant who admits customers as space inside allows. The sentry is the opposite of a doorman in a hot club, as cheerful and reassuring as the blue and red color scheme of the storefront, a hint of a Union Jack crown. Inside, the chippy, opened in October, shines like a new car. The air smells of fresh cooking oil. Promising signs.

It’s my turn at the counter, backed by a big red menu that requires a few quick decisions. My first request starts with fish and chips, of course, but also fried shrimp, a fish sandwich, several dipping sauces, canned wine and (oh, why not?) a sticky caramel shake. I set up a stool at a counter whose window faces a shaded patio and the water’s edge beyond.

Waiting for my order takes a few minutes longer than at your fast food stop, giving me time to people watch and take in the scenery. “Is it possible to order before coming here?” an impatient customer asks the attendant at the gate, where the queue grows a meter every minute. (There isn’t.) Within sight of Fish & Chips 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 collect my order from the kitchen counter and waste no time picking a piece of hot fish from a pile of “dirty” or dressed fries. The batter on the cod is…a revelation, not an armor but a light golden jacket reminiscent of good tempura, while delicately crunching and audibly crackling. The sparkle from my fingers reminds me that it’s frying, but there’s not a drop of oil anywhere.

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The key ingredients for the crust are rice flour and custard powder, Ramsay shared in an email to The Post. “We worked on the dough for about three months, keeping in mind that fish & chips is largely take-out and many guests may not sit down and eat their meal immediately.” His goal was to achieve something close to the tempura he experienced in Japan and throughout Asia, a style that would “retain its integrity after the cook”, over 20 minutes. In three visits I have never taken food out of here; like pizza, fish and chips are best eaten on the spot. But even when the steaming cod pieces cooled, the crust never got soft.

My fingers move to a few fries sprinkled with crumbled chorizo, cotija cheese, jalapeño, onions and herbs. Part of a trio of “dirty” chip selections, these don’t register in English, but are compelling in the same way that messy foods – nachos, poutine, seven-layer bean dip – can being. For better or worse, French fries are almost lost in the kitchen sink of toppings. When I later try them “natural” – without hampering their performance in any way – they turn out to be poorly chosen for the job. They bend where you would like them to break and carry the flavor of the fridge more than the field. My suspicions are confirmed when I lean over the kitchen counter and ask a cook if the fries are made there. “Uh, we do the dirty here,” she says, meaning the kitchen adds their toppings.

There are good frozen fries on the market. It’s not them.

Dips to the rescue! I have yet to come across a sauce that I wouldn’t be happy to repeat, although the richness of the fish and chips has me asking for repeats of Ramsay’s coppery tartar sauce, horseradish cocktail sauce, and Sriracha flambéed aioli. The combination of curry and mango is also a bright (and fruity) moment.

One of the great things about living in Washington is the access to people from all over the world. If I ever want to know how a foreign dish should taste domestically, I can contact knowledgeable types from the myriad of embassies, the State Department, the World Bank – even basic eaters from abroad.

Meet my pal Anthony Lacey, editor of a local nonprofit and 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 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 condiment—Lacey opens his mind when he joins me on my last menu visit.

The Briton gives the batter a thumbs up (“No drippings of oil!”), praising the crust for its crunch and take on the cod. The rainbow of sauces is more than he would find across the pond, but that’s a good thing, he said asking me if I still want the sticky caramel shake , because otherwise he would like to finish it. We meet again on the same size fries – “airport fries,” Lacey says, as he inspects their floury white centers.

We both agree that shrimp is soft and springy and fried chicken is a why. Ramsay says he offers chicken for the benefit of the general public (“I think we all love fried chicken!”), but the one time I bite, the impressive exterior – the crust – gives way to a dry environment.

Maybe you want a sandwich. The shop cradles its fish and chicken, along with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and creamed avocado, in a lightly grilled naan. Bread makes a good wrap, more of a pillow than a sandbag. Naan also emphasizes filling.

Canned wine? Remember, you eat fast food. Choose from a rosé or sauvignon blanc, both from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford and respectable quaffs. That said, $12 a box makes me think someone should pour it for me, and in glass rather than plastic. I guess you could go the shake route with your lunch or dinner, but to me they qualify as dessert. With a dedicated sweet tooth, my man Lacey doesn’t leave a drop of the sticky caramel pudding shake, every sip as decadent as that sounds. I’m a fan of the relatively lighter Biscoff shake, its crown of whipped topping sprinkled with the ubiquitous European spicy biscuit that gives the confection its name.

When your menu only has a handful of things, you need to master every detail. Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips nails the first, misses the second, and does the rest of the experiment well enough to explain any line out.

Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips

665 Wharf Street SW. 771-444-5590. gordonramsayrestaurants.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeout 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Price: Sandwiches and combo plates $15-$19. Sound control: 77 decibels/must speak in a high voice. Accessibility: No barrier to entry; ADA compliant restrooms. Pandemic protocols: No masks or vaccines are required of staff.

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