- July 17, 2012
Andrew Kay on his love of Bardsley’s as the fish and chip baton passes to another generation
Just over 24 years ago I moved to Brighton. We arrived in our hired van and within minutes a kind neighbour came round with mugs of tea and a need to inspect our layout and glazing. She became a lifelong friend but also introduced me to friends who have over the years become like family.
When it came to lunchtime we were tired and hungry. I popped over and asked where the best place to get fish and chips was. Without hesitation she replied “Bardsley’s, without a doubt,” and she was right. That day in February I formed a bond with Bardsley’s that has stood more than the test of time.
Bardsley’s opened in 1926 in a street just off the seafront which was later demolished to make way for Churchill Square. Mr Bardsley was a family man and the first generation that still runs the shop to this day. Back then Muriel was only a twinkle in a distant eye but she certainly followed in her grandfather’s footsteps and when she met Roy Brown and married him they went on to run the business together in its present location in Baker Street. Baker Street may say Sherlock Holmes to you, but to me it will always say fish and chips.
Roy and Muriel have seen the business go from strength to strength over the last twenty years. They have expanded into an adjoining property and opened a second dining room which houses a great collection of Max Miller memorabilia including an original costume. That alone draws fans of the cheeky chappie, but few will leave without becoming fans of the excellent fish and chips. Roy has even become something of a media spokesman for the fish and chip trade, with many TV and radio appearances.
The couple are far from over the hill, they both have hobbies that keep them very busy. Roy keeps horses and over the years has been a dressage competitor. Muriel is a keen classical music lover and plays violin in a string quartet, not easy images to picture when you see them hard at it behind the fryers, up to their eyes in cod, batter and potatoes.
Their son Neil started working for them when he was 14 and after leaving school joined the family business full-time, gradually learning the trade from Mum and Dad. Initially he was rather shy, unlike Roy, who is as likely to be at your table as he is to be frying fish. His love of entertaining customers with cheeky banter has made him one of Brighton’s best loved restaurateurs and over the years I am pleased to say that Neil has found his own, somewhat quieter, voice.
Now Mum and Dad have decided to pull back from the business, not fully, but certainly taking more time to rest and enjoy their hobbies, with Neil dutifully stepping into the breach. I asked him how it was going and if Dad was really letting him run the ship? He laughed and replied; “Yes, pretty much so. I now do most of the ordering and running of the business. Dad’s here most Wednesday mornings and alternate Saturday nights and mum does one morning and one evening a week. But we’re very lucky to have a great team of staff, most of who have been with us for years, some far longer than I have.”
Roy has, of course, turned up to chat with me too and confirms that Neil is pretty much in charge these days. What difference does it make I ask? Neil is quick to answer; “Well it’s much quieter when Dad’s not here.” “Cheeky…” replied Roy, but he has a huge grin on his face and it’s a clear sign he knows the business is in safe hands. Neil has a young son Billy so I ask if he will be encouraged to become the fifth generation of the Bardsley’s dynasty? “If he wants to yes, I think we would all like that.”
Bardsley’s is a business with strong traditions but not one stuck in the past. Over the years they have championed, where they can, the use of local produce and as well as a standard chip shop menu, there is a daily blackboard of specials that mainly includes seasonal locally caught fish. For a while they even excluded cod from the menu every Tuesday to encourage people to try more sustainable fish like pollock. “It worked well, people simply had to accept that cod was off,” says Roy.
Now they open four days a week but for longer hours, a move that has worked well for both them and for customers, many of whom are commuters who found the previous early closing times rather restrictive.
Bardsley’s works on so many levels; it’s a thriving take-away, a popular dining room with locals and others who see their weekly visits from the far corners of the city as a bit of a day out. Over the years it has also become a popular party venue and they can cater for large numbers and have done many weddings. They also offer a catering service providing many regular clients with stylish fish and chip suppers in their own homes.
When the business expanded they also became licensed to sell alcohol. “Lots of customers liked the fact that they could bring their own drink, but it seemed mad that we did not offer a range too. We now have an excellent list with some classic wines at great prices. Our house wine is only £10.95, we have Chablis at £19 and our Veuve Cliquot is only £41, pretty unbeatable value in a restaurant.” And why wouldn’t you want champagne with a menu that can boast treats like scallops, oysters, Dover sole and turbot?
I’m not alone in my love of this fine dining room, and I mean fine in the true sense of the word, not the fancy-pants interpretation applied to dainty portions on huge plates. It’s great food, great value, great company and a great asset to our city – and long may it continue to be so.
Bardsley’s, 22–23a Baker Street, Brighton, BN1 4JN, 01273 681256,open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 12pm–3pm and 5pm–10pm