Every time (and I really do mean every time) I talk to somebody about a trip to London, I get asked the same question, without fail:
Did you have the Fish and Chips?
The answer has always been no. At first, it was a disappointed no. Lately it has been transitioning more toward the irritated end of the spectrum. There’s so much else to see in London than another plate of damn fish and chips!
I mean, I grew up going to Skipper’s, so I know what fish and chips is: A tartar sauce delivery platform.
Alright, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.
Still, I’ve come to the realization that you just can’t go somewhere that’s known for a particular dish and not eat it. You can’t go to Boston and not have clam chowder, nor can you go to Japan and not have sushi. Or something else inexplicably weird.
If you don’t do it, your friends will make you hate yourself for it. Don’t get mad at them, it’s not their fault.
It’s YOUR fault.
So anyway, our last trip to London I set out to rectify this problem. We had Heather with us, and I would have been a bad travel buddy if I put her in the same situation. In fact, we resolved to take it one step further: to find the best fish and chips in London.
We started out at The Black Friar, a pub near our hotel. It was loud and noisy at 6pm, but they proudly proclaimed to have “The Best Fish and Chips in London”. What I can tell you was that, well, it was better than Skipper’s. Served with thick fries and mushy peas, it was a pretty iconic presentation. But it certainly didn’t seem like it was award-winning.
The second day in London we went to a different pub, call the Marquess of Anglesey. They also claimed to have “The Best Fish and Chips in London”. We were absolutely starving by that point so were undeterred by spurious claims that had let us down the day before. These were greasy and heartburn-inducing, perhaps because of two days straight of the stuff, but still, it didn’t seem like this was it.
Later we found out that we were only two doors away from Heather’s husband Todd’s opinion of the best fish and chips. He hasn’t been to London in years, so apparently they’re that memorable.
As we walked around we found that “best” was in fact a common claim from pretty much every pub in the city. Clearly that’s a desirable title to have, but you can’t all be the best. We needed to change our strategy.
Finally we went to the Dickens Inn. It has nothing at all to do with Charles Dickens, other than it was built next to the docks and London’s docks were featured a lot in his books. They made no claims as to the quality of their fish and chips, but of the three attempts this was easily the best.
Now, this was not an exhaustive survey, but I think it doesn’t matter. Everyone clamors to be the best, and that’s fine, there’s a lot of competition to be good. But if you’re the best, well all the tourists and riffraff go there, and soon its overrun and obnoxious and unpleasant.
I think there’s a lot to be said for being second best. You’re good enough to compete, hungry for a win, but nobody wants your goods because they aren’t the best. In the words of Ricky Bobby, if you’re not first, you’re last. Everybody ignores second best. But let me let you in on a little secret:
Second best IS best.
The last time we went to Boston, we had what was literally (by way of an independently adjudicated competition) the second best clam chowder in Boston. It was at the Hyatt by the airport and it was fantastic. I’m using all three forms of html-enabled emphasis here because it really was that good. The best part? No wait, not crowded, and good value.
Likewise, in London, the best fish and chips are not the best fish and chips.
Look for the second best.