It had become quite a family tradition that we would combine the Alnwick Christmas Lights switch-on with a fish supper at Carlo’s.
That was until teenage angst kicked in and it was no longer cool to sit in any restaurant with mummy and daddy.
So we found ourselves tucking in alone before the circuit of the town to spot the themed displays – very entertaining and festive, as usual, even if November seemed somewhat early to be heralding the visit of Babbo Natale, as Carlo would call Santa in his native Italy.
Carlo’s is an institution in Alnwick – it has helped feed our brood and many others like us over the years. It is very much a family concern – they are now into their fourth generation of fish friers.
Carlo Biagioni emigrated from Italy to Scotland, where he learnt his trade from the father of his wife-to-be Laura. He had picked up the knowledge from his own father.
And so Carlo’s Fish and Chips was born in the centre of Alnwick in 1989 and continues to thrive to this day.
The couple are now in partnership with daughter Sonia and her husband Adam Alexander to keep the family tradition alive. The restaurant was fully refurbished in 2009 and, as you walk through the door, you are struck by the cleanliness of the place. I’m sure, like me, you have taken one look at certain chippies and turned tail, heading straight for the door, with the waft of grease following in your wake.
Carlo’s is different – on our visit, the refreshing smell of cleaning fluids competed admirably with the odour of frying food. The white wall tiles gleamed and the friers looked as good as new. The toilet upstairs was immaculate and the entire restaurant oozed pride – hygiene is obviously high on the menu.
It was no surprise when the eaterie recently landed the prestigious Fish and Chip Quality Award from the trade’s body, the National Federation of Fish Friers, once again. The Alnwick venue first gained the 5-star accolade in 2011 when it was the first shop in Northumberland to receive it.
If cleanliness is a cornerstone of the business then quality is equally important.
It’s website boasts a series of the pledges that place quality at the forefront of the Carlo’s philosophy – they only use line-caught haddock; fish is sourced from sustainable fisheries; chips are made from fresh-cut Maris Piper (or similar) potatoes; the family’s own batter recipe is used; only vegetable oil is used in the friers.
Although Carlo’s is more than just a fish and chip restaurant, with an array of meals, from haggis to chicken burgers, gracing the bright takeaway display above the counter, fish is the principal reason for my visits.
And so it was at the weekend when I opted for Carlo’s Special – a feast to fill the emptiest belly! Large cod or haddock, thick-cut chips, a choice of peas, curry, gravy or beans (I had mushy peas, of course), buttered bread and a pot of tea or coffee, all for £8.60.
It’s not Cordon Bleu cooking and it doesn’t pretend to be – it is, however, a fine example of this national dish and a firm favourite among generations of families.
And in my book, there are few, if any, better – the cod tasted very fresh and was coated in a light, crispy batter that was not too greasy. The chunky chips were well-cooked and crunchy, giving way to a soft potato interior.
The advantage of eating in the restaurant as opposed to a takeaway is the food is still piping hot and crusty fresh. Once wrapped and carried home, much of that bite is lost.
My only gripe was the attention to detail should have extended to Heinz tomato sauce in the dispensers and real butter (not spread) with the bread, which wasn’t presented in the most delicate way. Other than that, everyone’s guilty pleasure was a pleasure indeed – and I didn’t even feel guilty!
I have yet to find a finer exponent of this great British ‘delicacy’.
In the interests of variety, Mrs L was coerced into choosing something different and plumped for a double cheeseburger and chips (£6). I gathered from the glare that she would rather have gone down the traditional route, but she nonetheless polished off her burger, which was markedly seasoned but not the meatiest.
We then took some takeaway offerings home to feed the offspring and the fishcake (which was on special offer at an incredible £2.50, including chips) and haggis went down very well. Both were deep-fried, as you’d expect, but neither were weighed down with copious amounts of oil.
The homemade fishcake, in particular, was a fine example – a bulky beast, packed with fish and potato and fried in a scant batter.
A FIRM FAVOURITE WITH CHILDREN
Youngsters have their own section of the menu to peruse. A mini version of the Carlo’s Special will set you back £7.25, or there’s sausage and chips (£3.20), fishcake and chips (£4), fish bites and chips (£4.80), chicken fillet bites and chips (£4.30) and more.
While a fish and chip shop is not a recognised haunt for vegetarians, Carlo’s does cater for them with their luxury vegetarian burger (£5.20, with chips). And the chips are cooked in vegetable oil.
If the ground floor seating area is a bit too public for you, with the constant queue of people fetching takeaways, there’s always the more private dining section upstairs.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Fish (With Chips)
Meat (With Chips)
Chicken fillet bites......£5.40
Burgers (With Chips)
Luxury vegetarian burger......£5.20
(Takeaway prices are cheaper than these restaurant prices)
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Use of local food......7
Toilet for disabled......No (plus regular toilet is upstairs)
Verdict: The very definition of good fish and chips.
Contact: 01665 602787 or visit www.carlosfishandchips.co.uk