From carrying a steaming, paper-wrapped bundle home on a chilly Friday night to impromptu beach picnics, the good old fish and chips is a classic dish with a charming endurance. So let's all hail that humble meal in a rundown of Melbourne's favourite fish and chip shops.
Fish and chips for a new generation
There's no denying we live in a more health-conscious and nuanced culinary climate, and fish and chips could be relegated to a "sometimes" food, but places like The Fish Market are redefining it for a new generation with its clean, licensed, dine-in space, zinging with a splash of yellow neon. Super-light potato cakes are hand-made by a local Greek man, salads are of the beetroot, mint and orange variety, and a small, neat range of fresh fish is available to eat in or take home and cook yourself. Thai fish cakes with an Asian salad heavy on the coriander are a good lunchtime alternative if you don't want to spend the afternoon in a food coma.
The Fish Market, 272 Bridge Rd, Richmond, 9428 8574
The crowd pleaser
The owners are second-generation fish and chip experts who previously owned places such as Malvern's Red Mullet, but now they're bringing something for everyone with the cheerful Tommy Ruff restaurant. It's got a bright decking, fish-shaped ceramic water jugs and friendly table service. The menu swings from oysters to prawn tacos, panko-crumbed fillets in a bun, to classic fish and chip sets. The "saucy grills", such as a lovely grilled fish of the day dolloped with a verdant salsa verde and served with rice and salad, are perfect for those who get weighed down at the thought of something fried. It's licensed and ideal for groups and families.
Tommy Ruff, shop 3/1-3 Carre St, Elsternwick, 9077 8815
Also at 574A Main St, Mordialloc, 9580 2525
If you're looking for more than minimum chips and a Chiko Roll, Richmond Oysters is the bomb. Peruse the enormous counter heaving with trays of oysters, handsome lobsters and slender fillets marinating under fresh herbs, and either buy a stash to take home, or dine in on a deluxe seafood basket. Looking for takeaway with a luxury twist? Try a creamy Moreton Bay bug pie with chips and salad.
Richmond Oysters, 437-443 Church St, Richmond, 9428 5121
Every suburban pocket of shops, no matter how miniature, seems to have a reliable local chipper for the Friday night feed, so don't discount their charms. Jim's Fish Shop in Brighton is packed with locals every Friday and the handmade potato cakes are fat and doughy, almost like a doughnut. Archie's in Mount Waverley is an immaculate spot bedecked in yellow and blue with hand-crumbed tender calamari and house-made potato cakes that are slender and shatter with a pleasing crunch. Explore your local. You might be surprised.
Jim's Fish Shop, 607 Hawthorn Road, Brighton East, 9578 5727
Archie's, 7 Barlyn Rd, Mt Waverley, 9808 4003
Whether you're picnicking on the sun-dappled sand or watching grey clouds and choppy seas from the comfort of your car, fish and chips by the beach is an enduring old-school pleasure. Head to Altona's pine-ringed beach and get a feast of poutine and kumara fritters at Altona Beach Bites. Go left-field with a serve of tempura vegies from St Kilda's Tommy Tucker's on Acland Street, or head down to the picturesque bluffs of Half Moon Bay, dive in for a swim and work up an appetite for a Red Bluff pack from Cerberus Beach Kiosk, which includes two finely battered slabs of sweet potato. (There's a sit-down restaurant above if you want to get swanky and avoid getting sand whipped in your eyes.)
Altona Beach Bites, 137 Esplanade, Altona, 9398 1444
Tommy Tucker's, 141 Acland St, St Kilda, 9534 1917
Cerberus Beach House, Boat Shed/212 Half Moon Bay, Black Rock, 9533 4028
Chips a cut above
Chips – sticks of potato cut up and fried. How hard can it be? How wrong can they go? For anyone who's ever suffered the disappointment of a soggy yellow demon clinging to its no-good mates and reeking of rancid oil, salvation can be found, controversially, at a suburban burger joint. Tuck Shop Take Away's "cuts" are something else – light, delicate, with a gentle crunch and a clean flavour that tastes like, well, fluffy potato. Sebagos are hand-cut, skin-on, every morning, then boiled, and blanched in GMO-free canola oil, before being cooked a third time when you place your order. Seasoned with a decent pinch of sea salt, they're utterly perfect. You can choose to dip them in the yummy house sauce (a blend of house-made mayo, tomato sauce and mustard) but with chips this good, why tinker?
Tuck Shop Take Away, 273 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North, 0431 406 580
Chips in the city
Fish and chips may be synonymous with beachside locations or suburban shopping strips, but what if you've got a hankering and you're in the heart of the CBD? Look to the laneways. Sea Salt Degraves, owned by Poseidon Oysters & Seafood, might look like a sushi joint at first glance but head on in and there's a whole raft of fish and chip options available too, from salt and pepper squid to a healthy "gym junkie" pack with rice, garden salad and the fish of the day. Grab your order and make for the gardens for a fish and chip picnic on the fly.
Sea Salt Degraves, 13 Degraves St, Melbourne, 9654 2095
Pick of the pubs
Fish and chips are a staple of the pub menu but they can sometimes be a greasily lacklustre affair. The Middle Park Hotel, with its slick but warm and woodsy interior, features a very pleasing version on its bar menu – a lovely fat rectangle of trevally, plump in its pale ale battered jacket, propped on crisp and chunky triple-cooked chips and served with a pea puree. Accompany it with an icy glass of something from the hotel's impressive range of Victorian craft beers.
Middle Park Hotel, 102 Canterbury Road, Middle Park, 9690 1958