Personally speaking, I’ve always been a huge fan of this British take-away dish. To my deep fryer-loving palate, few things go together as sublimely as a piece of well-battered, fried fish and a hefty pile of chips. When I was a kid, fish and chips were my go-to order during nearly every family vacation, and I’ve had them every which way with every kind of side and style of local fish you can think of (mahi-mahi, barramundi, whiting, etc.).
I have a fuzzy memory of my mom informing me that in London, fish and chips were traditionally served in a newspaper cone with a touch of malt vinegar, and soon I became completely obsessed with this particular detail in that easy way that a child becomes beholden to a useless piece of trivia. Each fish and chips shop that I subsequently visited I judged secretly based on this sole qualification, and CargoFish, thankfully, did not disappoint.
While it might seem less than hygienic to serve greasy pub grub on a leaky print of Bandila, the fish and chips here are served in a portable, take-out friendly box lined with broadsheet-inspired paper, while a tall bottle of malt vinegar is always within arm’s reach.
Set up in a shipping container parked outside the fourth floor food court of Uptown Bonifacio, CargoFish’s breezy, al fresco dining area reflects the simplicity inherent to the dish’s concept.“We’re not trying to hit a trend,” Matthew Hornsby-Bates, co-owner and chef of CargoFish, says. “There’s a fairness and honesty to fish and chips. People have a kind of loyalty to it back in Britain—which I hope translates to what we’re doing here. Back home everyone has their own fish and chips shop that they go to, and it’s nothing fancy. Just a bunch of guys who prepare the same thing over and over for 12 years.”
While CargoFish makes sure to pay its respects to its beer-battered heritage, the restaurant’s mix and match menu also offers customers the freedom to tailor the dish to their own unique specifications. Orders begin by choosing between a selection of five different kinds of fish (or shrimp), then adding two choices of sides, and a sauce.
“We do offer a suggestion that is the authentic British way: the beer-battered cod with proper chips, mushy peas, chip shop curry sauce, and tartar,” Hornsby-Bates explains. His partner, Mathew Lim, adds, “But we wanted to give our customers a choice, since not all Filipinos might appreciate traditional British flavors. We added sauce options like roasted garlic and honey japaleño, which deliver the stronger flavors that Pinoys love. We also added cargo rice as a side option.”
“There are Brits that are looking for that authentic experience, but also locals who want to try something new, so we took both of those into consideration,” Hornsby-Bates agrees. “The range of sauces caters to the local palate. I actually quite like the lime chili cilantro for its kick. The flavors are a bit more punchy, sweet, and salty.”During our visit, we tried one each of the two chefs’ individual recommendations: one order of the cod with chips and slaw salad, mushy peas, and chip shop curry; and another order of salmon, cargo rice and onion rings, honey jalapeño and lime chili cilantro sauce. My favorite combination ended up being somewhere between the old and the new: the cod topped with malt vinegar (old habits die hard) and lime chili cilantro sauce, and, of course, their ‘proper’ fried chips. Which begged the question: what exactly is a proper chip?
“You’d be so surprised how many people don’t make British chips anymore,” Hornsby-Bates explains. “They use these processed, already mashed up potatoes. At CargoFish, we buy whole potatoes, chop them up, and fry them through 3 stages. This process gives you that fluffy, crispy, but not too dry chip.”
One last question: is a chip a French fry? “Definitely not!” he laughs. “Fries are thin and American. Chips are fat and British.”
Art by Mags Ocampo
CARGOFISH IS LOCATED AT 4F UPTOWN BONIFACIO, TAGUIG CITY. FOLLOW THEM ON INSTAGRAM AT @CARGOFISHPH.