I'm one of the returned. A member of a lost generation – part of a British diaspora of mid-20 somethings who annually flee the UK for Australia and New Zealand, because we think the grass greener, the sky bluer and the beer colder on those far-flung shores.
But how we whinge when we get there. Where's the grass? The beer is colder, but it costs how much? And yeah, the sky is large and cloudfree, but what the hell is that you're putting on my fish and chips? White vinegar! How dare you sir… And what's flake when it's at home? I don't want shark off-cuts, I want beer-battered cod with a single serve of proper fat chips doused in malt vinegar and a pickled egg to go, damn your eyes!
International travel is, of course, the most mind-opening experience you'll ever enjoy, and the world would be a better place if it was made as compulsory as school attendance, but one thing any itchy-footed British itinerant will learn during their wanderings is that the UK unequivocally does certain things best. Chief among these are proper pubs and fish 'n' chips.
Returning after a decade away, I bid my family a quick hello and immediately went and sought out some homecoming solace in the arms of both of these institutions. And I found both had experienced a revolution. And, incredibly, both of these revolutions seemed to be positive.
No longer do you need to end an evening in a Great British pub smelling like Dot Cotton's ashtray, and when you go to a good quality modern British chippy, you can now get a range of really fresh fish (not just great cod), caught sustainably and cooked to perfection in delightfully light batter and clean oil.
And, because I chose to come back to Devon, a part of Britain where the grass genuinely is greener than anywhere else , I'm spoilt for choice about where to go for my fish-and-chip fix. Here are some of the very best.
Located in the unassuming town of Seaton, on the East Devon side of the Jurassic Coast, Frydays is a multi-award winning fish and chip shop, which is as unpretentious as is it consistently excellent. No frills, just great gills – and beautifully chunky chips to go along with it. With 16 species of fish on the menu, everything on the menu is bought from traceable and sustainable (and predominantly local) sources, and their food is served in recyclable cardboard boxes.
Fantastic friendly service and fish cakes that fell from heaven. Graylings (outlets in Fremington and North Tawton) have fanatical fans from miles around, who will drive for hours to sink their fangs into their fish and chips. More than just a chippy, these guys featured in the Guardian's Top 10 restaurants in North Devon.
Perennial plaudit winners, who once again have been voted as the second best-and-chip shop in the country (and therefore, according to our logic, in the universe) Hanbury's have been frying up a storm for three decades, and their top-class fish (plaice, lemon sole, monkfish, John Dory, hake and pollack) are all landed locally. Chomp on their signature dish in the restaurant or grab a take-away and tuck in overlooking Lyme Bay.
Plymouth was the UK's first city to be awarded 'Blue City' status by Fish2fork, a sustainable seafood monitoring website, and venues such as the Harbourside are responsible. Situated in the midst of the city's historical Barbican area, the restaurant uses only sustainable sourced fish and refuses to serve any endangered species. Additionally, they serve food in bio-degradable cardboard trays and are signed up to the food logic scheme, which keeps waste out of landfill. And their fish and chips are fantastic - they have won multiple regional and national awards - and their manager, Tom Hughes, was recently named as the best young male fryer in the UK at the National Fish and Chip Awards.
As real fish and chips connoisseurs will tell you, the secret – aside from the freshness of the fish, of course – is all in the batter. This family run joint has it down pat, with a delightful light recipe allowing all the taste to flow through. They serve chunky chips too – the other essential ingredient – plus all kinds of side dishes for those point-of-sale suckers like me.
Just down the road from The Seahorse – a top quality seafood restaurant, run by the same two mates who operate this place – you can expect fantastic seafood from this innovative fish and chip outlet, which also serves jellied eels, cockles, cracked crab and potted shrimp. The interior boasts a beach hut, complete with a log burner for colder evenings. Sister fish and chip outlets exist at Plymouth and Torquay.
A mobile entry this one, the frying man in the La Cantina van, which patrols the streets of Exeter, has won himself a legion of supporters with the quality of his fish and chips (among other dishes, including some awesome Armenian ones) using super freshly caught fish. Catch him if you can.
Part of a much bigger food hub, in the shape of Dart's Farm, the Fish Shed combines a wet fishmongers shop with a fish 'n' chip outlet extraordinaire. Choose from a wide range of fish, all of them caught locally in Lyme Bay and purchased straight off the boats, and have them cooked to your liking. And if you fancy something a little be more special, push the boat out have lobster.
Yes, it's a pub, not a corner chip shop, but this place deserves special mention for the sheer exquisiteness of its fish and chip suppers. (And really, who is going to complain about us combining the UK's finest institutions?) Fish so fresh it's almost flapping, cooked perfectly and served with generous portions of chips.
By Pat Kinsella of Cool Places