One of the great unspoken scandals of modern times is that the potato is not included in the UK government’s ‘5 a day’ recommendation.
When you consider that even tinned and frozen vegetables count towards it, and that potatoes contain plenty of vitamins and fibre, it’s as if a deliberate cruelty has been perpetrated against the spud-lovers of Britain by a coalition of joyless civil servants and corrupt scientists. Why would they do such a thing?
It could be because potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids. A concentration of glycoalkaloid in potatoes can poison humans, though as the symptoms include headaches, bowel irritability and diarrhoea it’s often difficult to tell if you’ve been poisoned, or if it’s just the morning.
But no, the answer is more straightforward than that: It’s because potatoes are delicious. And I mean really fucken delicious. The point being that if they told us they were good for us too we’d sit around eating them all day, every day and the economy would grind to a halt, like it did in the great oil crisis of the ’70s, now thought to be directly linked to the advent of flavoured crisps.
And they are not just delicious, they are versatile, too. Consider just a few of the various preparations. You can have them mashed, with butter, say. Or boiled, with butter. Or baked, with butter and cheese.
They can be roasted or sautéed or formed into dumplings or hash browns or potato pancakes. You can turn them into the aforementioned crisps. You can even put them in salads (I know).
And then of course, there are chips. Lovely, wonderful, lovely chips; the apotheosis of tuber-related culinary offerings.
Chips with fish, perhaps. Chips with egg. Chips with two eggs. Chips in bread, with butter again. The permutations are endless, even if they are all broadly the same. Chips are our gift to the world, despite being invented in Belgium, and though they may not be deemed to make us healthy, in fact they do better than that. They make us happy.
As a child, forced to live in the countryside by heartless, unthinking parents, I had a dream: To live somewhere that had a chip shop. Really, no child should have to suffer the nearest chip shop being five miles away, though the NSPCC took a different view and ultimately stopped taking my calls.
(Another recurring daydream was that I’d discover a magic chip – one perfect specimen that lasted forever. Looking back, it’s tempting to conclude that I was underfed, or possibly just simple.)
In consequence, I became expert in preparing my own. One of the greatest treats you can bestow upon yourself after a morning cocking about on the Internet is to spend 15 minutes peeling, slicing and shallow frying a potato in the dripping left over from the weekend’s roast. You’re worth it.
For my 14th birthday I was given a deep fat fryer, which became such an essential part of my life I photographed it for an art project, to the consternation of Miss Samuels.
It was a shock, then, when I grew up and made my way out into the wide world of cafes, to discover the enemy of the fresh, hand cut, home made delicacy I had become accustomed to – the ubiquitous frozen chip. Yes, of course, there were the chip shops I could finally frequent, but sometimes you require a good sit down, double egg bacon and chips and a cup of tea. And cafe chips were mostly dreadful, as, sadly, they remain to this day.
But chip lovers, we need not compromise. Armed with a little knowledge we can vote with our fat little feet, for at enormous calorific expense to myself I have compiled a list of five South London cafes in which the chips have never seen the inside of a plastic bag.
Marie’s, Waterloo, SE1
Not only are the chips at this Waterloo institution possibly the finest on this list, but the food is also the most reasonably priced, with double egg, bacon and chips and a cup of tea coming in at just £3.80.
After 5pm Thai food is served and you can bring your own booze. My ambition is one day to have a lunch so long that by the end of it I’m ready for a Thai dinner. Or if it’s not quite 5pm, egg, bacon and chips again.
The Regency, Pimlico, SW1
This handsome devil is so famous it’s got its own Wikipedia page (see link above). It has featured in several TV shows, adverts and films, perhaps most notably, Layer Cake, in which Daniel Craig was probably shouted at for taking a table before ordering at the counter.
The tremendous grub comes fast and furious, with orders bellowed out by the owners. And if you think Marco’s loud, wait till Claudia’s on.
Rock Steady Eddie’s, Camberwell, SE5
In an effort to squeeze in as many booths as possible, the bench seats at Eddie’s are terribly tight and sit you up so high and mighty that you feel as if you’re about to fall face first into your dinner, like that time you drank too much at your mother-in-law’s.
The walls are covered in naff rock ‘n’ roll and Hollywood memorabilia and many of the clientele – refugees from the Maudsley up the road – are not, as you might suppose, talking to you, they’re talking to themselves.
But, oh man, the chips (main pic).
Millwall Cafe, Bermondsey, SE16
Located in the very shadders of Millwall Football Club, this friendly local worker’s favourite has a chip shop-style deep fat fryer that turns out sumptuous, fluffy chips with everything. Located near my mechanic, it almost makes spending £100 to get my car window fixed a pleasure.
On a recent visit (a birthday treat for Mrs Raider) I was concerned that they may have used frozen chips but was assured – with a look I wasn’t about to argue with – that they’re ‘always fresh, love’.
The Electric, West Norwood, SE27
We featured this classic caff in our West Norwood wander and it remains a firm favourite, worth hopping on a train to nearby Tulse Hill station for if you’re not local. Stavros and family know a USP when they’ve got one and a board outside advertises the presence within of their ‘hand cut real chips’.
The Electric doubles as an occasional photo gallery, but last time I was there I was busy taking my own photographs. Of my chips. That’s art, Miss Samuels.
More on the humble spud in our Food & Drink Special podcast:
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