WE always come in here for these.”
“Ooh yes,” nods the friend. “They are the best you’ll find in town.”
Two svelte ladies who lunch are seated amid a sea of designer-label shopping bags. They are peering excitedly down at their latest purchase: two rough hewn nuggets of gold, cocooned in crisp wrapping paper.
“Excuse me, I know it sounds crazy, but do you mind if I take a picture of them?”
“No, go on," the first one says. "They look gorgeous, don't they? Here, take it from this angle.”
With that, and with practised poise, each unfolds a napkin, reaches for a bejewelled dagger and, on ceremony, plunges it into the gleaming, steaming heart of the Holy Grail before them.
Oh, all right then: two fat fishcakes, two plastic knives and forks.
Until now, nothing good has ever been reported about chip shops in Liverpool city centre. But today, glad tidings we bring - from the somewhat unexpected quarters of St John's Precinct.
The Good Catch has landed, serving the sort of fish fry Liverpool Confidential had given up all hope of finding hereabouts.
Our last study of the great British traditional tea, two years ago, made for queasy reading. Three city centre chippies, tested over one gruelling week. The “winner”, an Egyptian-run shop on Berry Street, took the Best of Three crown, mostly because it didn’t make our reviewer feel ill and the mushy peas actually contained one or two peas. Even then it could only manage a so-so 5/10 score and has since thrown in the towel to become a kebabery.
lThe Good Catch, however, is a different kettle of plaice, scampi, haddock, cod, mackerel, hake and more.
For a start (and whether you care about this sort of thing or not) only responsibly sourced, sustainable fish is on the menu.
Part of Hugh's Fish FightIndeed, that doyen of all things bright and beautiful, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, looks down from a signed poster with an affectionate gaze on The Good Catch's rows of spotless Formica tables. He is there to testify the shop's membership of his Fish Fight campaign which aims to stop the shoals of the world being plundered into extinction.
The business, which has branches in Hale and Flixton and another in Freshfield, is run by four local brothers and sisters: Christopher, Michelle and Robert Pittaras and Alison Mattravers.
“Our mum and dad ran a really popular fish and chip shop in Formby when we were all little,” says Michelle who manages the Liverpool branch.
“After we came out of university we decided to start up the family business again, building on the reputation but modernising it and making eco issues and sustainability a priority. We can't believe how successful it's been. We've already won one award (the Fish and Chip Quality Award from the National Fish Fryers Association) and now we are up for another.”
The kids are doing Mr and Mrs Pittaras proud. The Good Catch is one of three finalists in the Best Multiple Fish and Chip Operator Award in the 2015 National Fish and Chip Awards, organised by Seafish (the other two are based in the South West and Northern Ireland).
Is it because they do a special gluten-free fish and chips every Monday? Beer batter Tuesdays? The daily specials such as king prawns in panko breadcrumbs? Or Is it their green credentials? “We use 100 per cent vegetable Green Palm oil because it has the Green Q stamp which ensures us that rain forests aren’t being cleared for palm oil plantation.”
Possibly, but the bottom line is the food, which is pretty faultless.
Don't go insanely hungry, impatient and narky. You won’t get your food for at least 10-15 minutes. Everything is made to order with admirable attention to the minutia: even your portion of Maris Pipers (£1.50) is fried from scratch to optimise freshness and positive chip vibes.
And it is all prepared and cooked separately which has made The Good Catch an accidental hit with St John’s Market traders, upstairs, many of whom eat by halal rules.
A large paddle of bright, white plaice (£4) and its more muscular haddock friend (£3.50) take a dive in an ice trough of batter before heading to their final, searing destination at 180C. The result is a gold coating of delectable crispy shards for picking up with your bare hands and devouring.
“Our fish is delivered fresh every morning, we pay extra for the best," says Caroline, manning the counter today and last seen as assistant manager in The Munro. There is nothing here to doubt it.
And it turns out those fishcakes (£2) are worth a trip. You can have them in batter, like the ladies, or dry, crunchy breadcrumbs like our own. The smoothest mash is only part of the story: haddock, mint, lime juice and parsley make up the sort of affair you would normally only find in an uptown restaurant at treble the price. Ditto the excellent mushy peas (£1).
They could just buy the tartare sauce in from the cash n carry, or, like most chippies, not bother. But 50p will get you an ample tub of homemade, piquant, creamy goodness which lifts the game again: pickled onion, capers, lemon juice, red onion, chives and dill in the mix.
Why not bottle it and sell it? “We have been asked to do that a few times now. You never know,” says Caroline.
The Good Catch's name works on the obvious level and on another: a coup for St John's Precinct – in a “swivel-on-that-Liverpool-ONE” kinda way.
Gluten free MondaysAnd it is about to open a branch in Crosby, the talk of the village since July.
"We got the opportunity to open in the city centre and all our resources went into getting that right,” Michelle says, "but Crosby isn't far off now."
You would think not many people want to make a big deal out of fish and chips in the run-up to Christmas anyway.
“Maybe,” Caroline replies. “Except on Christmas Eve. The whole world suddenly wants fish and chips on Christmas Eve.”
Angie Sammons occasionally tweets @twangeee
The Good Catch, St John’s Shopping Centre, Liverpool, L1 1LY. 0151 708 7130. Monday – Saturday 10:30am – 6:00pm. Thursday 10:30am – 6:30pm. Sunday 11:00am - 5:00pm. Website here
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR company. Critics dine unannounced.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: takeaways against the best takeawys, fine dining against the best fine dining, etc.
Following on from this the scores represent:
1-5: Straight in the dog bowl
6-9: What's in the freezer?
10-11: In an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out
16-17: Very good to exceptional
18-20: As good as it gets