You’re in Central Florida, with a hankering for great beer-battered fish and tasty chips, and the United Kingdom is 4,500 miles away.
But you’re in luck. Several restaurants in Central Florida offer the traditional British and Irish dish -- and all believe in fresh fish, a crispy beer batter and handmade chips.
“A great basket of fish and chips should have a nice, crispy crunch to the outside with a soft batter beneath,” explained Robert Irvine, the popular Food Network chef who hails from England. “The fish should be a fresh flaky white fish, like cod or pollock.”
Each chef in the Orlando area is committed to offering fresh fish from either the Atlantic Ocean or Alaska.
“Fresh fish -- that’s our biggest challenge in Orlando,” said Kevin Dundon, one of Ireland’s best-known chefs and a partner at two Orlando restaurants.
Each restaurant pays top dollar to have fishing companies deliver the last catch of each fishing expedition. That’s how serious they are about their fresh fish.
Eager to see for yourself? Here is a guide to restaurants in the Central Florida area that will serve you fish and chips -- with a smile and a Guinness.
Hands down, this place turns eating Irish food into one of the best culinary-sensory experiences in town. The Downtown Disney restaurant is designed with a new-age aesthetic, featuring a domed ceiling, outdoor seating and long, rich wood tables. The Raglan Rebels provide live music and Irish dancing, including on a one-person platform in the middle of the room. The fish and chips comes two ways, the traditional style and a tasty gluten-free version. “Our gluten-free recipe has proven to be huge,” said Dundon, Raglan Road chef and partner. Dundon uses rice flour and Champagne to achieve a light, crispy batter. For the fish, Dundon uses last-catch haddock or cod off the coasts of Boston or Maine. “We pay a little more for that,” he said. And they pay as much attention to their chips as they do the fish. “The sugar content in the potato is important. We put them in a hot fryer and they go down once so they don’t caramelize too much.” The chunky tartar sauce features mayonnaise, capers, onion and mustard. “There’s nothing nicer,” Dundon said from his home in Wexford Heights, Ireland, “than getting a really good fish and chips.”
This quick-stop eatery is in the same annex as Raglan Road, separated by the Hole in the Wall bar and featuring the same recipes as Raglan Road but in smaller portions. Seating is limited, but the options are plentiful. Fish and chips comes as a plate for children or as a fish and chip sandwich.
Disney has re-created a traditional English pub right in the middle of this Disney theme park. With outdoor seating that offers one of the best views of Epcot’s IllumiNations fireworks show, Rose & Crown offers traditional English fare with a gourmet twist. Its fish and chips plate comes with homemade tartar sauce and a suggestion to pair it with a Shandy cocktail or a Harp Lager. Children, who have the option of a fish and chips plate with drink and dessert, have a cool, time-killing menu with all sorts of puzzles and activities. The pub is run by Al Youngman, chef de cuisine at Rose & Crown, Yorkshire County Fish Shop and the Canada Pavilion. “We really worked hard to get the batter recipe to where we wanted,” Youngman said. “To get the right balance of beer and vinegar to get it crispy.” Youngman also has a secret to the chip’s saltiness. “We have a special salting technique. It’s more like a popcorn salt, very fine.”
Just down the road in Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion is a quick-serve option of Rose & Crown’s fish and ships, where you can get a faux-newspaper-lined basket of two fish strips and chips to go. You can sit on a bench, curb or table to enjoy your food. You’ll have to grab malt vinegar and tartar sauce from packets at a condiment hut. Chef Youngman said the Yorkshire sells nearly 1,000 orders of fish and chips daily.
Inside Universal’s theme parks are several opportunities for traditional fish and chips. Finnegan’s is a traditional Irish pub in Universal Studios Florida, and Three Broomsticks is a family-style tavern inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. “You gotta come here and try mine,” said Chef Steven Jayson, vice president and corporate executive chef for Universal Parks & Resorts. His cod comes straight from Alaska and is never frozen. “Frozen ... it’s not as good. Fresh fish has a different feel in your mouth. The colder the water, the better the fish,” Jayson said. The batter varies a bit between the two restaurants. To keep the batter crisp, the holding time is essential, he said. “So it’s nice and hot, and that crust and batter just crack up.” Fish and chips also can be found at the Frying Dutchman and Lombard’s Seafood Grille in Universal Studios.
In this storefront tavern about 10 miles from Disney, you’ll find a crispy half-pound of fish with homemade fries. If you’re really adventurous, try the Big Ben -- a pound of fish. “To be honest, we just use the best ingredients. It’s probably the best fish and chips you’ll get in this neck of the woods,” said co-owner Tony Gray, noting that about 30 percent to 40 percent of his customers are British. “We hear so many times ours is better than anything they have back home.” In fact, during snowbird season, Sundays will run a special, featuring its Small Ben. One note, Sundays does not currently accept American Express.
This Irish pub boasts some of the best fish and chips in Florida, and the fish is delicious. You know you’re in decent place when Brits are dining right next to you. “We’re a home away form home,” Rebecca Roland, co-owner of Devenney’s, said of her United Kingdom guests. “When they come, they seem to enjoy the food and the atmosphere.” The atmosphere includes four flat-screen TVs, often tuned to soccer, and pop music playing throughout. As for fish, “the secret’s in the batter,” she said. Devenney’s offers a regular size Fish & Chips, a larger portion, a child’s version and even a snowbird portion. Don’t forget to ask for some mushy peas or Drunken Onion Soup on the side.
In a strip mall in Apopka, about 18 miles northwest of Orlando, is a 48-person-capacity restaurant named -- what else -- Fish & Chips. “We use a beer batter, mostly AmberBock and Stella (Artois) mixed together,” said Raymond Goonewardena, chef and owner of Fish and Chips, which opened in 2004. Customers choose the type of fish, shipped fresh from New England twice a week, in the fish and chips plate: catfish, whiting and cod, haddock or Gulf grouper.