REMEMBER when Hugh Fernley-Whernley (as he’s known in our household) tried to get us to eat pollock, huss, gurnard, coley, pouting and other unloved denizens of the deep? Well, it didn’t cut a single block of fishmonger’s ice in Worksop.
“We tried a fish of the month – shark, ling and so on – but we only sold ten a week,” said chippie-turned-restaurateur Ken Blow.
So Worksop was a bit of a wuss when it came to huss?
“How can I put this politely?” said Ken, searching for the right words. “The posher the restaurant, the more interest you are likely to get in different kinds of fish. This is a working class restaurant and tastes are traditional, which means cod and haddock.”
This is not Worksop or Retford, where Ken has another chippie, but Conisbrough, where towards the end of last year Ken went large and opened a 160-seater fish and chip emporium on Doncaster Road in what used to be a former nightclub.
As he’d already made himself a bit of a name he called it Kenny’s.
He contacted me after my review of Whitby’s fish and chip restaurant at Catcliffe to say that he had a similar sized place.
I drove up expecting to a see a neon cod winking at me from the building and marine décor inside but, as with Whitby’s, there wasn’t even a hint of briny.
“This place was done out by shop fitters who specialise in fish restaurants and chip shops and they said it wasn’t the fashion,” explained Ken after our meal. How crazy is that? It’s beyond my ken.
Instead, while Kenny’s is smart and comfortable, the décor is limited to ye olde sepia photographs of long gonne Conisbrough (a town which still can’t make up its mind whether it is alive or dead) and a peek through the window at the town’s castle.
“Sit where you like, we’ll come to you,” says Ken, a hands-on guv’nor, as the sound system plays Billy J Kramer’s I’ll Keep You Satisfied, and continues in that vein throughout our meal. Ken is threatening to outdo Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the 60s.
It’s a clue the restaurant is mainly patronised by silver surfers – and there’s another. In the basket of sauce sachets on each table is a pair of blunt-edged scissors, ready to snip if elderly customers are all fingers and thumbs when it comes to ripping those pesky little packets open.
Ken’s fish and chip story begins in 2001 when he decided to blow his redundancy money as supermarket manager of his local Co-Op on an almost shipwrecked fish and chip takeaway.
Wisely, his worried wife Shirley insisted he first go on a course run by the National Federation of Fish Friers. The Worksop chippie was a hit, followed by another at Retford so Conisbrough was a natural development.
It’s a traditional menu, aimed without apology at its target audience, which features cod, haddock, plaice, scampi (and chicken) with no hint, as yet, of a catch of the day.
Starters are limited: a homemade tomato soup (£2.50) which succeeds in being a dead ringer in catching the sweet gloopiness of Heinz, chicken goujons, battered mushrooms and a creditable prawn cocktail (£3.95).
It missed a little trick of presentation. It would have looked a sight better served in a balloon or sundae glass rather that the identical bowl to my tomato soup.
The fish is processed and frozen at sea but my regular cod fillet (£6.90) still had sparkle and flavour. It was, though, rather small; so small I wondered whether I had mistakenly been given the Seniors’ Special at £7.50 (soup, fish and chips, bread and butter, ice cream and tea or coffee).
The batter (it’s a proprietory one) was crunchy but clung tightly to the fish and I missed those crispy little waves and whorls that make fried fish so glorious.
When I mentioned the size later Ken said regular portions were 130 grams, that’s about six ounces. Large were 250g, almost double for two quid more. If the weight had been listed on the menu I’d have gone for the larger option.
Chips are chip shop chips, not your tripled-fried Blumenthals, and not over limp. Kenny’s make their own mushy peas at £1.30 a portion (I went to inspect them in the shining kitchen which also serves the chippie takeaway next door). Bread and butter is in with the meal.
My wife had “Kenny’s famous homemade fishcake” (£6.50). We’re not quite sure why it’s famous because the finely minced fish and potato had no texture and no hint of promised spiciness.
We rounded off with a sherry trifle and fruit crumble and custard (£3.95 each).
Ken Blow has found work for 60 people (including seven members of his own family) in his three enterprises and obviously does well giving his sector of the public what they want against fierce competition from the burger, pizza and ethnic takeaway trade.
Not bad for a man who cheerfully admits: “I’m not the greatest fish fan in the world.”
We paid £33.15 with tea and soft drink.
The Dawes Verdict
Kenny’s Fish & Chips
18 Doncaster Road, Conisbrough DN12 3AG.
Tel: 01709 863 030.
Open all week 11am-9.30pm (Fri & Sat until 10.30pm). Licensed. Children’s portions. Credit cards. Music. Vegetarian menu. Large car park.