Bryan’s Fish and Seafood Restaurant, Headingley, Leeds

Fish and chipsFish and chips. It’s a meal as British as you can get. Every British town has its fish and chip shop. Some only dispense disappointing bags of wet stodge and vinegar, but some will sell you something astonishing – golden-crisp batter enveloping moist, flaking fish, and chips which have been nowhere near a freezer, cut by hand from a heap of potatoes in a room at the back of the shop. (The chips in this picture do, as a reader pointed out, look rather pale and anaemic. Please be assured that this is just an artifact of my rotten photography; the room was dark and I had to use the flash, which has substantially drained them of colour. They were actually several shades darker and very crisp.)

My grandparents lived near Grimsby, which was historically England’s busiest fishing port, and summers spent with them involved a diet heavy in batter and newsprint. Fish and chips down south with my parents were a little different; the northern variety tended to be fried in beef dripping in the good old days, when we had little regard for our cholesterol levels and a healthy respect for the cold-repelling qualities of a plump abdomen, but down south, where we lived, vegetable oil was the standard frying medium.

Luckily for me, my parents-in-law live only a few miles from the Good Food Guide’s Fish and Chip Restaurant of the Year. Bryan’s, tucked down a side-street in Headingley, serves fish and chips in the proper northern tradition. It’s been in the same location since 1934, and although it’s seen some changes in that time (Dr Weasel’s father, Professor Weasel, remembers 1970s formica-topped tables and old ladies in greasy aprons – now it’s much more chi-chi, with a carpet, glossy banquettes and dishes like salmon with asparagus hollandaise alongside the fish and chips), the core of the business, namely that astonishingly good plate of battered haddock and crisp fried potatoes, remains the same.

Mushy peasThere’s a certain amount of ritual involved with ordering fish and chips. There must be strong, hot tea to drink alongside your meal – none of your Darjeeling or Earl Grey here, though; it must be builder’s tea, with lots of milk and sugar. You need an accompanying plate of bread and butter (preferably in alternating slices of white and brown). There must be a dish of mushy peas; these are dried marrowfat peas which have been simmered until soft, alarmingly frog-green, and sludgy (and which have been famously mistaken for guacamole by soft southern politicians visiting the frozen north). Your chips should be anointed with malt vinegar, and salted heavily. This is so very important that John Major interrupted his day-job back in the 90s to advise people that the vinegar should be added first, in order that the salt is not rinsed off by the gushing torrents.

ShandyI like a glass of shandy with my fish and chips. It’s a throwback to a mildly alcoholic childhood with my grandmother, who used to feed us sherry before Sunday lunch at home with gay abandon, but who found that the fish and chip shop wouldn’t serve her 10-year-old granddaughter and even younger grandson lager, so had us make do with shandy. My glass at Bryan’s was half Tetley beer from the brewery down the road, and half lemonade.

Bryan’s fish and chips comes in a variety of sizes and cuts. While cod stocks are so threatened, Bryan’s and many other restaurants will not serve the fish, but this is no skin off my nose; I’ve always preferred haddock anyway. There’s also plaice, hake and halibut, all encased in a shatteringly crisp, salty batter. Fish and chips done well requires exceptionally hot fat, which makes the thick-cut chips wonderfully crisp on the outside and fluffy within. It also means that the fish cooks so fast that done properly, the flesh inside the batter is uniquely juicy, flaking at the touch of a fork.

If you’re in or near Leeds, take the detour to Headingley and order yourself one of these giant plates of haddock, sized for Yorkshire appetites. I can’t think of another meal that costs less than £10 which comes close to being this good.

20 Replies to “Bryan’s Fish and Seafood Restaurant, Headingley, Leeds”

  1. Fortunately, the pallid chips are merely the result of a dimly lit restaurant and my having to use the flash. I can assure you that they were actually much darker, and delightfully crisp. (I suppose I’d better amend the page text to reflect the fact that I’m a crap photographer…)

  2. The item about Bryans of Headingly was interesting,but can I recommend that next time you are in the frozen north you give Murgatroyds near the airport a try.The plaice and chips there are to die for,and the Billy Murg special has to be seen to be believed.

  3. Ooooh Liz – me mouths watering now. I miss my local chippy – New York only has the ‘Fast Food’ version of Fn’C – called Long John Silvers (GARBAGE)
    The closest you get here is in NY city – called ‘Pommes Frites’ which -as the name implies serves not the good ole English chip, but the Belgian version. I came back home in ’05 and ate my weight in Fn’ C. but I can cook ’em thanks to the fact my father ran a chippy in Rotherham for many years… all I need now is a supplier of Marrowfat peas to make the ‘ol mans’ mushy peas..mmm……

  4. I am planning another dinner or lunch over at Bryan’s this summer – 25 years since my last one !!!!

    but man!, look at those prices now ! (I remember something like 80p for fish takeaway then)

    I’m still going though.

  5. I’ve been Bryan’s customer for many years and I think it has really gone downhill since it changed hands a few years ago. I went at lunchtime on 25th November 2008. Nobody showed us to a table, we were totally ignored and had to find our own (might have been ageism and sexism). Not much choice as some of the tables were fenced off. We sat at the only table left without the sun shining in our eyes but it was dirty so I asked the ‘waiter’ to wipe it. He wasn’t pleased and only wiped a small section of it with a dirty, sopping wet cloth, and most of it was still it was still dirty. I didn’t want to ask him to wipe it again so we moved to a table with the sun in our eyes. There were only two people serving – the sullen and unpleasant ‘couldn’t-care-less’ man and a pleasant but over-worked young woman. I told her about the dirty table and the man not wiping it properly and asked if she would make the manager aware of my complaint. She said he was the manager! She did tell him about my compliant but the table was never cleaned and we never received an apology for it not being clean. When the fish and chips eventually came they were mediocre and the condiments were empty and grubby and we had to ask for salt. The lovely atmosphere, good food and pleasant service that Bryan’s used to have had just evaporated. I wish we had walked out now and not eaten there. I’m never going again.

  6. Visited Bryan’s 7th Feb 2009 and enjoyed some of the best Fish n’ Chips I’ve had in years. In reading this article I was worried that “Rita’s” comments may of been a fair reflection of the ravages of time from the date of the original article to the present day. I obviously can not comment as to Rita’s experience but folks let me tell you the fish n’ chips are still doing this Leeds institution proud. The service was quick and pleasant, the staff tentative to our needs. I would recommend a stop off at Bryans to anyone in the neighbourhood, in fact it’s even worth a detour or two.

  7. Must be under new ownership. I used to love fish and chips from bryans, they were always quality – fresh, hot, good portion, yummy.

    Just been in for takeaway and it appears to be under new owenrship (all 5 staff in there were asian so looks a new family business)

    The chips were old – probably the previous nights, the peas were hard and the fish had skin on it (to quote catherine tate, the dirty b******s!)

    Also wrapped in a polystyrene box so were luke warm when i got home.

    Be warned, it might service wasted students, but if ur a chish and fips aficionado, stay clear.

  8. Went for lunch today and not impressed with the service or atmosphere. Definitely changed ownership since we last dined there. Should have trusted my instinct when I thought it strange the place was nearly empty on a Saturday lunchtime…

  9. My family and I dined at Bryan’s on Sunday afternoon and I must say that they were the worst fish and chips I have ever eaten in 50+ years.
    The chips tasted frozen and stale, maybe they had been standing for two hours waiting for someone to come in, and the oil or fat needed changing. The fish tasted a little better but not fresh. The presentation was not good.
    When we entered the restaurant we thought it was the hot weather that was keeping people away, we now know it is the poor quality of service and products from a fish restaurant that used to have a good name.

  10. Very depressing – to judge by the comments that you guys have been leaving in the few years since I wrote this, it sound as if Bryan’s is not what it once was. I can recommend Murgatroyd’s as an alternative in the area (which I visited on the recommendation of an anon commenter above); I’ve been a couple of times now and it’s a) always packed and b) has (thus far) been really very good indeed.

  11. just to let you all know i visited Bryans today and it was just as good as it always was. The haddock tasted lovely it was white and firm and tasted ever so nice!!! the chips were yummy and golden and crispy you just cannot beat Bryans fish restaurant. And for all of the people who don’t know they will also cook your food in vegetable oil if you ask them to, so come on and try it.

    1. What a coincidence, Jayne – I’m up in Ilkley at the moment, and just drove past Bryan’s at about the time you were making this comment! Small world and all that. If you have a chance, do see if you can make a trip up to Murgatroyd’s; I’d love to hear what you make of it in comparison to Bryan’s.

  12. Just been to Bryant’s very disappointed very over priced. Nothing like when it was owed by the Bryant family. Wish I had gone some were else. Never again Murgatroyd’s is 100% better

  13. Hi Guys

    I have been reading the comments on this site and I can see over the years how Bryan’s has changed, I am currently a weekend manager at the restaurant and I have to say they have changed it “A LOT”, The Reed-Stephenson Family (Famous for the old chippy down the side of Leeds Market) they have got rid of the waste of time food lines and gone back to what they are good at doing and that’s making Fish and Chips.

    I can’t promise the best experience (especially rugby matches on a Friday night “It’s Chaos”), but we will make every effort to make your visit enjoyable with good Food and Great Service, if it isn’t then ask to speak to either Alex or Noeleen.

    On your next visit make yourself known to me if your visiting on a Saturday and I will have a quick chinwag.


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