Pining for the creature comforts of his native land, transplanted Brit Gary Coleman and his wife, Denise, opened the postcard-pretty English Gardener Gift Shop in Haddonfield four years ago. Soon after, says Coleman’s stepson, Ed Strojan, “Our customers started asking us where they could get authentic fish and chips, and we were directing them to places in New York or Delaware. There was really nowhere in the area.”
Thus a jolly good idea was born: Open the British Chip Shop. Strojan, a 27-year-old with a neuroscience degree, indefinitely shelved plans to become a doctor and leaped into the 18-month-long planning process with his stepfather. “When the space became available across the street [from the gift shop], we decided to go for it.” They took over in June 2010, furnishing the storefront’s subway-tiled walls with Beatles memorabilia and Underground maps, installing a pastry case filled with house-baked goodies (shortbread, scones), and hanging a plasma TV tuned to Premier League soccer/football matches. By July, the British-themed BYO was serving 50 inside at handsome pub tables, plus 20 on the sun-dappled sidewalk.
As the name suggests, fish and chips are the main attraction, and I’ve got to tell you, BCS’s are even better than those I’ve had in England. Served in king’s and queen’s sizes, the former starred a fillet of haddock, a sustainable species harvested in New England, that overhung the plate. The thick, perfectly flaky fish’s battered-and-fried exterior had a golden-brown burnish and a malty flavor that suggested beer. Is there any in the batter? “No way,” Strojan answered. “Beer in the batter is not traditional.”
Neither is using fresh cooked vegetables for mushy peas—dried are a must—but it’s one of the few concessions British Chip Shop chef Tamara Christians, a former New York caterer, makes for the sake of flavor. “For the most part, a lot of the Brits we get here still say they’re the best mushy peas they’ve had,” Strojan says. Blended with touches of butter, the velvety green purée acted as a vegetally sweet counterpoint to the rich fish and chips.
Other departures from tradition include savory, bacon-flecked crepes that British Chip Shop turns into thicker, American-style pancakes at brunch, one of the most popular times to visit the place. Lemon-herb butter dripped down the fluffy short stack, adding a freshness that made cleaning the plate a real temptation. But I had to save room for the nutty, steel-cut Irish porridge topped with fresh fruit and honey, as well as the full English breakfast, a congress of runny fried eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage), Heinz beans, sautéed mushrooms, toast and, if you wish, white or black pudding crafted by a Jersey butcher Strojan refuses to name. Had he divulged his identity, I might have gone directly to the source for the excellent white links of spiced pork bound with oatmeal.
At busy brunchtime, service can be slow, but the young staff make up for the lags with enthusiasm and friendliness as they pour your tea and patiently run through the entire scone selection. Pastry chef Donna Schumann bakes several flavors daily, among them a nutty whole-wheat almond and a savory ham-and-cheddar that crumbled just right.
The restaurant goes straight through to lunch and dinner. The Coronation Salad, a recipe created for Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, was executed regally with curried chicken, dried apricots and cashews over greens dressed with bright lemon vinaigrette. The juicy, nicely charred Big Ben Burger on brioche comes with lettuce, tomato, scallions and mayo twanged with Sarson’s malt vinegar and a choice of Irish cheddar or Stilton. This eight-ounce patty is also available battered and fried, one of four fish-and-chips riffs, the best of which is the shrimp and chips featuring succulent Atlantic tiger shrimp.
Easy upgrades would win British Chip Shop more foodie cred. A place calling itself British should have more than a milquetoast tea selection. The jams and curds served with the scones are brought in from England but lack distinction beyond their imported status—love the clotted cream, though.
In terms of execution, there were a few snags. I wanted the toast cut thicker for the Welsh rarebit and a more velvety texture in the Irish cheddar-and-Boddingtons ale sauce that tops it. The Scotch egg was overcooked and encircled by unpleasantly fine-ground sausage and a textureless dusting of breadcrumbs. The potato soup, cottage pie and chicken-and-mushroom pie all seemed determined to revive Britain’s (mostly undeserved) reputation for culinary blandness.
But all is forgiven at dessert, when Schulmann stops romancing the scone in favor of sticky toffee pudding, a dense, moist date cake soaked in house-made toffee sauce, and little lemon-poppy and shortbread cookies you can tote home in white bags. There’s also a cinnamon-scented trifle with layers of pastry cream and seasonal fruit; a playful deep-fried Mars bar; and the MacDougall’s Victory Cake, a mini chocolate-and-butterscotch-chip-studded bundt whose sweetness is tempered by a big slug of whiskey.
My favorite finale, though, is the Chip Shop 99 Plus!, a vanilla sundae gussied up with salty peanuts, warm toffee sauce and crumbled shortbread. Stojan sticks a Flake Bar—a chocolate, Twix-shaped English candy bar—on top, as if claiming the mound of Breyer’s for Britain. At the rate British Chip Shop is going, he might as well claim Haddonfield, too.