It’s a Fish and Chips Friday so the plates are warming on a pan of simmering water, the kitchen table is laid with cutlery, bread and butter, vinegar, ketchup and tartare sauce and the neighbours’ cat is settling into the corner with an expectant look while I’ve nipped down to the chippie.
Not just any fish and chip shop. Readers who know I like my food seasoned with a good back story will hardly be surprised at my choice: Two Steps on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield. There’s plenty of history in these premises, frying fish for 120 years, since James Bolton set up shop in 1895. This is very probably the oldest in the country on the same spot, certainly in Yorkshire.
If not history, then popular culture. Tony (Is This the Way to Amarillo?) Christie posed here for an album cover while the mostly forgotten Carol-Anne Showband sang about joining the queue to be near a girlfriend (was she serving?) in Two Steps. “In 1895 this old ship set sail/ Why go to France when you can go to Sharrow Vale?” Indeed.
But the main reason I’m queuing up for cod, haddock, one small portion of chips (in reality enough for three) and fluorescent green mushy peas is that the food is remarkably good. As one satisfied customer puts it on TripAdvisor, it’s a “simple chippy, no dodgy kebabs . . .” although current owner Leggy Kafetzis, being Cypriot, would have a legitimate excuse. “They’ve had a long time to get it right” notes another Trippie.
The menu is short: cod, haddock, Yorkshire fishcake, cod’s roe, rissole, chips, sausages, Pukka Pies and, a modest little speciality, the Two Steps’ pea fritter. I’m having the haddock because Sheffield, always a border city as far as Yorkshire is concerned, is on that boundary where the southern preference for slightly effete cod becomes the northern choice for much more manly haddock. And because Leggy once tipped me the wink that the haddock is invariably fresh.
Sometime the queue stretches out of the door and into the rain but tonight it’s short. “Any haddock in?” I ask the frier, a man in a pony tail, Leggy not being about. As the son of a chippie I know it’s better to order haddock when you arrive, rather than wait for it to be cooked. There are, four fillets.
If you’re a first-timer on recommendation the back wall opposite the counter will reassure you your tea is in safe hands. It is a newspaper hall of fame with cuttings from most of Fleet Street, including The Times and the Guardian, extolling Two Steps’ virtues. It gets its name from the two steps at the door.
I have my order wrapped, unsalted and unvinegared because I am not a lover of non-brewed condiment. I can do it back home with pickled onion vinegar. They do big portions here. Back home, unwrapped, my haddock lolls right across the dinner plate and hangs over. The batter is dry and crisp, the fish steamed inside to its full flavour. I have a bite of my wife’s creamier-looking cod: just as good.
Good chips don’t always have to be triple-cooked Jengas. Leave that to chefs.These are soft and limp but not at all greasy. We all like them, including the cat.
Two of us have eaten for just under a tenner. It’s plain, simple food honestly cooked but just as important the offering is consistently good. There’s nothing worse than looking forward to the chippie all day and being disappointed.
But as the man said, they’ve had a long time to get it right.
249 Sharrow Vale Road, Sharrow Vale, Sheffield S11 8ZE. Tel: 0114 266 5694