Berties on Station Road in New Milton shortlisted for 2024 National Fish and Chip Awards Takeaway of the Year
THE owner of a New Milton takeaway which has made a prestigious national shortlist says there are a raft of reasons why the fish and chip shop has been nominated.
Berties on Station Road is among the UK’s top 40 put forward for the 2024 National Fish and Chip Awards Takeaway of the Year category.
And for owner James Blackhouse, it’s down to a “combination of everything”.
“It’s the quality of the food I buy in, the quality of how it goes out, the staff, the look of the shop – it needs to be clean at all times – and the way staff interact with customers. They need to feel welcome, have a chat.
It’s a combination – an all-round team effort.”
Despite having run three Berties since 2006, this is the first time he has put in for the awards, which are in their 36th year. And there’s a good reason for that.
“This year it’s run by the National Federation of Fish Fryers which I am a member of. It used to be a little bit ‘if you didn’t have this certain type of frying range’... it was very cliquey and now it’s all neutral, it shouldn’t matter what sort of equipment you’ve got.”
Originally from East Sussex, James got his start in the fish and chip industry aged nine alongside his father who “taught me all the ways”.
After their shop was sold in 2003, and the family dabbling in running a tearoom, James was keen to get back into batter.
“I told my dad I wanted to get back into fish and chips. Then Berties in Highcliffe came up for sale, and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.”
Berties was named after the previous owner, a Spaniard by the name of Roberto, and James kept the name.
By its second year the turnover had doubled and business was “terrific”. However, come the 2008 recession, Northern Rock went under and James’s father was forced to sell to pay off the mortgage on his home.
“Dad said he needed to sell but he wouldn’t let me buy it. He was quite old school. If I bought it from him, that would have made me ‘head of the family’.
After the sale, James opened Berties in Lyndhurst, which he then sold in 2022, but not before opening the Station Road restaurant in the old Matthews Electrical site.
“We put in for planning permission two weeks before the first lockdown, and the sticker went in the window three days before. Because of the lockdown no one really saw it and permission sailed through.
“Some of the neighbours kicked off, but we went to town on it, spent a load of money on deoderisers to keep smells away, the extractor fan is so strong there’s no smell. Doing this one from scratch, we really wanted it to be top class.
Berties employs 13 staff – a “good bunch who are key” to the shop’s success – and are having a good year despite “challenging times”.
“We’re 20-30% up on last year, but the war in Ukraine has had a massive impact. All the utility prices, food prices, everything just hits you.
“Fish prices are now starting to come back down but we’re still paying extortionate amounts for electric.
“We were working our backsides off seven days a week and taking money, but at the end the bank account wasn’t reflecting that because it was all going back out. We were standing still.”
Future-proofing Berties meant a host of measures, including portion control – chip scoops and “keeping an eye of the size of the fish” – LED lights and timers.
“We weren’t at any risk of going under, but we had to look at ways to cut costs.”
As far as the National Fish and Chip Awards goes, James says he is confident of making at least the next round.
“It does gets tougher after that. A mystery diner will come out, and they then decide whether we’re good enough to go through there.”
The winner will be announced at a ceremony on 28th February at Park Plaza in London.
The Top 40 finalists for Fish and Chip Takeaway of the Year:
Angel Lane Chippie – Penrith
Westgate Fish & Chips – Morecambe
Westend Fish and Chips – Oswaldtwistle
Yarm Road Fish and Chips – Darlington
Lighthouse Fisheries of Flamborough – Bridlington
The Fish Bank – Sherburn-in-Elmet
Auckley Friery – Doncaster
Mr C’s – Selby
Catch 22 – Tattershall
Angells Fisheries – Newark-on-Trent
Pips chips – Cleethorpes
Marina Fish & Chips – Skegness
Linfords Traditional Fish and Chips – Market Deeping
Eastleigh Town Street Fryer – Marple Bridge
Chips @ No.8 – Prestwich
Hooked on the Heath – Knutsford
Fiddlers Elbow Fish & Chips – Leintwardine
Bishopston Fish and Chips
French’s Fish Shop – Wells-next-the-Sea
The Fish Inn Clacton – Clacton-on-Sea
Henley’s of Wivenhoe – Wivenhoe
Johnny Macs – Colchester
London, Kent, Surrey
Stones Fish & Chips – London
Newington Fish Bar – Ramsgate
Sandy’s Fish and Chip Shop – Folkestone
Lewis’s Fish and Grill – Maidstone
Seafare – Guildford
Harrisons Fish & Chip Co. Botley – Oxford
Mike’s Traditional Fish & Chips – Bishopstoke
Berties – New Milton
Posh Fish and Chip Company – Cardiff
Fintans Fish & Chip Co – Cardiff
Hennighan’s Fish & Chip Shop – Machynlleth
Finneys Fish & Chips – Benllech
Ship Deck – Caerphilly
Zero Plus Fish & Chips – Cardiff
The Wee Chippy – Anstruther
Garioch Fish Bar – Inverurie
The Fish Works – Largs
Chipmongers – Portstewart