CHIPPY'S (893 Queen West, at Gore Vale, 416-866-7474) Former Susur manager John Lee and ex-Rosewood chef Neil Coutinho bring upscale fish and chips to the west side. Daily fresh fish and hand-cut double-cooked fries guarantee this tiny take-away instant success. Expect lineups at lunch and supper. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a soda. Open Sunday to Thursday noon to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, but no washrooms. Rating: NNNNN
The dog walkers of bellwoods Park are in a tizzy now that Chippy's has opened opposite the green. They're calling this upscale fish and chips shop the greatest thing to hit local real estate values since Swan debuted a few years back. A few even moan that the tiny take-away (counter seating: six) isn't the same as it used to be and that it's become too damned popular. Chippy's has been around exactly a month.
Obviously, I'm in there like a ferret on a popsicle. As I wait for my order, I take in the decor -- a non-functional antique cash register, vintage Coke memorabilia, a chalkboard menu -- then casually ask the cute kid behind the counter who the owners are.
"Well, John started at Susur, and Neil was at Rosewood," comes the reply. Feigning indifference, I refrain from falling off my window perch -- a stylish black leatherette bar stool -- and pretend not to recognize the pedigree of John Lee, the recent ex-manager of Susur (though he's no relation to the super-star chef) and Neil Coutinho, the chef most recently linked to the very brief Rosewood. Instead of launching their own chi-chi boîte, the partners thought a fish and chips shop could be fun.
The professionalism staggers. When the goods arrive -- five tail-on prawns ($9.50), a 4-ounce slab of salmon ($8.50), another of meaty halibut ($10, all with chips and taxes included) -- the connection is even more evident, the attention to detail astounding.
First, and most important, all of Chippy's fish arrives fresh daily. One bite into toothsome scallops ($10.50) proves the difference. No frozen mush here. They almost bite back. The boozed-up batter's extraordinary, too, rich with Guinness and coarse Japanese panko breadcrumbs, closer to tempura than McCain's leaden stodge. Vegetarians will appreciate that spuds and fish are fried separately.
The fries amaze as well. Hand-cut from Yukon Gold, they keep their skins and are first blanched in a vat of vegetable shortening, cooled, then fried again in a second vat. Sure, the French have done this forever, but when's the last time you saw twice-cooked frites in a chip shop? Anglophiles dip them into curried gravy, while continental types prefer garlicky mayo (all dips 75 cents).
Presentation gets top marks, too. Chippy's, er, chips are piled into an American-style cardboard Chinese takeout container -- just like on Seinfeld -- then get crowned with beautiful crisp-battered fish and splashed with lemon, malt vinegar and either classic Heinz ketchup or HP Sauce. The only things missing are deep-fried Mars Bars.
Chunks of leftover fish find their way into frozen seafood lasagna and ricotta-stuffed cannelloni (both $7.50), delicate, house-made pasta sauced with simple tomato béchamel. Attention, poodle patrol: as well as Hershey's kisses next to the register, there's a bucket of dog biscuits by the door.
I smell franchise.