RELIABLE FISH & CHIPS (954 Queen East, 416-465-4111) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pop. Average main $7. Open Saturday, Monday and Tuesday 11 am to 7:30 pm, Wednesday to Friday 11 am to 8 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
George Hung's Reliable Fish & Chips has been frying up delicately battered fish sided with first-rate fries quite successfully, thank you, since 1934. But the storefront housing his decidedly low-rent Leslieville take-away needed a major overhaul if it expected to keep up with the nabe's inevitable gentrification. And then, by chance, Restaurant Makeover called.
"I'd seen the show, so I know how they operate," says Hung. "I agreed to participate if they guaranteed they wouldn't make my business look like it was failing or that there was something wrong with my food."
Four Seasons executive chef Lynn Crawford was brought in to revamp his fishy lineup, but declared his wares above reproach. However, she didn't like Hung's retro diner coleslaw, thinking it needed sour cream and paprika for extra kick, and proposed he add lobster roll and Manhattan chowder to the deep-fried menu. Did he take her culinary advice?
"Er, no," shrugs Hung. "At the price points I'd have to sell them at, no one would order them."
Instead, a new wave of customers have discovered his heavenly haddock ($6.75), wild salmon ($6.75) and Atlantic cod ($6, all served with hand-cut properly double-fried chips). But stay away from the now smartly appointed chippy's clam strips ($2.75) unless you're a fan of rubbery breaded pencil erasers.
Would he do Restaurant Makeover all over again?
"I look at it this way," says Hung. "For $15,000 I got a one-hour commercial on the Food Network."
Has there been any feedback now that his RM episode has aired?
"When my regulars found out that Igor the carpenter had been here, they got quite excited," laughs Hung. "He's the real star of the show."