Fish & chips saga: Is it just ikan bilis with fries at LeVeL33 restaurant?

The Fish and Chips at at LeVeL33 in Marina Bay Financial Centre.
The Fish and Chips at at LeVeL33 in Marina Bay Financial Centre.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/JAZE PHUA

SINGAPORE - Fish and chips, that popular English dish of battered and deep fried fish with fries, has become the dish of contention this week in Singapore, and even British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has weighed in on the controversy.

A Facebook post by Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Jaze Phua, 26, of his fish and chips order has gone viral online, with more than 6,121 shares.

Last week, he visited microbrewery-restaurant LeVeL33 at Marina Bay Financial Centre for the first time, and ordered a dish called Fish & Chips. Instead of receiving what is commonly expected - a piece of fish fried to golden perfection with fries - he was served eight whitebait, each resting on a fry, along with a lemon wedge, pickle and tartar sauce.

He wrote in the post: "So, I happily ordered 'Fish and Chips' at LeVeL33 in MBFC. At first, I thought this is just the appetiser. Turns out this is the SGD$17.50 dish. I almost died from laughing with internal-organs-explosion. It's like buying a car and instead they give you the toy car for the same price."

The hashtags accompanying the post compared the fish to ikan bilis (anchovies), and included #PleaseJustNameItIkanBilisWithFries, and #AsIfPuttingIkanBillisOnTopOfEachFryHelps.

Whitebait refers to the fry of fish, and it is commonly deep-fried and eaten whole. In restaurants here, it is often on the appetiser or bar bites menu as a snack.

The dish that Mr Phua ordered, when The Straits Times checked with LeVeL33, was part of its Beer Dining menu, and costs $13. On the menu, it is called Fish & Chips, and the dish is described as whitebait, thick-cut potato, 33.1 Blond Lager pickles and tartar sauce. The lager used for making the pickles is brewed in-house.

Mr Phua admits that he might have been mistaken about the price.

He also says he did not know what whitebait was.

"Since it says Fish & Chips, I assumed that it shouldn't be something small. The name is very misleading. I have no intention of ruining LeVeL33's reputation in any way. It's a good place with good scenery, and good drinks maybe. But I just feel it might be funny to name it Fish & Chips. Would anyone name their nugget a chicken cutlet?" 

LeVeL33's British executive chef Jimi Tegerdine, 34, however, stands firmly by his dish.

The dish is the second version of the bar bite item, he says. The first version, introduced seven years ago, had nuggets of fried dory fish on big potato cubes.

"People said that it was too big for their mouths," says the chef, who introduced the current bite-sized version using the whitebait in November last year. The restaurant sells 1,000 portions a month. It is the fifth most popular item on the Beer Dining menu, after the Fat Chips ($9); Sizzler Beef ($18.50), sizzling cubed black Angus with wasabi and soya sauce; Sizzling Prawns ($19.50); and Lamb Ribs ($18.50).

He says: "The whitebait is from France, along with the potatoes. We also do our own pickles. When plated this way, it is easy to eat.

"The whitebait I get costs $28 for 1kg. If I use dory fish, it's $5.60 for 1kg."

The restaurant offers another fish and chips dish, served during lunch as a main course, and that has also gone through some evolution.

He introduced it as the traditional fried fish on chunks of potatoes, but said that diners complained that the portion was too big. It was then priced at $33++, as part of the restaurant's set lunch.

Last year, the fish portion was halved, and a whole langoustine was added to the dish. It now costs $42++, as part of the set lunch which includes a buffet of appetisers.

Netizens have weighed in on the issue, many agreeing with Mr Phua and likening the whitebait to ikan bilis or anchovies.

Chef Ramsay, in response to a tweet from Twitter user @JuliaYeeWJ asking him to rate the dish, says: "That's 8 chips & 8 anchovies @ $1 each please... the lemon is bigger than the fish!"

He is known for responding to tweets - some of which can be hilariously harsh - when netizens send him photographs of food. His restaurant Bread Street Kitchen at Marina Bay Sands sells traditional fish and chips with crushed peas and tartar sauce at $29.