Brouhaha over fish and chips

The dish in contention - Fish & Chips (far left), with whitebait, thick-cut potato, 33.1 Blond Lager pickles and tartar sauce - is in LeVeL33's Beer Dining menu and costs $13. The one on the right is the old version of the dish. It used dory fish and
The dish in contention - Fish & Chips (left), with whitebait, thick-cut potato, 33.1 Blond Lager pickles and tartar sauce - is in LeVeL33's Beer Dining menu and costs $13. The one on the right is the old version of the dish. It used dory fish and had cost $12.50 on the Beer Dining menu.ST PHOTO: EUNICE QUEK

A Facebook post by a diner surprised by the small pieces of whitebait in his Fish & Chips order at a restaurant has gone viral

Fish and chips, the popular English dish of battered 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.

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 #AsIfPuttingIkanBillisOnTopOf EachFryHelps.

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, in an e-mail to The Straits Times, 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 chunks 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 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.

Tegerdine 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 he added a whole langoustine to the dish. It now costs $42++ as part of the set lunch.

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 @Julia YeeWJ 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.

Weighing in on the kerfuffle, Mr Joseph Wong, 50, owner of 63Celsius and sister restaurant 63, says: "This scenario has amplified a few gaps in the industry, such as poor management of consumer perception. The management should not have okayed the dish to be presented that way. There's also lack of value in the dish - a disconnect between the pricing and what you actually get."

Accountant Lily Khoo, 30, says: "If this dish is listed under appetiser or bar bites, I think it's acceptable. But if the restaurant serves this as a main course, then I can understand why there would be an uproar.

"I wouldn't expect two giant slabs of fish if I ordered a bar bite. Whitebait is small and bar bites means bite-sized. And as long as it tastes good, I would order it."

•Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Brouhaha over fish and chips'. Print Edition | Subscribe