With all of the day’s burning issues, such as dead dictators adorning our newstands next to the fashion magazines and crossword puzzle books, the main thing that troubled me this week was the news of my local fish and chip shop closing down. After 36 years of a family business, L’Aquila Bianca will no more serve its delicious fish and chips – an unhealthy comfort to me on many a Saturday night after work. You often had to wait for the fish to be fried, but I like that as it meant it was always freshly cooked, instead of sitting limply in a warmer for a couple of hours before falling into soggy pieces in your chip paper. No, L’Aquila Bianca fish was always crisply battered, hot and tasty, and the chips generously portioned, fat and fluffy – never greasy.
It all makes me marvel at what a particularly British institution the Fish and Chip shop is, and just how major a feature they are in any given community. Not that there’s a dearth of fish and chip shops in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Another two reside within easy walking distance, and I’ve used them once or twice, but L’Aquila Bianca was always the one. It’s absence on a colourful and unique high street full of independent shops will be keenly felt, all the more so as I hear it’s likely to be replaced with a Dominos pizza (which will impact on the other local takeaways, such as the excellent Anima on Henderson Row who make superb pizzas). I fear that one day the high street will succumb entirely to chain stores and multiples and some essential character of the area will be utterly and irrevocably lost.
Although chip shops are in many ways a bit of a joke to tourists due to their ‘deep-fry anything and eat it’ appearance, they’ve been a part of this country for many many years (despite being run almost exclusively, it seems, by Italians) and I grew up eating out of them. From the small simple chippys of my childhood in Glasgow, to the ‘salt and sauce’ establishments of Edinburgh where I live now, it’s hard-wired into my taste buds that the smell of vinegar and sizzling oil make me ravenously hungry.
L’Aquila Bianca has only played a small part in my life, as I’ve lived in this area for four years now, but the significance of another small, local, family-run business that took pride in it what it did (winning awards in its heyday) closing down is great and undeniable.