We Grill – The Cod’s Scallops
The Cod’s Scallops in Wollaton has been crowned the UK’s best fish and chip shop.
Owned by John Molnar and wife Helen, the Nottingham-based business beat off competition from nine other shortlisted finalists at The National Fish & Chip Awards 2020. The awards, organised by Seafish, celebrate the true excellence in the fish and chip industry. The Cod’s Scallops beat the competition because, according to the judges, it serves up outstanding fish and chips and demonstrates real passion and enthusiasm for the industry.
Congratulations on the award! How are you feeling?
We’re absolutely thrilled! It’s an honour to take home such a prestigious title, especially being up against the country’s top establishments. Our experience in The National Fish & Chip Awards has been an incredible journey and we’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a brilliant achievement for the team at The Cod’s Scallops and we are so proud of everyone for their efforts. What a way to start 2020!
Tell us about The Cod’s Scallops…
We opened in 2011. I wanted to use my 30 years of chef and business experience to create a fun and family-friendly fish and chip shop like no other, by serving up the best fish caught around our isles. We sell more cod than haddock – three to one – and although we have seats for 25 people, it’s 95% takeaway. We also make everything in house, such as our soups, salads, pies, and even our ketchup!
What makes you award winning?
Lots of elements to be honest: consistency, evolution, development and effort are the main things, plus my background plays a huge role too. I was trained in fine dining restaurants before moving into the pub industry as owner/head chef. We sold a lot of fish and chips – and we did it well. Most fish and chip shops only sell cod, haddock, plaice and possibly scampi – which, by the way, they do very well – but I wanted to offer more. My aim was to create a world-class fish and chip shop and I work towards achieving that by investing not just in my produce but my staff too. Ninety five per cent of them are former head chefs or have a chef background. It’s not key, but I think it helps. We have also set up a production development kitchen with two former head chefs – one from a Michelin-starred restaurant – to help us evolve our menu and put as much effort into every dish as we can.
What’s the secret to the best fish and chips?
The ingredients! It’s crucial you buy the best quality ingredients possible, treat them with the care and respect they deserve and serve them simply. Start with a nice piece of fish – the best you can – plus the best quality potatoes. Trust your supplier. Cook simply, with really good batter. For us, we serve thin, crispy batter because I don’t believe the batter is the star of the show, the fish is. Therefore, before you start make sure the batter mixture is really cold – we use fridge cold water. We make our batter little and often throughout the day, starting our first batch at 10.45am, then
midday, and so on. Make sure your fat is clean and your oil is a nice colour. Then it’s just in and out – four to five minutes – and it’s done, don’t ever pre-cook your fish.
What’s on your menu?
It depends what my trusty fishmonger tells me! We offer a huge selection of fish and shellfish which changes daily. Every morning at 6am I speak to him and he tells me what has been caught and what is the best quality. On his advice, together we decide what I should buy. On a good day we sell 20 different species of shellfish and 15 on a bad one. Whatever comes in the boat on Monday, we are cooking on Tuesday. It’s that fresh. Customers can choose the fish they want from the counter and decide how they want it cooked: battered, baked or grilled. More shops are now doing grilled or baked options, but I think we are still ahead of our time.
How do you stand out from the competition?
Firstly, we listen to what our customers want. If someone asks about squid then we get fresh squid in and chargrill it with lemon and black pepper. Or, when customers return from their holiday and ask for fish such as sardines and seabass, we cater for them. Secondly, with more people being encouraged to eat less meat, fish is becoming more popular. As the market gets stronger we have to cater for that by offering more options. Mackerel, for example, is one of the most sustainable fish out there. It’s clean and holds lots of flavour. I love mackerel – I call it the king of fish! So, we bake or batter it, fillet it and cook it in garlic, lemon and herb oil or cook it BBQ rubbed or plain baked. And, to accompany it, we serve red cabbage, beetroot, pear and raisin salad.
Why does your menu work?
I think it’s because we offer a good variety. People can come in for a grab and go healthy midweek meal of fish soup or baked salmon with a green salad, then they can return guilt free on a Friday night for their tea-time treat of cod and chips! We also have a clear split of eat in or grab and go. We are licensed, so customers can come out at the weekend and have a nice meal like half a dozen oysters, washed down with a top end French Burgundy wine – perfect!
How has your business grown?
We now have four fish and chip shops. In 2015 we opened a branch on Mansfield Road, followed in 2018 by Long Eaton, and Market Harborough opened six months ago. We have between 44 and 55 seats in these shops. We currently have 54 members of staff. We are lucky that fish and chips is a traditional dish that will never die. All generations love it – from the older generation right through to the younger generation who still want it.
What is your career background?
I trained at West Notts College in Mansfield before starting a YTS with a 4 star fine dining hotel group. I was earning £25 a week and thought I was a millionaire! My first job was at a country house in Scotland before jetting off to Bermuda to work at the glamourous Fourways Restaurant, a stomping ground for celebrities including Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. After gaining a wealth of experience I was eager to do something on my own, so I returned to Nottinghamshire and teamed up with The Moleface Pub Co. and opened a total of five gastro pubs as owner/head chef before opening The Cod’s Scallops.
What are your best selling drinks?
Our most popular non alcoholic drinks are tea and cola. Our “Scale Ale”, made using our own recipe by Shipstones, a long standing Nottingham brewery, is our most popular alcoholic drink.
How important is sustainability to you?
Very. We work closely with our fish suppliers on the coast to source sustainable fish where possible. We are always proactive to ensure that maintaining a premium quality supply does not mean compromising future fish supplies. We are also avid supporters of The Fisherman’s Mission, the only fishermen’s charity that provides emergency support alongside practical, financial and emotional care.