Saturday 24 March 2018

Cod or haddock? 100 years of an Irish favourite

The menu at Leo Burdock's has changed over time, but ray and chips are still the top choice

Something fishy: George Watson serves up a fresh cod and chips.
Something fishy: George Watson serves up a fresh cod and chips.
Chip off the old block: Brian and Paddy Burdock with another tasty treat Nice plaice: Brian Burdock outside the old shop front on Werburgh Street
Nice plaice: Brian Burdock outside the old shop front on Werburgh Street
A 1933 newspaper ad for the famous chipper

Anita Guidera

As quintessentially Dublin as coddle and Ronnie Drew, Leo Burdock's has been serving up fish and chips to the great and the good of the capital for 100 years.

Still in its original location on Werburgh Street, near Christchurch, Dublin's oldest chipper has weathered the storms of the 1916 Rising, two World Wars, civil unrest and economic recessions.

It all started on August 28, 1913, two days into the Dublin Lockout, which brought the city to its knees, when Liberties couple, Patrick and Bella Burdock opened their first shop around the corner from Christchurch Cathedral, and named it after their son.

The Irish love affair with the chipper had been kindled by the arrival of Italian, Giuseppi Cervi, in Dublin over 30 years earlier.

By 1909 there were 20 Italian fish and chip shops in Dublin but Burdock's brought a uniquely Irish twist to the scene.

During the 1916 Rising, it is said that a stash of guns was hidden on the Burdock's premises because of its proximity to Dublin Castle and the sympathy of its owners to the Republican cause.

Scarcity of ingredients and fuel forced the original shop and a cluster of branches to close during World War II with only one surviving by war end.

For half a century Leo worked behind the counter, before handing over to his son Brian. The mantle was later passed to cousin, Paddy, and latterly Denis.

Burdock's became renowned for the freshness of its fish, purchased daily from the early morning market, and its home cut chips cooked in animal fat.

In the early days, the traditional one and one, fish and chips cost a humble 1 shilling and 2 pence.

The banter, the traditional newsprint paper, the special homemade vinegar and the sprinkling of crispy bits of batter seduced the growing band of customers.

Even queuing outside in all weathers became part of the allure.

The only concession was for the staff of the nearby Lord Edward who would deliver the late Paddy Burdock his pint of Guinness to the shop and in return wouldn't have to queue for their fish and chips.

Many swore that the occasional imprint of newsprint on the chips, and the cooking environment mix of soot, coal dust and even cigarette ash – both Paddy and Brian Burdock used to enjoy a cigarette with their pints – was exactly what gave Burdock's fish and chips their unique flavour.

"It definitely all added to the mystique of the place," agrees Area Manager, Derek Duggan.

He was convinced he had found a job for life after a devastating fire in 1991, which caused significant damage to the shop and was the death knell for the traditional coal fired pans which had been in use since the shop opened.

Tears of laughter stream down his face as he recalls customers still showing up that lunchtime looking for their fish and chips.

"There was no glass in the windows, there was scorch marks and debris everywhere.

"I thought to myself 'they must really love their fish and chips'," said Derek, who now manages seven outlets.

Burdock's slowly came to the attention of guidebooks, tourist literature and an ever-growing list of celebrities.

The Hall of Fame on the shop wall reads like an eclectic 'Who's Who?' from Edith Piaf and Alan Shatter to Bertie Ahern and Justin Timerblake's parents.

Bruce Springsteen stops by whenever he is in town and even took his place in the queue when he showed up recently.

When Mississippi Blues legend BB King came through the door in 1989 and ordered three fish and chips, staff assumed it was for him and his two bodyguards. But to their amusement, the trio feasted on three fish and chips each in their stretch limo, parked across the street.

Actress Sandra Bullock ate her order leaning against the car of a staff member outside.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell escaped to Burdock's for "something proper to eat" while attending a reception in the Mansion House.

Not quite so impressed, however, was Meat is Murder singer Morrissey, who expressed his horror on discovering Burdock's chips were cooked in animal fat.

The menu has adapted to the changing times, expanding to include battered sausages, chicken nuggets and even burgers, but ray and chips remains the Dublin favourite.

Despite the changes, fans still attest to the unique Burdock's experience.

"There's something very romantic about getting your bag of chips wrapped in paper and then bagged in a brown bag. It's like a present to yourself," opines one.

Marking Burdock's 100th anniversary, fish and chips will be half price on Wednesday August 28 with all profits going to charity and comedian and loyal customer Brendan Grace will don the white coat and serve behind the counter.

As to the future, Derek is optimistic that Burdock's will see out another 100 years.

"I hope by then we will be working off solar power but as long as people want to be fed and get good value I'm sure Burdock's will look after them."

Irish Independent

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