Flaming steel torches on the garden path, white leather chairs inside and kangaroo steak on the menu. Is this Charlie Bretts or am I hallucinating?
Bretts of North Lane, the ultra-trad fish frier, revered for a century, an essential port of call for the sporting heroes of Headingley?
Yes, Bretts, the ivy clad, Yorkshire stone cottage with its pretty front garden of clipped lawn and borders, a riot of summer bedding. The same Brett’s where we queued in the lean-to hut for takeaways or squeezed into the little wood panelled front room with its wild animal posters, for haddock and chips, tea, bread and butter and Alice’s treacle sponge.
Back in the day when Bretts vied for the title of best fish and chips in Headingley, it was by extension a competition for the best in Yorkshire, England and beyond. Times change and the new owners have put in wood floors, oak tables, those white leather chairs and their respect for Bretts’ heritage has also seen the hallowed Charlie put into the name, though if he came back now he’d hardly recognise the place.
The young and enthusiastic restaurant manager is at the door to greet us, seat us and be generally so attentive that at one stage we think he might sit down and join us. He brings warm bread, salted butter and olive oil with balsamic. He brings water, Ilkley Brewery beer and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (£4.95).
It’s a different era. Fish and chips might have once fuelled the nation - I once counted 335 chippies in the Leeds Yellow Pages - but these days, with competition from Arc, Ask, Trio and the rest, any chippie worth its salt and vinegar has to offer more than haddock, chips and mushy peas and Brett’s do: risotto, asparagus and smoked salmon, duck (the ‘bird of the day’), steak and chips and ‘Charlie’s Challenge’: kangaroo fillet. Oh, please, no gimmick food. So, bring on haddock and chips (£9.50). It’s what we came for and it passes the test: crisp, dry batter, tender flakes of fish, floury potatoes, home-made tartare sauce. There’s no sliced bread and butter on the ‘sides’, no loss for me there, but you can still get a nice tray of tea.
Cod and chips are a bit pricier (£13.50) and then there’s hake, fish pie and smoked haddock risotto. We also sample two starters, a bucket of crisp coated mackerel goujons with their homemade tartare sauce - all good - and a tasty plate of charred asparagus and smoked salmon topped with a poached egg and hollandaise.
Puddings cover hot chocolate fondant, Brett’s bread and butter pudding with vanilla custard and Charlie’s classic sherry trifle, though not Alice’s treacle sponge. It would be easy to cry sacrilege but I won’t. After all, you can’t stand still to move forward.