5 mins with Michael Waldock

Name: Michael Waldock
Business and location: Sweetlips, Leederville, Fremantle and Scarborough

Can you share a happy fish and chip memory?
I have fond memories of eating fish and chips as a youngster while still living at my Mum and Dad’s. Going for the drive with Dad to the local fish and chips shop on a Friday night to collect the fish and chips. Watching the shop owner majestically dipping the fish fillets in the batter and laying them gently into the fryer. Hearing the sizzle and crackle as the cold batter hit the hot oil. Watching the vinegar splashing generously on the fish and chips before a plentiful shake of salt. Always tearing the paper and sneaking a chip or two on the drive home. The sharing and sense of family unity as we ate the fish and chips on a plate made from the wrapping paper. Is there any wonder the joy of eating fish and chips lives on from generation to generation?

Where have you eaten the best fish and chips?
On a recent summer family holiday from Perth to Exmouth via Kalbarri, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Monkey Mia, Shark Bay and Coral Bay, we had the chance to eat fish and chips and a lot of seafood. I can’t recall the exact locations, but there is something about eating fish and chips while holidaying in beautiful seaside locations such as these, that makes fish and chips taste especially delicious.
Rarely do I not enjoy sampling fish and chips from other fish and chip shops. As a whole I think a lot of shop owners, through their hard work, do a great job.

In your business, how do you cook your fish & chips?
I have seen a lot of fish and chips cooked in numerous places over the years. From the outside looking in, the process in each store looks almost identical. Someone puts the fish in the batter, then the oil, cooks it for a minute or two, lifts it out, wraps it with chips, salt and vinegar and…. Hey Presto- there you go! The simple answer to this question is, therefore, that we do what everyone else does. Given that, how can it be that there are always such huge differences in the fish and chips from place to place? Our simple formulae for cooking good fish and chips is; use fresh, high-quality produce, use clean cooking oil at the right temperature and have consistent, reliable batter. Lastly, and the most important ingredients of all, are care and attention. If all of these elements are present, the result has to be good fish and chips.

What seems to be customer’s favorite fish choice?

In Western Australia, we are spoilt for choice in relation to great tasting fresh fish. Far from being the cheapest choice, one particular favourite for customers is the Shark Bay whiting. These juicy and tender fillets, caught in the crystal-clear waters of Shark Bay, are highly prized and are particularly popular in a light panko crumb. Other popular choices are the iconic pink snapper, bronze whaler shark and even the slightly stronger flavoured Spanish mackerel.

What is your personal favourite fish to use for fish and chips?

If I am having a piece of grilled fish I would normally select a moist flaky fish such as pink snapper. Regarding traditional battered fish, I always find myself gravitate towards a fresh fillet of Spanish mackerel. Spanish mackerel has a slightly oilier and full flavoured flesh - which is ideal battered. Its flesh is also slightly firmer -which I like. The upside to loving Spanish mackerel is that it is relatively cheap, is sustainable, and therefore always in good supply. I prepare it cooked, just long enough, in a light crispy batter -YUM!

Do you have a favourite cooking tip to share?
The golden rule is to never overcook seafood. On a hotplate for instance, once the fillet turns from translucent (clear) to opaque (white) the fish is cooked. Cooked any longer, the fillet starts to lose moisture and become dry. As with most things, when it comes to seafood, simpler is often better. Most seafood has a delicate flavour so it is important not to add anything that becomes overpowering.

What Australian wine (or other beverage) would you match with your fish & chips?
More recently an increasingly popular choice of white wine to enjoy with seafood is the Pinot Gris. Being slightly dry, but still containing fruity flavours, makes it a great pairing for most seafood meals. It particularly suits me in that it complements oily fish, which I like.

How long have you been making/serving fish and chips?
I have been in my own business making fish and chips for 22 years. Before that, I worked in another fish and chip outlet for 5-6 years. So all in all, a total of 28 years. Am I crazy?  The Leederville store, where Sweetlips first started operating in 1995, was originally set up as a fish and chips shop towards end of the World War 1 in 1918. It has traded continuously, under different owners, as a fish and chip shop ever since.