Skyliner Fish and Chips – Meeting the challenge of coronavirus

Leeds has a great history of fish and chips. There have been fish and chip shops in Leeds since the 1860s. The city is home to the NFFF ( National Federation of Fish Friers) and until recently boasted the oldest fish and chip shop in the world, in Yeadon.

The foundations of the Skyliner in Whitkirk were dug in 1962, the year I was born. It is not in the running for consideration as the oldest – there are definitely West Yorkshire chip shops that date back to the early twentieth century, but it does have a proud history.

Skyliner has been run by three generations of the Meehan family. The 1960s roots are still visible in the black and white photographs on the wall of the restaurant. The name was inspired by a diner in New York, visited by Ellen Meehan. She was impressed not just by the name but also by the draw of the neon signs. If you have ever driven towards the M1 along the outer ring road you will probably have noticed the neon lights as you reach the final roundabout.

Tradition is important, but it was the Skyliner’s ability to adapt to new circumstances that drew me to purchase fish and chips from them. Not all fish and chips have found it easy to adapt to the demands of the coronavirus pandemic. Rising demand, when restaurants shut, combined with small shops, presented many problems.

The Skyliner has risen to new situation with skill. During the first lockdown they became local heroes by selling bags of flour for baking when the supermarket shelves were bare. They quickly looked at how they could introduce no contact collections, a one way queuing system, shelter for anyone waiting outside, and hand sanitiser.

I phoned my order through and paid over the phone. A collection time was allocated and I was asked for the model and number of the vehicle that would be collecting the order. On arrival at the restaurant you park in a designated bay and your food is delivered to a table next to your car. Completely contactless.

The food was packed into cardboard boxes and a paper bag. Good to see no plastic involved, with the exception of my portion of mushy peas. I had ordered haddock and chips, a fish finger kid’s meal and a portion of salt and pepper squid bites. Heat level is always an issue when ordering take away and I was disappointed that the chips and fish seemed cooler than the squid and fish fingers. I put in my order in the last hour of opening and they may have been sitting in a warmer for a while.

The squid bites were soft and tender with a good level of seasoning. It was unusual to eat squid in thick chip shop batter but they were tasty. I had been intrigued by their promise of ‘home made fish fingers’ on the kids’ menu. These turned out to be four small fillets fried in batter, more goujons than fish fingers. The portion size was generous for a child. The kids’ meals at £4 are a bargain, I could easily have fed two small children with the quantity supplied. The meal also promised a drink, which turned out to be a bottle of water, and a treat, which did not appear at all. If this had been for a child they may have been disappointed. Bottles of water for home collections would also seem to be pointlessly adding to plastic pollution. East Leeds tap water tastes fine. I would have been happy to pay £4 for their kids’ menu without extra enticements.

The main event of haddock and chips (£6.20) was also generous. There were far too many chips for one person and the haddock was a good size. The stars of the show in my eyes were the mushy peas. Too often in recent years I have ordered peas that have turned out to be bright green, watery or just lacking in flavour. Here they are a deep green, thick and packed with flavour.

Skyliner is not the only good fish and chip shop in the Crossgates area, but it has shown itself to be one of the most adaptable. It has started selling gluten free fish and chips and has various meal deals. When open, the restaurant offers a wider range of meals and is licensed.

The challenge of coronavirus has helped embed Skyliner as a local institution. The book exchange box they have put up outside was just one little indication of how they see themselves as part of the community rather than just a business.

Definitely worth sampling.

Debbie Rolls

Debbie's interests are in folk music and jazz, theatre and food, as well as the natural environment and Leeds' history.

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