OC Fish & Chip: Tustin Avenue's Hidden Chippie

We're awash in great Vietnamese; Mexican food improves with every opening of a regional Mexican place determined to lift OC out of its carne asada rut; Chinese food has made Irvine, sleepy Irvine, a destination.

But English? N . . . n . . . no. A bastion of fine, rough-hewn, stick-to-your-ribs British food we are not.

Sure, we have our fake English, Scottish and Irish pubs, all of which I call the Dog and
Bollocks. The best of those is the Olde Ship, and the Fullerton branch
is better than the one on 17th Street in Santa Ana.

What we lack is a series of places dedicated to the great British working-class supper. H. Salt won't do–which is why I was excited to see OC Fish & Chip next to Zena's Lebanese on Tustin Avenue in Orange. All they serve is fried food, and a couple of sides such as coleslaw to make you think it isn't all fried.

It isn't wrapped up in today's newspaper (insert snarky comment about today's journalism not even being fit to absorb fish grease here), but rather on paper in baskets, more like a Midwestern café on Friday night than anywhere in Yorkshire.

Still, the fish is good, soft and flaky inside, and the light batter clings nicely while remaining crunchy (for a limited time). Clam strips recall summers in New England, though it'd be great to get entire fried clam bellies. Zucchini are actually still juicy inside, and the fries, asked for slightly well done, are good enough to deserve salt and malt vinegar rather than ketchup.

Incidentally, the calamari (overdone) and the shrimp (rolled into weird calamari-like rings, as though they were some kind of fried ocean-going ouroboros) are the weakest options, with an overwhelmingly unfresh-seafoody flavor and rubbery texture that recalls Van de Kamp's.

The place has taken a page from the Scottish cookbook and started deep-frying desserts, battered in the same all-purpose, not-quite-tempura batter; Twinkies, Snickers and Oreos are available. I get the feeling that if I'd produced, say, an un-iced cupcake from French's Bakery in the same plaza, or a taco from the poblano place across the parking lot, the staff would have fried it for a price.

There's nothing special about the sourcing–many of the ingredients come straight out of the Sysco boxes–but honestly, sometimes I want fish and chips without having to deal with Ye Olde Village Pub and its oppressively dark ambiance. (Seriously, pub owners, have you been to a pub in English since electricity became common? None of them are as dark as you'd think.)

The prices at OC Fish & Chip are quite low, and you can customize a platter to your taste without busting the budget. Service is perfunctory, and if the place is as understaffed as it was both times I went, quite slow, but you can always catch The Chew on television.

OC Fish & Chip, 2094 Tustin St., Ste. C-1, Orange, (714) 974-2589; ocfishnchip.com.

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