Seattle’s best fish-and-chips have a new home on Bainbridge Island.
Proper Fish opened in downtown Winslow earlier this month, the new permanent outlet for owner Harvey Wolff’s iconic, accolade-magnet recipe, which has garnered acclaim for Zagat, the Seattle Times (who named it Seattle’s best fish-and-chips), and LocalEats, among others.
Previously serving up the crispy, golden fave (in a newspaper, of course) at the hugely popular Seattle food truck Nosh, Wolff, a London native, sold that operation in 2017 and has now set up shop on a more permanent basis at a fixed address (112 Madison Ave. North).
He said he’d long been eyeing Bainbridge as the place to do it, too. And it’s actually something of a homecoming for him, having previously lived on the island.
The resulting reception has so far been one fit for a returning hero.
“After day one we had lines around the corner and out the door by the time we started service every single day,” Wolff said. “On Mother’s Day we served 500 units of fish alone [and] we served 700 people.”
The shop boasts a varied menu, but Wolff said fish-and-chips (still served in newspaper) is the “biggest seller by far.”
The popularity is not unearned. If you think the fanfare is serious, you should see the preparation.
“We’re passionate about it, absolutely passionate,” Wolff said. “We have full providence, we go to the dock to pick our fish up.
“There’s nothing that can touch our fish,” he added. “We’ll stand by it 100 percent. It’s [Marine Stewardship Council] certified wild, sustainable, Bering Sea, organic hook-and-line. It’s on an eco-friendly vessel that it’s caught. We can tell you the name of the captain. We can tell you the date your fish was caught.”
And it’s not just the fish. The specifics of the chips also receive Wolff’s devoted attention.
“The fries, we [recently] changed potatoes to a lower moisture content, because it really does matter,” he said. “We sit here for hours and hours and hours testing it and testing it until we’re all happy. Every single day, before we start service … we will test-fire a piece of fish to make sure the salinity is right, to make sure the batter is right, to make sure the flavor profile is right; every single day.”
The crucial batter features a novel local ingredient that comes from even closer at hand than the fish.
“Our beer batter is powered by Bainbridge Brewing,” Wolff said. “It’s a special beer; it’s not available there. It’s just for us and it’s a secret and we’re not telling anyone what it is. Our batter recipe is not written down.”
Wolff goes so far as to have employees who actually make batter sign a confidentiality agreement.
“The thing that people don’t understand [is] batter is a science,” he said. “It’s all about pH levels and we know how to change the pH level without making it too fluffy and keeping it golden, light and crispy.”
Confident, but not cocky, Wolff is quick to put his money where his — or rather where your — mouth is.
“I will put my fish-and-chips up against anybody else’s,” he said. “We offer a money-back guarantee. If it’s not some of the very best you’ve had we’ll give you your money back, we’ll re-fry you a new order, we’ll give you some vouchers. We want every customer to be happy.”
Having served something like three-quarters of a million orders of fish-and chips by his own count, Wolff knows something about making customers happy. And would-be diners looking for something other than fish-and-chips can count on equal quality and craftsmanship, he said, being present in the menu’s other offerings.
“I think we’ve got one of the most dynamic, alternative menus on the island,” Wolff said.
Appetizer options include a prawn and crab cocktail with gulf prawn ($15), baby octopus served with house tartar sauce ($12) and whitebait (small whole sprats, buttermilk-dipped and lightly dusted with seasoned flour and deep fried, served with dill aioli; $8).
Besides fish-and-chips, featured entrees are fried oysters ($15), an East Coast-style lobster roll (served with fries; $27) a fish sandwich (Alaskan wild-caught beer battered cod loin, served with arugula and slow-roasted tomatoes and onions on a Macrina toasted potato roll; $15).
To wash it all down, Proper Fish boasts a healthy stock of Louis Roederer bubbly, and two styles of traditional British ale made by Seattle’s Machine House Brewery.
“They come hand-pumped, fresh, and they come in imperial pints and imperial half-pints, which is 20 ounces and 10 ounces,” Wolff said. “They’ve got low alcohol content, so 3.7 and 4.2 [ABV] — and we are selling a keg a night.”
Though the space has been completely renovated since the previous tenant, the basic layout of space Proper Fish occupies remains the same, giving it, Wolff said, one of the most open kitchens around. It invites diners to observe the controlled madness that goes into prepping every plate.
“It only gets loud behind there when I’m running the wheel and I’m calling the orders,” Wolff said. “It’s a show, we make it a show for the people, because every Brit wants to be American and every American wants to be a little bit British. So when [my] accent comes out, it’s dinner and a show every time.”
Proper Fish is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Rotating specials — including expanded lunchtime and brunch hours, a traditional English Sunday lunch menu, happy hour deals, Taco Tuesday (served with a Vietnamese green papaya salad) — and an online ordering option are in the works.
“We could have opened three weeks earlier than we did, but because it’s Bainbridge we had to be ready and check everything,” Wolff said. “When it comes to the providence of food, you cannot muck around with Bainbridge Islanders, you cannot muck around with them. So having that providence and being able to say that we serve Maine lobster in our lobster roll at the price point of $27, I’ll stand by that every single time.
“We’ve had nothing but fantastic reviews,” he added. “The only ones complaining are the people that have not been here.”
Visit www.properfish.com or call 206-855-5051 to learn more.