Seaham's Bells chippy shortlisted in National Fish & Chip Awards
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Bells are hoping to batter the opposition in the National Fish and Chip Awards 2024.
The family-run chippy has six shops across the region, including at Washington, Durham City and its most recent in Seaham, which saw a £1million pound transformation of the old Barclay's Bank in North Terrace.
Renovating the site to create one of the area's largest sit-in fish and chip restaurants, which also honours the town's mining heritage in its decor, was a real labour of love for Houghton businessman Graham Kennedy, who owns Bells with wife Alleson.
And he says being shortlisted in the national awards is the icing on the cake.
They've made the Top 10 Shortlist for the From Field to Frier Award, which recognises excellency in knowledge of potatoes to create the perfect chip.
The shortlist listing is for all six Bells, which offer traditional beef dripping chips as well as chips fried in vegetable oil for vegetarians and those with coeliac disease.
Graham said: "Someone in the industry actually suggested we enter this category because of our knowledge in the industry.
"It's not as simple as people might think, it's about so much more, like the sugar content of the potato, how it's stored, how it's processed.
"We make our chips fresh every day."
Andrew Crook, president at the National Federation of Fish Friers, organiser of the awards, said: “We can all relate to the joyous moment of taking that first bite of a chip fresh from the frier.
"The amount of skill it takes to get the perfect balance of textures, uniform colour and moreish flavour shouldn’t be underestimated. The Field to Frier award is a fantastic opportunity for us to congratulate businesses for being at the top of their game."
With around 140 covers, as well as a takeaway shop, the Bells in Seaham is the chain's largest site, which created 30 new jobs for the town, bringing the total Bells workforce across the region to 120.
The land on which the restaurant sits was formerly part of the Londonderry Railway and such is the attention to detail in the new venture that an original piece of the railway has been inserted in the floor, aligned directly to the harbour where coal was once shipped.
Other details include prints showing miners from Durham’s coalfields in the 1940s on the walls, and the names of local landmarks such as Blast Beach emblazoned in neon signs over beach hut-shaped booths.
Meanwhile, the kitchen pass is in the shape of an old coal wagon and there’s even the pit head used in a production of Brassed Off above the main bar area.
Graham said: "The reaction to the new Seaham site has been great. I think the locals, as well as tourists, enjoy visiting a site that can accommodate such large groups."
The restaurant has also built up a celebrity following with visits from Great British Bake Off winner Syabira Yusoff and cricketer Ben Stokes.
The winners of the National Fish and Chip Awards 2024 will be announced in February at a ceremony at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London.
Bells have also been nominated in other categories of the prestigious awards, with shortlists still being announced.