Sabah, SE23

I was picking up a foreign friend from the airport recently – it’s the sort of activity that easily sucks down a whole evening with it once you’ve factored in the horrendous traffic and endless wait for a familiar face to pop out of the mystic double doors through to arrivals.

Once I’d safely deposited him where he needed to be and apologised profusely on behalf of the nation for the ridiculous cold weather, I was suddenly aware of the chasmic internal void that needed filling, and the chip shop up the road was the only right answer.

Sabah addends its name with fish bar – presumably because it sort of rhymes – and kebabs – presumably because they also sell kebabs inside. It’s always good to keep it literal. I’ve never really understood what a fish bar might be. I often imagine an undersea saloon, where the bottom-feedingest oceanic lowlifes might hang out over beers and batter wimpy pollocks that make the mistake of wandering in for a Coke. Or perhaps it might be some hipster establishment that cuts chips using a vintage copper press. 

“Some chips exist merely to scratch an itch – you ram them down your face because you’re hungry”

I like the cut of Sabah’s jib – it’s old school with its gold-letter signage on the outside, decorated tiles on the inside, maybe even the odd potted plant. It’s like being in a Greek family’s upstairs bathroom. I am greeted by the man behind the counter with such unexpected warmth that I quickly have to scour my brain to think whether I’ve met him before and haven’t remembered. 

I order a jumbo sausage and chips – my usual selection – and scurry away back to the car with my haul. There’s something a little thrilling and illicit about chips on the go, sticking a greasy finger up at the system. Sitting the steaming bag on your lap and tucking them under the steering wheel, using the back of your hand to change gear and do the indicators, quickly wiping your fingers on the paper if you have to come to a complete stop and need to put the handbrake on. An emergency window drop as they start to fog up with the vinegary vape. It’s not the safest way to get about town, but if you do get stopped…'chip, officer?'

The chips were very inconsistent, with some claggy and dry, some crisped up and crunchy, and others still dripping with oil. Blending different varieties of potato just doesn’t work when it comes to chips and it left me a little on edge, unsure as I was what the next fistful would bring. The sausage was a rare delight, however – mildly spiced, with just a hint of curry, pepper and nutmeg. I don’t think it would be socially acceptable to wander into a chip shop and order a sausage as a wee snack to nibble on as you walk down the street, but if it were this is where I would head. 

Some chips can be destination food, the sort of thing you would go out of your way to pick up and would savour as a special occasion. Other chips exist merely to scratch an itch – you ram them down your face because you’re hungry and they are the quickest and cheapest way to sort that hunger out. The real problem, to paraphrase Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, is with a shop that sells the latter and thinks it’s the former. 

Which is possibly unfair to Sabah, to imply it’s in that category. It certainly wasn’t trying to be a chip boutique in the way that some more recently started places have tried to do, but shininess in the decor and indeed pot plants does imply a certain basic confidence in the product. But it’s alright – by the time I reach this conclusion I’m miles away in the car. 

Taste: 5/10
Presentation: 7/10
Service: 9/10
Value for money: 6/10

Verdict: You versus the chip shop she left you for.