Freedom Through Fish and Chips

By Sean Kenniff | Megan Swann

By

Sean Kenniff
Megan Swann
Fish & Chips: Beer-battered Corvina, House Fries, Tartar Sauce, and Mushy Peas
Fish & Chips: Beer-battered Corvina, House Fries, Tartar Sauce, and Mushy Peas

What if you could guarantee that one in every three customers would order the same dish, consistently generating a considerable chunk of your bottom line? What would that mean? For Chef Andrew Gilbert it means freedom.

Gilbert’s a Brit, originally from the county of Kent, who now owns The Seven Dials in Coral Gables, Florida. “We’re very deliberately not ‘The Weasel and Barrel,’” says Gilbert. The bangers that accompany the mash on his menu are sourced from Miami Shores’ Proper Sausages—and don’t ask him to make a pork pie. There are things like foie gras, barley risotto, and an extensive charcuterie program at Seven Dials, and a pervading high-level of technique and care that may strike Gilbert’s fellow expats as posh. But what makes much of this posh play possible is the workhorse star of Gilbert’s menu: fish and chips.      

“We set out to be a neighborhood restaurant. As a consequence, we made sure there was something for everyone, pocket-wise. You can have a Diet Coke and fi sh and chips here,” he says. The classic—almost to the point of kitsch—British staple pulls some serious weight on Gilbert’s menu, bringing in 10 percent of the restaurant’s total revenue (including beer and wine). Food cost for the fish and chips remains steadily in the 25 percent range—prices for  fish and potatoes don’t fluctuate much. When developing the dish, Gilbert spent heaps of time searching out the ideal local fish for the iconic preparation before hooking corvina at $8 per pound (quite a bit more than the haddock you’d find at a run-of-the-mill pub). Made with beer from local M.I.A. brewery, his Domino Pilsner-battered corvina lands on plates in flake-ifi ed 5½-ounce hunks, and the potatoes are classic French, not classic chip.

Gilbert uses the corvina trim to make accra (a British/Caribbean beignet) seasoned with thyme, cilantro, green onions, and Scotch bonnets. He sells seven for $10, which he doesn’t take into account when calculating food cost for the fish and chips. Gilbert sells around 30 plated orders of fish and chips on a Friday or Saturday and about 80 per week. Before reading the nightly POS, staff will make a game of guessing fish and chips sales for the day.    

Not only has the dish been a boon since the restaurant’s opening, Gilbert says aspiring chefs wanting to add the item to their own menus, come to The Seven Dials to do their research. As far as technique pointers, what Gilbert is willing to give away is that temperature is of the utmost importance, from the temperature of the canola oil to the temperature of the product as it hits the fryer. “Traditionally, British food is heavy, but there are a lot of misconceptions. It’s multicultural and constantly changing,” says Gilbert.

Farm to table in South Florida can mean a whole lotta mangoes and avocados, but Gilbert is working with a local gardener to supply a wider spectrum of produce to The Seven Dials year-round. It’s product that he will feel free to play with on his daily blackboard menu, made possible by the success of fish and chips.

FISH AND CHIPS BY THE NUMBERS
Restaurant seats: 40
Avg. weekend covers: 90
Turns: 2+
Total menu items: 16 plus 6 blackboard menu items
Avg. number of fish and chips sold per week: 80
Avg. food cost for restaurant: 25% to 30%
Avg. food cost for fish and chips: 25%
Fish cost: $8 per pound
Portion size of fish: 5½ ounces
Menu price: $15

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