“I didn’t know anything about it until I saw that tweet from STV News,” says Richardson, 45, proprietor of The Bay in the picturesque Scottish port of Stonehaven. What’s more his position at number 31 in the Lonely Planet travel guide’s list of the world’s top 500 food experiences put his fish and chips above every other British entry, including Fortnum & Mason’s Scotch egg and Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin-starred fare at the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire.
Not surprisingly locals and tourists alike are flocking to his takeaway-only shop on the Beach Promenade in Stonehaven (population 11,600), where he sells an impressive 1,000 servings a day, seven days a week, with haddock and chips “the bestseller by a mile”. No wonder the staff headcount has spiralled to 20 from the team of fi ve that launched The Bay 12 years ago this month.
Mindful of his cosmopolitan clientele, Richardson produces menus in a range of foreign languages and even a version in braille.
“The tourist season has really changed,” he says.
“It used to be April to September whereas now it is nearly all year round to be honest. With the pound being so weak against the euro we really do get a lot of visitors.”
One of the features of The Bay that appealed to the judges was its commitment to sustain ability. The starch from the potatoes is collected with a special piece of kit and returned to the farmer to feed his livestock and it sources almost 90 per cent of ingredients locally – white fish from the trawlers that pull into Peterhead harbour 50 miles to the north and shellfish such as lobster from local Stonehaven pots.
He can even name the boat that your fish came in from.
“We get our scampi from Jimmy Buchan, the skipper of The Amity that was in the Trawlermen TV series,” says Richardson.
“He hand-peels scampi for me. And this week I’ve had on fresh local lobsters. I’ll put them on again this weekend actually. So we just try to keep it fresh and interesting.”
All this hard work and attention to detail has paid off. The Bay’s website lists no fewer than 44 awards, including Best New Foodservice Product for its fishcakes and Fish and Chip Shop of the Year.
But it was the Young Fish Frier of the Year award Richardson won in 2004 that gave him the confidence to sell up a chippy on Stonehaven’s high street called The Carron – the shop that invented the deep-fried Mars bar in 1995 – and invest in a property on the seafront.
The gamble quickly paid off and The Bay caught the attention of the organisers of the Hankyu British Fair, a prestigious showcase of UK products laid on each year by one of Japan’s leading department stores, when it was named the best fish and chip shop in the country in 2013.
They invited Richardson to succeed the fivestar Savoy Hotel as the host of a pop-up restaurant.
“I exported all the fish from here. I got my fish supplier to cut it for me, portion it up and send it out to Japan. Then I went out there and created fish and chips for them using my own bespoke batter and my own bespoke curry sauce.”
He went on to shift 4,000 fish suppers and 2,000 Bay Burgers in one six-day period. Indeed it went so well that he was asked back the next year and the year after that and was soon being asked by other Japanese companies to work on similar projects. But perhaps his most memorable invitation came out of the blue one day in 2013.
“I got a phone call from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Raymond Blanc [chef patron of the celebrated Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons and president of the SRA] invited me to cook for the SRA Awards ceremony. They wanted fish and chips in the middle of London. That was a real honour for me. You never think you’re going to do that.”
Since then he has become something of a globe-trotting ambassador for a new-look industry, flying around the world encouraging a new generation of hospitality workers and breaking down negative stereotypes about fast food. From Japan to America he gives presentations on sustainability and the importance of championing local produce – showing other businesses how easy it is to go green with a bit of creativity and hard work.
But this week he is back in his home town where he is something of a pillar of the community. He supports charities such as the Fishermen’s Mission and Help For Heroes and offers free fish and chips to a local care home for the elderly and helps to raise awareness of those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
However the cause perhaps closest to his heart is the local lifeboat, whose crew is given “a whole stack of bacon and sausages” every week.
“I believe in looking after these people because at the end of the day the water’s on my doorstep,” he explains.
“I was an engineer in the Royal Navy for nine years from the age of 16. The fishermen go out there and risk their lives and I understand the importance of protecting people.”