Historically, British food gets a bad rap in culinary circles, but Barmy Brit food truck owner and chef Neil Hughes says the reputation is unfounded.
"Everyone says British food is so bad, but then Americans go about eating Velveeta cheese," Hughes says.
He's setting out to change the perception of British food from his truck (or, more accurately, small trailer) named for Hughes' nationality and a British colloquialism for eccentric.
See, Hughes isn't doing neo-English cuisine or trying to somehow make it more gourmet or elegant. Rather, his menu unabashedly displays deep-fried, artery-clogging British and British-influenced street food at its best.
The idea came to Hughes after his first experience with an American attempt at perennial British classic fish and chips.
"My wife brought me to Pete's Fish and Chips, and the fish was all minced and in this big fried puck, and the fries weren't chips. They were just fries, and I thought to myself, 'Oh, I could probably do it better than this.'"
Lo and behold, six months after the truck began its operation, Hughes does make fish and chips — and pretty damn well. Slightly sweet and excellently crispy deep-fried batter surrounds filelts of wild-caught cod, with just the right amount of air pocket, to excellent effect. The fries — or chips, rather — are thick-cut and crunchy and altogether quite good.
The rest of the menu doesn't disappoint, either. The Scotch egg couldn't be done better. For the unfamiliar, in a Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg makes up the center of a deep-fried dough ball stuffed with minced sausage to make for a piping hot, profoundly unhealthy snack. The Scotch egg at the Barmy Brit is, like the fish and chips, exactly as advertised. No fancy accoutrements or preparations — just delicious, and almost invariably painfully hot immediately after deep-frying.
The same can be said for the fried zucchini (or fried courgette, to our transatlantic friends), and the admittedly not-so-British fried mac 'n' cheese, which take shape as little fried dough triangles filled with incredibly cheesy mac 'n' cheese.
Those searching for a sweeter end to their meal can find such flavor in the array of beignet options also served at the Barmy Brit. The cinnamon and honey is a personal favorite.
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Hughes' culinary background is not in deep-fried British street food. He was trained in classical French cuisine back in London, where he worked for several restaurants and hotels, as well as a catering service. Then, dissatisfied with doing more administrative work than actual cooking, he moved on. He became a data analyst and met his wife, who is originally from the Valley.
"She was always complaining about the British weather, so we moved here," he says.
That was 14 years ago. Hughes became a nurse, and still is one full time. As such, the Barmy Brit is only out on weekends and almost exclusively deep into the West Valley.
Hopefully, once the truck builds steam, the rest of Phoenix will have access to the deep-fried wonders of Hughes' truly barmy bites.