In Cod We Trust.
It’s a phrase written above the bay window of OK UK Fish-n-Chips in south Fort Myers, and it symbolizes the restaurant’s focus on this staple British dish.
John Nattani and his father-in-law John Norton opened the first OK UK in North Fort Myers in 2014. Four years later Nattani opened this second location in Plymouth Plaza, a former shopping center across from Jamaica Bay on the ‘US 41.
It was a rough start, starting with a 13-month delay due to Hurricane Irma. Then, just as this chip shop was gaining momentum, COVID dealt another blow. So much has changed since OK UK began, but its authentic British cuisine remains the same.
The only thing that isn’t British is the accent of the owners – well, one of them. Nattani has worked in the corporate world for decades; that’s what brought him to southwest Florida. Ready to change, he joins forces with his father-in-law, an English fish and chip lover, to enter the world of catering.
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“I love being an owner and operator,” Nattani said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s physical, but it’s very rewarding.”
Photos of London’s most famous sights line the walls of OK UK. It’s a laid-back place with blue and white checkered tablecloths and fast, relaxed service. Order at the counter, grab a soda or beer from the cooler with a chilled glass, and sit down.
OK UK prepares its dishes to order with the aim of serving them at the optimum temperature and crunch. That crunch is what regulars rave about, and it’s thanks to the restaurant’s signature beer batter that coats not just the fish, but the shrimp and chicken as well.
“It’s thin and crispy and flavorful,” Nattani said.
Cod is OK UK’s fish of choice. Nattani and his team cut and weigh the fillets by hand to ensure consistency. They serve the cold-water fish in fish patties, sandwiches, wraps, and in new fish tacos that Nattani described as “simple, but…really, really good.”
Where OK UK’s cod really shines is in the famous fish and chips. The kitchen fry the tenderloins until the batter turns golden brown, then place them on mounds of French fries, or what we call French fries here in the United States. Served in a basket, the meal comes with coleslaw, tartar sauce and a bread roll.
Besides the signature beer batter, fresh oil is another key ingredient. Nattani calls it a science – an expensive and time-consuming science. It has three fryers, including one dedicated to fries and crisps. He constantly monitors the oil in each for warmth and freshness.
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Instead of small and large portions, OK UK dishes come in king and queen sizes. The king has eight ounces of protein, while the queen has six, whether it’s cod, chicken, or shrimp.
As with the tenderloins, Nattani’s staff also hand-cut their fries from Idaho potatoes.
“It’s a little more work to do them that way,” Nattani said. “It takes time, but people appreciate it and recognize the fact that they are fresh.”
Coat them in malt vinegar or dip them in curry sauce. Ketchup is also on the tables for the Yanks.
And don’t forget the traditional peas. To make this classic, Nattani soaks split peas overnight and then simmers them until they start to break down. He then mixes the salt and seasonings together until the peas become a thick, green mash.
“They are exactly what they sound like,” Nattani said. “You either love them or hate them.”
It’s not just OK UK’s decor and food that delight British expats and Anglophiles, it’s the little extras, like the counter lined with iconic British sweets such as Curly Wurly, Bassetts Liquorice and the infamous bars Cadbury Crunchies.
British pantry essentials stock a shelf at the back, including Typhoo Tea, jars of minced meat, curry powder and gravy mix, the latter used for comforting bangers and mash Ok UK.
For takeout, a case of frozen entrees (meat pies, bangers, shepherd’s pie and more) is available from Cameron’s British Food, a Cape Coral supplier specializing in produce from across the pond.
Although Nattani’s father-in-law has retired from the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, it remains a family affair. Nattani’s son, Shane, bounces between the South Fort Myers and North Fort Myers locations, and his wife, Fiona, also lends a hand.
The key to OK UK’s success, according to Nattani: “Simple, niche, comfort food”.
And, of course, their loyal audience.
“Our customers do it for us. They’re not customers, they’re almost like family,” he said.
“That’s the best part.”
Gina Birch writes about food, wine and spirits for The News-Press and on thebirchbeat.blogspot.com. Follow her as @ginabirch on Twitter and find her on Facebook.
OK Fish-n-Chips from the UK
Pitches: 15200 S. Tamiami Trail, South Fort Myers and 13971 N. Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers
Call: 239-288-6124 (south of Fort Myers); 239-599-2328 (north of Fort Myers)
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