Jason Killalee set up his business, Batterfish, in one of those spots. You know, one of those spots — pieces of real estate that, for whatever reason, can't seem to hold a tenant for more than 18 months. The very essence of these spots spells failure; you could stick a Shake Shack there with a Ludo pop-up inside of it and it would still go out of business by the end of the year.
When I was growing up, we used to call them "death spots." Killalee is, however, joyfully and willfully unconcerned with the history behind his tiny storefront, which has in the past few years seen a wings place, a pizza place, and now Batterfish fish and chips shop.
He's committed to ending the cycle -- and he's doing it. His business is coming up on its one-year anniversary. Things are going well; he's looking to expand, possibly to the beach cities. He has an absurd five-star aggregate on Yelp, nearly unheard of given the high number of reviews (over 120). He's succeeding because he's making an amazing product: the best fish and chips in the city.
Killalee was born and bred in Dublin, Ireland, and came to the States in his early twenties. He’s a recovering actor (like so many Angelenos) and to make a living, he worked his way through some of L.A.’s best restaurants: Valentino, Providence, Fraiche. Finally, he decided to go all-in and open Batterfish, incorporating his kitchen skills with a way to soothe his nostalgic yearning for Ireland’s culinary traditions.
Killalee is a craftsman, a Degas of the deep fryer
There are certainly other places in L.A. to get authentic British-style fish and chips, and there are higher concept (and much more expensive) fish and chips, like at Connie & Ted’s. But Killalee is a craftsman; a Degas of the deep fryer, and his care is reflected in the sheer deliciousness of his product. "I know I make the best fish and chips in the city," he said to me, not to boast, but as a mere point of fact.
The key to the excellence of fried fish is in the coating, obviously -- anyone can purchase a good piece of fish, but not everyone knows how to fry it up. The fry at Batterfish is like a deep, golden brown carapace, delicate but stretched tightly around the fish, like a drum. The initial breaking of the shell is deeply satisfying. The fry is light and airy while managing to be substantial; and it’s hot but not overly greasy.
The batter itself is crunchy and salty, tasting of wheat and beer. Killalee attends to each order himself, from the battering of the fish to standing over the basket at the fryer, agitating it frequently so the batter doesn’t stick to the fish.
Cod is available, as is tilapia, salmon, and catfish. The catfish is particularly tender, and goes well with the chili-flavored batter. That brings us to the other feature of Batterfish -- the ability to select your own flavor of batter. Options I’ve tried include chili, garlic ginger, and curry (and, of course, traditional). It sounds gimmicky, and I was skeptical at first, but I was happily surprised by how well it works -- the flavors are very subtle; not at all overpowering. Curry is particularly good, and adds a low-key spice and earthiness to the freshly-fried fish.
Prices range from $7.95 for catfish to $10.95 for salmon. Sides are also solid, and include mushy peas, baked beans, coleslaw, and onion rings (not to mention the chips, which are hand-cut and thick). Batterfish is delightfully BYOB, so you can grab a six-pack from the Walgreens on the corner while you’re waiting for your food which, as Killalee makes everything to order, will take between 5-10 minutes.
Batterfish is located at 16200 Ventura Blvd in Encino. Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Sat from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. Closed Sunday.