Fish and Chips Review: Sotos of Semaphore



A massive cold front lashed the Adelaide coast as we placed our order. As required by the new regime, we moved outside to the footpath and the rain blasted in, piggybacking or, maybe, rodeo-riding on the howling wind. It was not an archetypal evening for fish and chips on the seaside. No picnic rug accompanied by carousel music as a blue sky stretched above us.


Late May and all week I’ve screamed at TV news anchors as they’ve crossed to the weather reporter with variations upon, “So Amanda/Jane/Kate, how’s the last week of autumn looking?” With the winter solstice weeks away, it seems season change denial remains as incurable as climate change denial.


Semaphore is Adelaide’s most idiosyncratic beach suburb. There’s a range of compelling shops and eateries and attractions. The jetty is quaint and the wide lawns attract families and all types. While other strips such as Jetty Road in Glenelg and Norwood’s The Parade might present as tired, Semaphore is a vibrant and diverse village.


On this elemental evening, Claire and I order fish and chips from Sotos Fish Shop, established in 1949 and occupying a grandfatherly position in Adelaide’s seafood scene.


There’s a sturdy torrent of customers and, once I’ve got our food, we head to the foreshore where the diabolical conditions dictate that we eat in the car. I suspect the seagulls have clocked off for the day. Already the dark has closed in and the broiling ocean is hidden.


We’ve a medium chips and it’s a most generous pillow. The front seat of a mid-sized car is not an ideal dining venue and I’m worried that the floor may become a chip graveyard. Chips deserve better.


But casualties are minimal and the chips are excellent: crisp and golden and soft in the middle, and not too big. Pleasingly, they are far beyond the french fry’s absurd, Lilliputian dimensions which are a design and gastronomic parody. Who actually likes them? With its addiction to the huge and the excessive, I can’t believe these haven’t been outlawed in the US. Additionally, I recall seeing this online and am still struggling with its paradox-




I’ve a piece of battered hake and it’s a treat too. Belonging to Iceland’s favourite family, the cod, I devour it as insulation against the peninsula’s cold. The staff at Sotos are also a deft hand with the salt shaker, achieving a balance between taste and imminent heart surgery.


Given the beverage restrictions, Claire has packed a thermos of hot chocolate. Is there a word as suggestive of huddled winter gatherings as thermos? Fish and chips followed by hot chocolate is a unique pairing, but Semaphore is a unique destination. Outside the storm passes, on transit to the Adelaide Hills.


On the way home I listen to Triple J which, in a break with their usual brief, has been playing requests all week. Yesterday I heard Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C minor’ and the Mamas and Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Happily, I missed Axel F’s ‘Crazy Frog’, and the Antiques Roadshow theme song but, navigating through Henley Beach, I hear ELO offer up ‘Mr Blue Sky’ with its magnificent coda.


It’s been a day of welcome peculiarities – culinary, musical and meteorological.




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About Mickey Randall

Now whip it into shape/ Shape it up, get straight/ Go forward, move ahead/ Try to detect it, it's not too late/ To whip it, whip it good


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Mrs Swish and I were once quite fond of the chippie at the foot of the Largs Jetty, especially on cold Sunday arvos, as was our first Swishette (especially the adjacent playground). We’d still drop in when we were back home, but its been on a long slow decline. You and Claire should have popped in to the (other) Exeter Mickey. On second thoughts …

  2. I know the chippie you speak of Swish but haven’t been there for ages. Semaphore Road is well serviced by chippies with at least two and the Exeter is the best of the four although the others; the Palais, the Semaphore and the Fed are much better located if a little lacking.

    Pubs can open here but only with such limited patrons that many aren’t opting to just yet. I think next Friday, the start of the long weekend, is the magic date. Speaking of which, I best contact the Broady to see how I’m might be able to visit. It might be like playing golf at St Andrews in that a nightly ballot determines who’s in!

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Nothing like a good serve of fish and chips Mickey! Though I replace the fish with potato cakes not being a being a seafood eater. Might be a good night to renew my appreciation of them once again, been a while since I’ve had a serve.

  4. Hey Mickey, I have fond memories of the Semaphore fish and chip shop. During the late fifties and early sixties, I and some of my mates, did a lot of fishing from the Semaphore jetty., mainly from September to April. Quite often I would venture down the jetty to purchase 2/- worth of chips, wrapped in newspaper, for tea from a shop very near to the jetty. I rarely bought fish, preferring to eat my own catch (not that day’s of course). They were delicious.

    If the weather was on the cool side the shot was to put the parcel down the front of my jumper, put a hole in top of parcel and pick out chips one by one. A great way to keep one self’s warm. Over those years I had many good catches there as the fish were plentiful then.

  5. Good yarn, Mickey. I felt cold just reading it.
    I actually don’t mind hake. It is the all-rounder of edible fish, I reckon

  6. Glad I’ve inspired you Col. Enjoy the potato cakes/fritters/scallops.

    Thanks Fisho. The chips parcel down the jumper is what the kids call a life hack, I think. Thought a fish yarn might lure you out!

    Cheers Smokie. At home I prefer garfish or whiting but hake goes well from the fish shop. Years ago the principal of the school at which I worked had the surname of Whitington. As a nod to his name and aloof manner the kids called him King George. Genius.

    Thanks everyone.

  7. Peter Bracken says

    Soto’s is always a must when I’m down in Adelaide and doing a cruise along ‘the Peninsular’, as the school mates from Semi or Largs used to term it. Gar with a couple of potato fritters is my go and let them know their sign is wrong. Barramundi has 2 Rs in it as any Top Ender will tell you.

  8. Rulebook says

    Soto’s definitely one of the best fish and chip shops in SA thanks,Mickey you took us along for the ride and yes could feel the cold

  9. Thanks Peter and Rulebook. Like any institution I understand it has its critics who prefer it how it was (at least in their memory). We were discussing this again last night and remarked on how it should be difficult to mess up a hot chip, but could recount a few examples of when this exact culinary crime has occurred!

  10. Hey Mickey, whenever I did buy fish, like you, I almost always asked for gar – absolutely delicious. I remember ,quite some time ago having one of their little side bones stuck in my throat -very unpleasant. Bread wouldn’t shift it. After a couple of days, would you believe, I ate a small KIT KAT BAR and, much to my delight the bone had gone. Other fish Mrs Fisho and I like are KG Whiting, Flathead and Flounder.

  11. Excellent Fish and chips at Port Fairy by the sea and in Melbourne, Coburg in Murray Road. Beautiful!

  12. The fried Mars Bar in Preston was good, but I was staring at my mortality when I was eating it..

  13. roger lowrey says

    Great read Mickey.

    And you have established beyond reasonable doubt you are not a one trick pony. You eat fish & chips as well as sausage rolls.

    Maybe next time you could demonstrate you are fond of musicians other than the Little River Band.

    I can’t wait!


  14. Luke Reynolds says

    I don’t know what a butter fish is Mickey but they are good eating.

    Great line about the right amount of salt.

    Even greater to hear the 1980’s Channel 9 cricket theme played as a request on Triple J this weekend!

  15. Mark Duffett says

    Baramundi must be what they catch in the Little Para River.

    I miss butterfish. Also now have a strange hankering for battered and deep fried pumpkin cake. Never heard of it, but I reckon it could work.

  16. Fisho- I never knew of the healing powers of Kit Kats!

    paubai – I first learnt of the deep-fried Mars Bar seeing a chippie advertising one in Edinburgh. It sits well with the Scots’ attitude to food and life.

    Roger- life beyond LRB? I am not convinced!

    Luke- I missed the cricket theme on JJJ but it certainly fitted with the funny stuff I heard across the week. I hope they do this annually.

    Mark- unsure where the featured chippie is, but with pumpkin on the menu imagine it could be Qld. It may have been the haunt of JTH.

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

  17. Great read Mickey. I also consider the word “flask” to rival “thermos” in its ability to conjure up those warm and cosy huddles of which you speak. In fact as you may already know – it speaks of the Scandinavian concept of “hygge” – often created in a warm and hot- chip-induced foggy car. Thanks Mickey.

  18. Thermos, flask, hot chips, interior fog, the Scandinavian concept of “hygge”: who knew an aging Korean SUV could be such a rich and evocative conveyance! Thanks Someone.

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