The Pakistani brothers making a splash in Spain with British fish and chips

Majid and Mani Alam opened The Fish&Chips Shop in Barcelona to satisfy a late-night craving. From there, they’ve built a foodie empire

Magid and Mani Fazal, owners of The Fish&Chips Shop chain in Barcelona
Magid and Mani Alam, owners of The Fish & Chips Shop chain in Barcelona, outside one of their restaurants. Photography for Hyphen by Nathan Siegel

Step into any tapas restaurant in Barcelona and you’ll find all sorts of fried fish on the menu, from calamari rings served with aioli to pescaito frito, tiny fish served in high piles and eaten in one bite. Spanish foodies, it would be fair to assume, have no need for the battered fish and chips found on any high street in the UK. And yet, nestled in Sant Antoni – one of Barcelona’s hottest up-and-coming gastronomic neighbourhoods – at The Fish&Chips Shop, a tiny joint with only three high-top tables and a small open kitchen, the sale of British fish and chips is booming. 

Even on a Sunday evening, chef Abdullah Kassama is busy frying fish fillets and tossing fries in a secret spice mix while delivery drivers wait for their orders. Opposite the kitchen hangs a big neon sign reading “El que corta el bacalao” – the one who cuts the cod – a Spanish saying used to indicate who’s the boss. In The Fish&Chips Shop, there are two bosses, the Alam brothers, Majid and Mani. 

For decades, Britons holidaying in Spanish coastal towns have been able to rely on tourist-minded establishments such as Ray’s Chippy in Benidorm and O’Neill’s in Mallorca for their taste of home, but not in Barcelona. This is what the Alam brothers discovered walking home from a club in 2014 with a hankering for the late-night staple they’d enjoyed in the UK and Australia. When they realised they couldn’t find fish and chips anywhere, they decided to fix the problem. Mani used his unemployment benefits and Majid sold his smart car and Brompton bike, and the brothers scraped together £21,400 to open Barcelona’s very first fish and chips shop in February 2015. 

“We wanted to show that Pakistanis don’t just open supermarkets and kebab joints, but that it’s possible to do something else. We wanted to challenge that stereotype,” Majid said. 

“And we both really like fish,” Mani added. 

The Alam family came to Barcelona from Lahore, Pakistan, in 1996, settling in Raval, a bustling neighbourhood where just over half of the residents are foreign, with Pakistanis accounting for 14.9%. All through the day, its streets are filled with people, the smells of various cultures’ cooking and children playing. 

This is where the Alam brothers grew up. When they left school, Mani started working as a bartender and Majid in a friend’s catering business where he picked up his kitchen skills. By 2015, when they spotted the fish and chips gap in Barcelona’s food scene, the brothers decided it was time to strike out on their own. 

“A lot of people didn’t have faith in the project. They thought [the food] was for tourists. About the name, they said: ‘No, that’s from the United Kingdom, it isn’t any good.’ But then they came and tried it, and saw that it was different,” Mani said. 

The brothers gave the dish their own Pakistan-inspired twist with batter made using cornflakes – which is how their mother makes fried chicken – and flour smoked in a wood-fired machine for a distinctive smoky taste. Their chips are flavoured with Pakistani spices and served with a sweet mango chutney. In the beginning, Majid would hand-cut all of the chips and fillet every fish in front of the customer. Just a month after opening, the shop was drawing long queues of customers. 

On an exceptionally cold and windy day in late December 2023, the only three indoor tables are busy but regular Jesus Sanchez Gil happily grabs a table outside. He’s been coming to The Fish&Chips Shop at least once a month for the past three years. “I don’t mind sacrificing a bit of comfort and eating outside even if it’s cold. The fish and chips are worth it,” he said.

Magid and Mani Fazal, owners of The Fish&Chips Shop chain in Barcelona, in one of their restaurants.
The Alam brothers scraped together £21,400 to open Barcelona’s very first fish and chips shop in 2015 – they now have a chain of five chippies and 16 restaurants in total. Photography for Hyphen by Nathan Siegel

Adam Jacques, a Briton who has lived in Barcelona since 2015, said he expected a more traditional chippy given the restaurant’s name but was happily surprised. “It’s a really nice twist,” he said.

Stefania Talento, who runs the food Instagram account IN and OUT Barcelona, said that thanks to The Fish&Chips Shop, she gave the dish – which had a reputation in Spain for being very greasy and not that tasty – another chance. “Their fish and chips are really crunchy and the [portion of] hake is very generous,” she said. “I like the place for a quiet Friday dinner when you want to grab a quick bite.”

After only a year in business, the brothers opened a second location in the affluent up-town neighbourhood Sarrià-Sant Gervasi. Now they have a chain of five, including one in Madrid. They didn’t stop there. In 2019, they opened Baby Jalebi – named after their mother – serving Punjabi street food, from classics such as butter chicken to more unusual dishes such as fried okra. In 2022, they opened Antonia’s burger and are in the process of opening a salad bar, an ice-cream shop, and a more up-scale Indian/Pakistani restaurant serving small sharing plates. 

“They’ve always been on top of new trends and what was missing in the city when it comes to gastronomy,” said their childhood friend Malik Fakiri. “They’re very creative and very good people. Once you get to know them it’s difficult not to be friends.”

The brothers now run 16 fashionable restaurants employing 100 people but are still deeply involved in every detail of their businesses. “It’s the best to work with my brother. I always say that he’s the intelligent brother, I’m the creative one,” said Majid. “He’s first of all my brother, then my friend, then my business partner.”

The Alams believe their success is largely a result of keeping their feet on the ground.  They’re hands-on when it comes to the renovation of each space, making sure costs don’t get out of hand, and they don’t give themselves 16 salaries just because they have as many places. “Instead of buying a car or a house, we open more spaces,” Majid said.

They admit they’ve had their fair share of failures. There were restaurants they had to close, such as the American-inspired Durango Diner with its space cowboy interior, but this is all part of the Alam strategy. “If a location isn’t working after a year, we either change the concept or sell it,” said Majid. “A lot of people have this fear of failure and explaining where they failed. Not us, we’re not afraid of that. In fact, I think it’s healthy.” It seems that for Barcelona, fish and chips is a concept that works. 

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