Friday, 27 September 2013

The great scampi and chips robbery

No colour manipulation – just pale food
Ok: how hard can it be? How difficult is it to make fish and chips that are halfway decent?

Today was one of those days when I required a somewhat more substantial lunch than usual so, after a week in which I’ve been disciplined enough to bring fodder in to work, I set out in search of somewhere to go and eat.

Now let’s be frank. I haven’t eaten at the North Sea Fish Restaurant for some time – well, at least three years.

I am well aware that it is far from stunning, but it usually manages to be adequate, particularly when judged within the context of the apparent inability to make decent fish and chips 'darn sarf'.

Today, I went along there because I also had a lunchtime errant to run, to a business that was just a couple of doors further along the road, so fish and chips made perfect sense.

I ordered my old usual of the Scotch scampi, not least because the fish is usually so vast that it threatens to drop off the plate, which in turn means that it’s way too big a portion for me.

So, scampi and chips, with mushy peas and a diet Coke.

I also appreciate that the scampi will have come out of the freezer, as will the chips.

In other words, I’m not expecting an haute cuisine experience.

The restaurant boasts about its homemade tartare sauce. Frankly, it would better if they invested in a machine that cut proper chips, because the ones that arrived for me were dire.

Pale, little more than lukewarm and almost rock solid. Or pretty much inedible, as it might otherwise be known. They could hardly be further from a real, proper chip.

The first few scampi were as pale, but tasted okay, but rapidly descended into the rather chewy state.

The mushy peas, having presumably come out of a tin and been warmed in the microwave, was the warmest part of the meal, while the Coke was barely cold, even with ice in the glass.

The tartare sauce is decent, but it does not compensate for everything else.

And why, oh why, go to the bother of making tartare sauce if you can’t be arsed with making much effort with anything else?

For goodness sake, it’s not difficult.

You cut chips to about the size of a thumb and soak them in water for a bit. Dry them off and then fry them twice in something decent, like dripping.

Which is cheap, natural, cooks at a high temperature without burning and becoming carcinogenic, gives a great colour to chips – and battered fish – and a good taste too.

'Once you've eaten here, you'll the English even madder'
It’s all very well saying that I didn’t expect much, but this was worse than memory had led me to expect.

And nor was it cheap, rolling in for that luxury nosh up at a grand total of £15.85. Yes: you read that right. For frozen chips and scampi, mushy peas and a soft drink.

There was no point in complaining – and I really didn’t have time – but it was also clear that increasingly, the place is marketing itself to tourists.

The rather scuffed table mats, which have changed since my last visit, make a point of explaining cod to visiting furriners, as well as noting that it is used in traditional fish and chips, with "chunky chips" and mushy peas. I leave you to look at the picture at the top of this post and say whether those chips are "chunky" or not.

Two pairs of tourists were there when I was. It used to be quite busy on a Friday lunchtime, but it wasn’t even half full today. I wonder if some of the old regulars – local workers – are now staying away?

Mind, the two staff on duty – neither of them young – didn't seem particularly interested.

I found myself dreading to imagine what those visitors thought of something that was being sold to them as indicative of our culinary heritage.

Now in fairness to the restaurant, a work acquaintance was entering as I left, and later reported that her scampi and chips was enjoyable. So perhaps I was particularly unlucky.

Fish and chips (or scampi and chips), done properly, is a thing of great joy. It’s not complex. It doesn't take long to prepare; it's quick to cook.

But this, I’m afraid, wasn’t even halfway decent, and at nearly 16 quid, it’s not out of order to expect basic decency on your plate.


  1. Those chips look like they are on loan from the British Museum.

    1. I think you've unearthed the perfect description!