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Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 ends on a high

“Let’s find a chippie where we can sit down.”

Thus spake Professional Bleeder, urging her aged parents to overturn the myth that Brits may only eat fish-and-chips on the move and out of rolled-up newspaper. As it happened, Hereford, rarely to the fore in anything (incest, simony, coprophagia, even book-reading, have all been civically tried and discarded), had something new to offer. Those hysterical contributors to TripAdvisor were of one voice: Edwards Plaice (definitely no apostrophe) on Grandstand Road was THE place.

The menu was esoteric - listed among the Extras was vinegar at £1.10. Other prices were modest: were they really charging a quid for a sprinkle of Sarson’s? No, that sum bought a whole bottle. New to me; PB insists it’s a tradition.

For me the batter on cod properly deep-fried should be three-dimensional, standing away from the fishy flesh in a thick structure built up from layers of large crusty cells. Edward clearly knew his batter.

Conversely the chips must be limp and flavoury, ideally done in low-boiling-point dripping. They should encourage me to eat them with my fingers; a fork would ruin the tactile experience. Greatly daring I ordered a pickled egg.

To drink, a 500 ml bottle of Butty Bach premium beer by the South Wye Brewery, my preferred libation from the pub pump. Since the bottled version didn’t differ one iota from the draught, I was a contented gorger.

The bill for three came to £27 and change. PB, equally contented, and whose treat this was, dropped £35 on the saucer and waved away the difference. The staff were astounded, perhaps even slightly appalled. But in shrunken, mean-spirited and inward looking Britain one grabs at contentment where one can.


  1. Your descriptive powers of fried fish had me drooling, RR. I would, however, prefer my chips crisply done (as per the famous German U-boat captain, played so well by Philip Madoc,in Dad's Army). If using the fingers (traditional) they should stand proud and erect, not flop from side to side. Edwards Plaice (the lack of apostrophe noted) sounds like a good example of a fried fish emporium. I, too, am a connoisseur and they can go from awful (the many) to exquisite (the very few).
    Fortunately a local one (Skippers, run and owned by Cypriots) is very much at the positive end of the spectrum and a quick phone call will have my takeaway order waiting for me, packed in stiff boxes, with a cheery greeting, by name.
    If we want a change and a half hour drive then probably the best such in East Kent sits on the shore near Dungeness, constructed from the timbers of wrecked ships. "The Pilot" is so popular it has its own brown Heritage direction signs and I recommend their beer-battered cod, so large that its ends are off the plate.
    As to an accompanying tipple, in winter I prefer hot tea, but warmer weather finds me heading for the Guinness (emphatically non-chilled).

  2. Your batter description defines perfection. After that the most important factor for me is for the fish to be skinned - that is the tradition in the West Riding, but not so often followed elsewhere. With the skin on you either eat it, experiencing a strong fishy taste and undesired texture contrasting with the with subtle taste and succulence of the proper fish, or you leave it and loose half that scrunchy batter.

  3. Avus: Ah yes, that familiar Metrocentric misconception whereby manliness is confused with gustatory pleasure. Firmness in a phallus is to be desired; firmness in a chip drives out flavour (Perfectly acceptable if flavour isn't the priority but then a birch twig is even firmer so why not chew on that?)

    You know me well enough to recognise I am not prone to sing the delights of the West Riding; that I was keen to get out ASAP. But there is no doubt in my mind that West Riding chips, fried in dripping in ancient times, were hugely superior. Nor do you need to take my word for it. Before the company was overwhelmed by a folie de grandeur to expand and even to franchise (there's even an outlet at Heathrow, for God's sake) Harry Ramsden's of Guiseley, between Bradford and Leeds, drew customers from a huge radius at a time when people didn't jump into their cars as eagerly as they do now. At Bank Holidays queues encircled their extensive premises

    Eventually they were paid the ultimate tribute by my father, both a wine and food snob, though well-informed about both. Refusing the tea and the slices of b&b he ordered cod and chips and asked for a cork-screw. Then proceeded to open a bottle of white burgundy which he'd brought with him and which was subsequently drunk from knobbly glasses typical of cheap cafes. An employee was hurriedly despatched to the nearby police station to check whether this was legal. It was and thus was Harry Ramsden's reputation - already expansive at the time - further enlarged.

    The chips were limp, appealing only to the palate and not to the genitals. I rest my case.

    Sir Hugh: You must opt for the latter. Fish with skin removed would probably disintegrate during the frying. I hope you visit us soon. I have already checked out father's policy (see my comment to Avus) with Edwardes Plaice and they are doubtful. Even so, the beer is an excellent alternative.

    There is, of course, tea...

  4. Ah, yes. I had forgotten Harry Ramsden's. We called in there a couple of times when caravanning in the Ridings. Good grub and the chips were OK, too.

    I have never stroked my genitals with a chip. limp or otherwise, but they do say you should try everything at least once in life, except incest and folk dancing.

  5. That made me a little hungry only because I just finished a big cheese omelet for breakfast. Off to (probably) change out a thermostat in the church tractor. Zero experience, but several hours of Google and YouTube research. And it's cold. And it's NYE so will a stat be available for purchase? Thanks for a good start.

  6. I really do like French fish and chips, not least because they have embraced them and admitted to a British food tradition worth eating, call them by their English name and don't bugger about with them too much, the batter is usually good and the chips large and soft, I approve of the generous amounts of tartar sauce and am only amused not offended by the puréed petits pois as an approximation of mushy peas. But there's nothing like the real thing, I had some lovely ones from Stansted village when I was over, haddock, which they always fry freshly. So good.

    All the very best for the New Year to you and yours!

  7. O! I also had fish 'n chips for lunch yesterday. Alas, I had to order them as take-out since I was sitting with the handsome hairy dudes, whose owners are coming back to town today. By the time I opened the bag, the battered icelandic cod wasn't as crispy as I like, but the three-dimensional coating was still satisfying. The tarter sauce was housemade and chunky (delicious), but the fries were "steak fries" as the Midwesterners like them. I'd rather have had thin, crispy fries and some malt vinegar to squirt over them. But it was a good lunch with a bottle of local lager.

    Prosit Neujahr 2017 to you and your entire family, lieber Robbie!

  8. In Rome, we had a memorable meal of fried fish and seafood, plus some sort of potato balls, all delicious but no more so than properly battered English fish & chips. However, limp doesn't make it, to my American palate: my fries need to be crisp, slightly crunchy outside and soft within. Personal preference entirely.

  9. All: I knew I'd have difficulty selling the limp chip if I labelled it as such. Especially since the fashion in chips (other than in British fish-and-chip shops) has been much influenced by mega-chefs Gordon Ramsay and/or Heston Blumenthal and the "thrice-fried chip" which in some cases takes twenty-four hours to prepare.

    In fact I quite enjoy this luxury chip but but the comparison is not like with like. The hard chip (typically served at MacDonalds) is sold mainly as a consistency, the limp chip (served at most British chippies) majors on taste. Both are bad for eaters although I have the feeling that the limp chip is the more inimical to health. A diet of chips would no doubt lead to a complexion that resembled unrisen dough but then all food other than that peculiar dark green and leathery form of lettuce and tofu is a risk and meals should always aspire to some sort of celebration; human beings are after all rather more than nutritional processing engines.

    Avus: The problem with incest is that its practitioners wisely remain quiet about its attractions; no doubt Morris Dancers are willing to proselytise but few care to listen.

    MikeM: When inhabitants of North America (See, I've taken your advice not to say "Americans" casually) use the adjective "big" most Europeans get nervous. In US restaurants, and especially diners, they find "normal" meals gigantesque. So what on earth can a "big" omelette be?

    Here's a UK guideline. Many years ago I was cycling home and saw a chalkboard sign: "Polish eggs, 1s 10p a dozen." This was pre-metric currency; in modern parlance it represents a coin one would barely be tempted to pick up from the shopfloor. I bought a dozen and asked VR to make me a dozen-egg omelette. Middle-class restraint prevented her from responding to this request but she did allow me an 11-egg omelette. The eggs were small and the omelette, which came in two halves because of pan size, was quickly consumed. I doubt you'd have called it "big". So what is big?

    Lucy: I'm delighted that French chips are "large and soft". You see here the difficulty I'm having publicising the "limp chip", especially since I've chosen to call a spade a spade. I also sympathise with the French in their inability to go that further centimeter and embrace mushy peas; I must confess they are among my guilty pleasures, since it's impossible to believe they have any nutritional value whatsoever. You and VR share each other's preferences; at Edwards Plaice VR ordered haddock and its goodness encouraged her to eat it all. But she finally baulked at the half-stone of chips.

  10. No, it has long been recognised that large soggy chips are healthier than the perkier French fry, on account of the surface area to volume ratio as well as the method of cooking, they absorb considerable less fat and in a healthier form. One of those things, counter-intuitive to self-flagellating puritans, like dishwashers being far more ecologically sound than washing up by hand, and good news all round!

  11. Lucy: I seem to remember this technoid defence, but couldn't trace it back to a reliable source. Assuming it's true it does subtract some of the relish in ordering f&c which I feel is cognate with going rock-climbing - ie, putting oneself in harm's way. As to the washing machine we have one but I fear it represents an area of marital friction. Worth a post on its own.

  12. Had some chips made by a friend from Britain that I liked quite well that seem a combination of those two ways of thinking about them. The potatoes were first boiled and chilled (like Rösti) and then fried. (Just once!) Big shards of potato, very crisp and a little spicy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside. Memorable.

  13. Marly: Ah, you say only once-fried but those were surely thrice-fried chips, a revelation put about by Gordon Ramsay and/or Heston Blumenthal. A delicate carapace forms round the chip, turning it into a luxury item. VR does them occasionally. One disadvantage - they can take 24 hours to prepare and cook.

  14. Well, some of the great things to eat take a long time to prepare. Still thinking about waiting 3 days for Michael's croissants to be done. (And those chips were worth a trip to Ohio, which is saying quite a lot.)