Sunday, 31 May 2009
Yesterday was a spectacular day here in the Southeast of England. The sun was shining, the temperature got up into the double digits, and we did what any self respecting Brit would do that lives within driving distance of the coast. We hopped into the car, and headed down to Eastbourne, where the cooling sea breeze called to us from afar. We always park at the very edge of the seafront, where the parking is free, and then we spend the whole day walking the whole length of it, some 1 1/2 miles up . . . and another 1 1/2 miles back. It's great exercise, and somehow helps to justify the calorie splurge of a tasty seaside treat of fish and chips.
I mean . . . what's the point of going to the seaside and not eating in fish and chips??? It's just not British not to indulge! It's a crime against our nature or something!
Every other time we have gone down there, we have treated ourselves to fish and chips on the pier. Sadly, each time we have been disappointed . . . greasy and expensive, they always left us wanting. Actually, since moving down here from Chester, we have always been hugely disappointed in the fish and chips on offer locally, and at the coast. Somehow they have never quite come up to the standard we were pretty much used to.
This time, we decided to phone my friend Jo, who pretty much grew up in this area. She and her husband live in Broadstairs now, but when they did live here, they often took themselves down to Eastbourne for some fish and chips. I knew that if anyone had knowledge of where to find the best . . . she did. Sure enough, a quick text later, and an even quicker text back from her, gave us exact directions to what she claimed were the best.
Yes, that's Harry Ramsden's Fish and Chips, right on the corner of Terminus Road and the main sea front road, just down a bit and across from the pier. Claiming to have the best fish and chips in the world, we decided to give them a try.
Here's what they say on their menu:
"When it comes to fish & chips, Harry’s are true aficionados. Our fish is expertly prepared in our kitchens daily and coated with our unique secret recipe batter to guarantee that distinctive Harry Ramsden’s flavour - a flavour that’s revered the world over. Whichever fish you choose, it will be served gloriously golden, consistently light and perfectly crisp every time... or we’re not the world famous Harry Ramsden’s!"
I don't know about you, but I think that's an awful lot to live up to. We managed to get in before the huge lunch time queue started, right at 12 noon bang on, and pretty much had our choice of seating. It wasn't long after we sat down though that the place really began to fill up. I looked at Todd and boasted about our luck at having gotten in there early.
Wide and spacious and clean, there was also an area outside for eating, but we chose to sit indoors as I didn't really fancy fighting off the gulls. (Trust me when I say that gulls at seasides can be very bold and audacious. One swooped down and stole the fish right out of my American friend Eliza's hand once!)
The menu had on offer a variety of starters, including soup, prawns and mushrooms and there were several varieties of fish for mains . . . cod, haddock, scampi, plaice, prawns, and a selection of whiting coley or pollack. (Depending on what was available on any given day) There were also burgers, sausage and chicken for those who are squeamish about fish. We weren't interested in any of those, however. We were there for the fish, and absolutely the cod!!
Our waitress was very attentive and helpful and I can say with all honesty it was not even a 10 minute wait and our meal was sitting before us. Crispy battered cod, with hand cut chips, tartar sauce, mushy peas (how can you not have mushy peas??) and plates of buttered bread. One thing that was a real plus for me was that the skin had been removed from the fish before frying. Skin on battered fish has always grossed me out and, in my opinion, renders at least half of the batter inedible and a waste no matter how you cut it. I have found that 99% of the time down here in the Southeast, they leave the skin on the fish, which is a big let down for me.
The batter on the cod was crisp and light, and not greasy in the least. The fish inside was flaky, moist and perfectly cooked. The chips were not the best I've ever had, but neither were they the worst. They were not greasy either, which was a bonus. The mushy peas were great, the tartar sauce . . . so so . . . my homemade is much better, but then again, you would expect that with homemade. All in all, we were quite pleased with our meal. Was it the best in the world? I think that's a tall order for anyone to meet, but it was quite good, and certainly one of the better ones we have had down here. Would I go again? Most probably. Am I still on the search for GREAT fish and chips? Absolutely.
A meal for two, including drinks and a regular order of cod and chips, including mushy peas, and bread and butter came to £20.20. Not cheap by a long stretch, but quite satisfying and well worth the 3 mile walk.
Here's my own recipe for tartar sauce. This is what I used to make when I started off my career as a pastry chef in a big hotel back home in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia where I come from originally. I defy any store bought or restaurant sauce to come up to it's standard!
*Marie's Tartar Sauce*
Makes approx 4 servings
Once you taste this you'll never eat tartar sauce from a squeeze bottle or jar again. This is the best.
1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
2 TBS finely chopped cornichons
1 TBS prepared horseradish
2 TBS coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
6 TBS good quality mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, mixing well together. Serve with fish. If not using right away, cover and chill in the refrigerator. I always like to make this a few hours ahead of time in order for the flavours to really meld well together.
On a side note . . . what would fish and chips and bread and butter be without having the added treat of a chip buttie. Yes, buttered bread stogged full of hot chips that have been sprinkled with salt and malt vinegar, the heat from the chips melting the butter all around the chips and rendering it all most delicious. A treat from the North West, perhaps an acquired taste, but scrumptious nonetheless.
Don't forget to come back tomorrow for my grand opening of An English Kitchen. There will be lots on offer including a lovely giveway. And Angie? The followers list is in the far left hand column!!