The fish and chip diaries

I’ve been messing about with my wordpress sites and I tried to change the theme on one of them – something experimental I started last year reviewing the (many) fish and chip meals I’d had. Well the themes switch ended up effectively destroying the site but fortunately I didn’t lose the blog entries themselves. As there weren’t actually too many of them (my enthusiasm wavered once Autumn set in) I’ve copied them across here. Enjoy.

The Sun Inn, Bassenthwaite Village, Saturday 3rd August 2019

7 out of 10

This is a long overdue first entry into the Fish and Chip Diaries, a project I’ve been mulling over for a year or two. Because fish and chips has always been my default option for pub food, and I’ve always got something to say about it. Chips too big, too small, too sparse, just right, not chips at all but (gasp) ‘fries’, fish too small, batter too soft, batter nice and crispy, cod as big as a whale. And so on. Don’t get me started on mushy peas (because I’ll be started soon enough anyway). Or, for that matter, tartar sauce (WTF the actual F is that? And more to the pointy, why?)

Right at the outset I should make it clear that fish and chips is the default choice for this blog because decent pies are so very rarely available (I’m from Yorkshire and pies are therefore a necessary part of life). And, mindful that there may be Americans reading this, a pie is not a pizza, it’s a pastry thing stuffed with meat or something else savoury (unless it’s pudding, but that’s another whole conversation). So from time to time I reserve the right to veer off into The Pie Chronicles (though chips will feature large there too, probably).

So what should the perfect fish and chips look like? Well to get ten out of ten it needs to include a massive slab of fish (traditionally cod, but I’m up for more sustainable choices) covered in beer batter (makes it tasty and crispy) and cooked just right. Pubs are pretty good at that, chip shops very poor because they tend to keep the fish hanging around getting all overcooked. Chips should be golden, fat and plentiful (triple cooked is good). Chippies generally do great chips but pubs tend to experiment (what the hell is a ‘sweet potato fry’ and why would anyone think they’d be a good accompaniment to anything, let alone a great big hunk of cod?). Back in the up North of my (sadly distant) childhood memories they were always cooked in lard, unlike the inferior Southern versions which were lathered in vegetable oil or axle grease or something equally noxious. But times have changed, and my arteries (nor my conscience) would have a hard time with lard (do they still have lard butties in the sandwich shops in Sheffield?), so vegetable fat is fine. Mushy peas? Of course, but remember the salt. Slice of lemon? Scratches head.

Which brings me to the Sun Inn in the small Lakeland village of Bassenthwaite. We’re close by here on holiday, the Partner in Crime, the Hound and me, so, first day into a potentially rain-sodden holiday we took advantage of the novelty and a rare break in the clouds to check out the local pub, half an hour down a series of narrow country tracks. Bassenthwaite’s more functional than picture-postcard but it’s suitably isolated and the pub serves the local beer, Jennings, which is worth a trip all by itself. Now obviously, being a more or less essential accompaniment to pub food (if you’re someone who likes it), beer will feature heavily in these columns, too, and The Sun Inn didn’t disappoint. Now Jennings is what I’d affectionately call Old Man’s Beer but the PiC had a pint of San Miguel and apparently that was fine too, if you like that sort of thing. We ate outside, more out of hope than anything, given the likelihood of rain, but for once hope triumphed.

Friendly staff, quick service and there it was, massive piece of fish in beer-batter cooked to perfection, accompanied by mushy peas (none of your pointless ‘garden peas’ even offered, which is a big plus in my eyes) and a small smattering of chips (which is a massive minus), plus a pointless lemon wedge. Enjoyed it, but what the hell happened to the rest of the chips? The PiC had something vegetarian that tasted like pepper spray and we bought the Hound off with something long, chickeny and chewy. All in all not bad, but they lose marks for the lack of chips and since the bill came in the wrong side of the Contactless limit (£30, or around $35) they’re not quite there in value for money. Still it is the Lake District and, despite trying to look as cool as possible in designer shades and all black clobber, we are tourists so happily sucked it up and paid with a smile. 7/10 (and remember the chips next time, please).

The Churchill Inn, Ambleside. Tuesday 6th August 2019

It’s the Lake District so, inevitably, on Tuesday it rained. Buckets. So instead of a long walk up Scafell Pike (yeah, like that was actually going to happen) we walked around tourist-packed Ambleside in our kagoules, hiding from the showers in various overpriced and underequipped mountain gear shops. Ambleside really only exists these days for tourists (it seems) and tourists inevitably means fish and chips. Before we get to that though, where were the Americans? Or for that matter anyone anyone not from south of Derby? I’m used to London and Paris and Rome and other places where you can’t walk down a street without hearing American accents so it’s a bit of a shock to only encounter Liverpudlians and Glaswegians. I know the Lakes is five or six hours from Heathrow on scruffy motorways with seemingly permanent roadworks but it’s worth it, it really is, apart from when it’s raining.

But is it worth it for the fish and chips, that’s the question? On this evidence, further research is needed. The Churchill Inn wasn’t my choice, though it’s a perfectly acceptable old style British pub which like most of the others these days since the smoking ban has become some sort of pseudo diner with added fruit machines. We were there because The Hound decided that was where we HAD to go. One sniff of all that real ale maltiness and we were dragged through the door, Now the Hound is a cocker spaniel and last time we weighed him he came in at 17 kilos, which is only marginally above the derisory luggage allowance on Ryanair these days, but when he wants to go somewhere having your arm yanked out of its socket is a distinct possibility.

So we gave in. Friendly staff, good beer (Wainwrights, which at least sounds local) and a pleasant if touristy atmosphere, fast and efficient service and mushy peas. Now we’re only two entries in and you’ll have sussed by now that good mushy peas is a bit of a quality benchmark on my quest for the perfect fish and chips, but unfortunately the Churchill let itself down by giving me something that was closer to mushy pea soup rather than the somewhat firmer product I’d anticipated. Fortunately, it tasted better than it looked. Chips were not bad and plentiful enough, though they did have the feel of straight out of the packet about them. The fish was a bit disappointing – enough of it (though in two bits) but it was slightly overcooked and didn’t taste of much. All was accompanied by an unnecessary pot of tartar sauce (why? why?), the ubiquitous lemon wedge (why? why?) and some random bit of green something that sat looking forlorn at the side of the plate wondering what it was doing there. The PoC had a tuna sandwich with salad and crisps which was nice, apparently (though she did wonder why bread in tuna sandwiches always seemed a bit stale. She was of the opinion that it was all about the tuna imbuing staleness on the rest of the plate. I’m way more cynical). PoC wondered why there was a picture of Churchill on the wall, which was amusing given the name of the pub (but does beg the question – why is it called the Churchill Inn?).

It wasn’t raining in the pub and the beer was good, all of which redeemed things to a solidly satisfactory score of 6/10.


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