When looking for places to eat out, fish and chips might not necessarily spring to mind. Chippy tea is the stuff of hangovers, traccy bottoms (or at least any form of other expandable waist-lined trousers) and no plates. Whether you prefer cod or haddock, mushy peas or curry sauce, it’s a ‘keep on eating until you moan’ kind of meal, without any airs and graces or, sometimes in my case, cutlery.
You could say it’s the stuff of gluttonous dreams though I know many will argue that technically fish and chips is no more unhealthy than various other takeaways. Perhaps it’s the portion sizes – one of the beauty of chip shop meals is the fact that most chippy’s version of ‘small’ is about as accurate a description as saying Donald Trump is a nice guy.
It’s for all of these reasons that fish and chips is great. And probably not the meal of choice when going out to eat all dressed up in your figure-hugging finery. Yet when we were deciding what to eat on a recent trip to my brother’s (him of breakfast pizza fame), we decided to opt for something a bit different and try The Scallop Shell. A cut above your average chippy, it had been recommended to him and reviews promised good things.
The restaurant has that industrial look that works so well these days – bare bulbs and loose cabling, wood and metal furniture. But there’s a touch of the traditional courtesy of the big bath packed full of fresh fish just waiting for the fryers, which lie just behind.
Don’t worry, it’s not just an average chip shop, with the option to have your seafood grilled as well as options like shellfish platters and other fish dishes. I like the way the menu includes where various fish hails from, whether it’s crab and oyster from Weymouth Bay or mussels from St Austell Bay. I also like the way bread and butter arrives automatically, served exactly as you’d have it at home ready for a chip butty, with no airs and graces.
We started with a selection of starters. Diver caught scallops with garlic butter were fresh and cooked just right, served up in the shells. The mussels were another classic, with garlic, shallot and parsley. I personally prefer them this way without bucketloads of cream like you get elsewhere.
Fish goujons with aioli were a little teaser of what was to come for main course – fresh flaky fish inside and crispy, light batter outside. I didn’t try the squid and it’s not the most appealing squid dish I’ve ever been served, though the toast was rather lovely once it had sucked up all the garlicky juices and held them like a sponge.
As nice as the starters were, it was the main event we were all excited for. Some of us tried cod, others haddock. Both came with chips and tartare sauce, and we ordered a side of mushy peas and one of curry sauce just in case.
It was exactly as fish and chips should be – without the downside that comes with having them wrapped up in the chippy and transported home, rendering the chips soggy and the batter stuck to the paper.
Instead the batter was crispy and fresh, the fish tasty inside. The chips were cooked perfectly and the tartare sauce a balance of creaminess combined with piquant capers and crunchy pickle.
The mushy peas were as they should be (in my view anyway) – dark green without any weird fluorescent colours – though the curry sauce was the weakest part of the meal, tasting more like a jar of supermarket Indian curry cooking sauce than the trademark taste of chip shop curry sauce.
The Scallop Shell is licensed, so you can treat it like any other restaurant and have yourself a few drinks with your meal. Its wide appeal is reflected in the diners who were there when we were – everyone from families to couples and groups of adults.
Okay, so it’s not doing anything particularly ground-breaking. And in a place like Bath, there’s probably more exciting cuisine on offer than the classic Friday night treat. But my brother hit the nail on the head with his description of it as ‘simple food done well’. There’s a reason why people still queue out of the door of chip shops around the land on a Friday night, and that’s because it’s a classic combination that just works.
Dress that up a bit, add nice decor, go big on provenance and add a wine and beer list and you’ve got a winner. I might not go rushing back immediately, with so much else on offer in Bath and beyond. But for one of those nights when you want comfort food in slightly nicer surroundings, and a classic British dish done well, The Scallop Shell will do you proud.
We paid in full at The Scallop Shell. They didn’t know I was a blogger.