Much like George Orwell’s ‘Moon under the water’ there exists in my mind, the perfect fish and chip experience. In this imagined eatery the chips are served just to my liking (not straight out of the fryer but ‘rested’ like the Sunday joint), the fish is – forgive me – cod, and its batter shatters like glass at the application of the knife, the mushy peas must be neon in colour and the consistency of baby food. Finally the whole ensemble must be eased down the oesophagus with many a cup of strong tea.
Four months previously in mid October…
We’d gone to Suffolk for a short break before I took up the editorship of Lovefood.com. It’s an area I know and love, a shade over two hours from North London, and far enough to escape the capital’s gravitational pull. After a lovely weekend on our final day – a Monday take note – we had a mooch around Snape Maltings and headed into Aldeburgh for a nose round the bookshops culminating in a plan to finish with fish and chips on the seafront.
We pulled into Aldeburgh just after 12:30, and noting the short queue at the Golden Galleon and thought, ‘we’ll come back in a bit’. Somewhere along that long high street time and space stretched so that by the time I looked at my watch, it was 2:05pm. The chippy closed at 2pm. A frantic 200m dash pushing a buggy ended in the ignominy of the ‘closed’ sign. Inside the scrub down was taking place, and as someone who once worked in a chip shop for a summer in his youth, I knew my cause was lost. There then followed a sprint around Aldeburgh to see if anywhere was still serving fish and chips, they weren’t.
My lovely wife, trying to make a bad situation good, popped into Lawson’s deli and bought typical deli fayre. Thus I was to be found, sat on a seafront bench in a cold October, eating cold stuffed vine leaves amongst other things instead of having my face warmed by the hot saline steam of a bag of chips. Food does have a time and a place, a terroir if you must, and the food of the out-of-season seaside town in Britain is fish and chips. I’m fully prepared to admit that what followed was a petulant ‘food sulk’ of epic proportions.
The here and now…
7am, Monday 20th February, and I’m all ready talking about ‘operation Aldeburgh’. This time there will be no mistakes, no shopping trips, no tarrying in bookshops. The ‘mission’ will not ‘creep’, there is but one objective. We pull up in Aldeburgh at 9:45am, in February it’s even colder than October and the town is snell. The municipal pond is covered with a film of ice, and the wind would I’m sure do the same to your eyeballs if you looked out to sea long enough. We explore the town tentatively: charity shops, coffee shop, bookshops, off licence, but I’m donstantly checking the time on my phone every 10minutes, but I’m worried.
The Golden Galleon
Like nearly every restaurant and eatery these days there are so many mixed reviews online for the Golden Galleon as to make imagining any experience there meaningless. The decision is whether to get a take away and go for the bench on the beach option, or to eat in the small 20ish cover restaurant above the chippy. There’s an added complication, a sign on the door reads ‘no children under 3, no pushchairs’, my daughter’s two and a half. Indeed this rule has caused much chagrin, with complaints vented online. Rules, my mother-in-law is apt to say, are for ‘little people’, so we press on. To be fare though I can see why the do it. The upstairs restaurant is tiny, and accessed by a narrow staircase, if the parents of little Oscar tried to get his 4×4 bugaboo in there, they’d have to take out a table. The loos are too small to fit any baby changing facilities, consequently the place just isn’t set up for babies.
Having locked the pushchair to the lamppost outside, we head upstairs. What follows is as closed to my ideal fish and chip experience as it’s possible to get. Firstly we’re welcomed with a big hello – how are you? From the nice lady running the room. She follows this up with ‘I’ve got a couple of cushions if your daughter would like to be a bit higher’. The lady – I never did ask her name – and I chat some more, she’s warmed-hearted and pleasant, with that sort of ephemeral affability that only comes from years – nine she tells me – experience on the job. We order, and the food arrives promptly; well cooked and well rested but not soggy chips, a big chunk of cod with ‘shatter batter’, lurid green peas, and tea. I fall upon it like a wolf on the fold.
Clearly some people have found issue with the Golden Galleon, and its sister restaurant, but then some people find issue with Le Gavroche. Your experience may vary as people are apt to say. But as someone who knows a well-done, beef-dripping-fried-chip when he eats one, these were great. The fish was also grand; light, crunchy batter and large juicy flakes of white flesh. Indeed the whole experience was a triumph, so much so I passed on their puddings, purely so I could enjoy the taste for the rest of the afternoon whenever I burped or hiccupped