Editor Georgette McCready devours a plate of (possibly) the best chips she’s had in a long while…
It’s often said that fish and chips taste best when eaten at the seaside. Which is not ideal for land-locked Bathonians. But the good news is that you can eat officially the best fish and chips in the country right here in the city.
Thanks to chef Garry Rosser and his hard working team, The Scallop Shell restaurant in Monmouth Street has recently won the accolade of best independent fish and chip restaurant of the year in the annual National Fish and Chip awards. And in true investigative journalist style, we went along on a fact-finding mission.
The bad news is that you can’t book a table. The good news is that you can have a drink in The New Inn next door and someone will come and get you when a table comes free – you can even carry your drink round with you.
The restaurant and takeaway have only been open a year but they’re well established on the foodie scene in Bath.
On a Thursday night the place was packed with a mix of clientele, from couples to families with children. On one side of us a pair of women were toasting each other with an elegant glass of fizz, while on the other two men were discussing their partners while tucking into a plate of steaming hot mussels.
Garry used to work as a chef with Mitch Tonks’ acclaimed Fish Works back in the day. He then gained a reputation for great fish and chips when he opened The Scallop Shell out at White Row farm shop in Beckington, before moving his business to Bath last year.
If you’re used to the average chippie with its wipe-down Formica tables and squeezy ketchup tomatoes, The Scallop Shell comes as a pleasant surprise, with its beachcomber decor and centrepiece, the much photographed Victorian cast iron bath piled high with ice and the catch of the day.
To order, you simply fill in a simple ticksheet on the menu and hand it in at the counter. This gives your party time to dither over their choices and reassures all that their order has been submitted accurately. It’s a nice, clean, to-the-point menu. Starters are £5, main courses range from £9.50 to £14.95 and puddings are £4.95. A light and fruity bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, served in a proper ice bucket, thoroughly chilled (hurrah!) was £20. The drinks menu also includes local Honey’s Midford cider and Butcombe beers as well as the excellent Fentimans range of soft drinks.
I like the contrast between being able to order a classic cod and chips, with mushy peas as a side, or going for something a little more refined, such as a simply grilled fish.
We started by sharing two plates, one of unbattered squid rings, delicately and subtly flavoured with garlic, chilli and coriander, the other a pair of plump scallops in garlic butter. Both were beautiful and we agreed the squid was a stand-out dish.
John’s main course of cod was cooked in a perfectly light, crispy batter and my whole lemon sole was fresh-as-you-like and cooked just-so. The creamy flesh simply fell off the bone and I ate every morsel. I can assure you that fish did not die in vain.
I have to single out the chips for special mention. Recently I have become disillusioned by the great British chip, which all too often is either served lukewarm and limp or in regimented triple-cooked Jenga brick style, bland and characterless.
The Scallop Shell chips, by contrast, are a triumph. They’re all differently shaped, giving a contrast of crispy and fluffy on the inside. They were also served hot, hot, hot. A good chip should look – and taste – so delicious that you’re willing to risk burning your mouth to get stuck in. And, believe me, these were.
A serving of The Scallop Shell’s own tartare sauce was good for the old chip’n’dip. And that tomato sauce, served in a neat glass bottle, was tasty too. Was it made on the premises, we asked our waitress? No, it’s good old Heinz, we were told, because that’s what the customer likes best.
All the fish served comes up from the coast daily each morning and the menu tells us where it’s from, whether that be Brixham, Looe, Weymouth Bay or the North Atlantic. If you are going with someone who can’t or won’t eat fish there are always a couple of fish-free items on the menu.
Old school fish and chip afficionados will be delighted to see curry sauce on the menu and to know that they can enjoy their traditional cup of strong breakfast tea on the side, while reading a copy of The Racing Post if they so wish.
We didn’t have puddings but they looked jolly good. There was a particularly pretty Knickerbocker Glory that went past that I had my beady eye on for another time.
22 Monmouth Street,
Bath BA1 2AY.
Tel: 01225 420928