I returned to Southend with my own wife and son to mark National Chip Week (a lame marketing wheeze, but a good excuse). I did not expect to find anything as splendid as those meals of memory, but The Fisherman's Wharf came close.
It was perched on a hill by the pier, overlooking boats marooned on the mudflats at low tide. The walls were glass from floor to ceiling, so that weak winter sunshine filled the room. It looked like an upmarket transport caff, with the addition of a chiller cabinet full of fresh fish and a swordfish leaping over entrance to the kitchen. One-year-old Jake flirted endlessly with the waitresses, who were friendly ladies of a certain age. They took good care of him, and us.
The gaffer was Terry Tibble, whose father ran a fish shop in the days when Southend still had trawlers. The best fish now had to be bought in, which was sad, but meant the menu could be diverse, offering mussels, calamari and red snapper. For Valentine's Day it suggested grilled oysters and trout with thyme. But we knew what we had come for, and it was honoured with capital letters: Traditional Fish & Chips.
The batter on my haddock was light and crunchy, not overcooked, and the meaty fish inside was perfect. It more than made up for the chips, which were slightly underdone and powdery. They came with sweet mushy peas in a little metal dish. Limp slices of factory white bread meanly spread with marge were not at all what I had in mind - you'd expect a place with such pretensions to know better.
The wine list recommended champagne with fine fish, but it also wanted pounds 18.95 for an ordinary claret, so we had tea instead. And to follow, what else but knickerbocker glory? With two ice-cream desserts, two main courses and a couple of side dishes, it came to about pounds 25. Afterwards, we lingered on the seafront at sunset, walking it all off.
The Fisherman's Wharf, Western Esplanade, Southend-on-Sea, Essex (01702 346773)
Upper Street Fish Shop 324 Upper St, Islington, London N1 (0171-359 1401). Cod & chips pounds 8.50
(original branch) Larwood House, White Cross, Guiseley, Leeds (01943 874641). Large cod & chips pounds 6.60
22-23a Baker St, Brighton (01273 681256). Cod & chips pounds 4.60Reuse content