Twitter is a wonderful thing. What's that? Well, yes, no good at all if you want to keep secrets – but brilliant if you want to share information. A quick blast asking for decent restaurants in North Devon sends me to Squires, a fish-and-chip restaurant I might never have stumbled upon – and even if I had driven past the modest frontage on a nondescript high-street, I doubt I'd have stopped. There's a picturesque pub just along the way which looks, on face value, more promising, but my Twitter source Emily was so vociferous in her praise for Squires that I feel I must try it. The fact that it's been going since 1969 is a big point in its favour – chippies seem to mature rather than decline.
I have the extended family in tow: we're having a 150th celebration for my father's 80th, my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and my 20th combined. There was a gala dinner the night before and, for Saturday lunch, everyone wants something simple, with hangover-curing properties. Fish and chips could work.
The implacable ladies staffing Squires put all nine of us – from 80 to eight months old – in a lovely corner booth big enough for us all to spread out but still have one big conversation (or mass pun marathon, as it happens, along the lines of "this seems like a nice plaice; do they fillet on a Friday night?; can you seafood in the kitchen" etc... but perhaps this is common to all family get-togethers). It's a light, airy room with pale wood furniture and a few fishy themed artworks. From where I'm sitting, I can also see a signed photograph of John and Norma Major from when they visited. Squires is big on testimonials – on its website and menu come ringing endorsements from an eclectic mix, including artist Damien Hirst, Strictly sparkle queen Camilla Dallerup and Rick Stein (who knows a thing or two about batter and vinegar).
There are no frills about the place – which is a sign of either confidence or naivety. If the food's not up to much, there's nothing to distract the punters. Luckily, the food at Squires is sublime.
I can't say that any one of us strayed from the "Fabulous Fish" section of the menu. It seems a bit daft to order a burger in a fish restaurant; just the idea makes me think of those high-street chicken/ burger/fish/kebab merchants (shudder). My ma, a coeliac sufferer, is thrilled that they offer poached fish with a variety of gluten-free sauces and my increasingly lanky children are delighted to have graduated from kids' menus to adult in the shape of a very sensible mini cod and chips, which is a small big portion, if you know what I mean.
Haddock – from a sustainably fished array – is plump, pearly white and very fresh indeed. The patriarch reports that the "award-winning" cod is similarly good. Chips are chunky and deliciously fluffy inside and crisp without. The vast table-top quickly becomes covered with little dishes of mushy peas, pickled onions, gherkins and home-made (excellent) tartare sauce – they're all just as quickly emptied. Harriett, mother of the wondrous baby Tilly, orders salmon and chips so that she can share a little mashed-up fish. Most of it, of course, ends up on the floor but the unflappable staff take it all in their stride.
There's been a steady stream of customers through the door, despite it now being well after normal lunch hours. They seem to be regulars, either older residents from the area catching up over tea and batter, or hardy surfers in search of fuel to sustain them through the next set of waves. With nothing more strenuous than an afternoon nap in the garden on our collective agendas, pudding seems utterly unnecessary, but strawberry ice-cream, cheesecake and – for the teens – chocoholic's delight somehow find their way on to the table. A clash of long metal spoons ensues as the vast portions disappear. The portion sizes throughout have been on the extraordinary side of generous and when the bill for nine arrives there's a collective intake of breath – it's £101.65.
Yes, we had no alcohol and yes, it's fish and chips, not fine dining. But Squires has given us memorably good food with excellent service in a perfectly nice room. I would pay handsomely for that, though on this occasion I don't need to. If I had to find fault, it's that the Squire family – still delivering after 42 years in business – have failed to put an apostrophe in their restaurant's name. Pathetic, aren't I?
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Squires 1 Exeter Road, Braunton, Devon, tel: 01271 815 533 Lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat. About £22.50 for two
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2011' www.hardens.com