The Battery: an assault on fish and chips
The Boy, it turned out, was equally enthusiastic (but then again, he's a sucker for anything that involves a Fryolator). So last Wednesday he picked me up after work and we headed out for fried deliciousness.
I was a little anxious, as my friend Lisa had investigated the place when it first opened (literally; they'd been in business for about an hour when she arrived) and she'd said they didn't seem to have their act together. But we decided that was probably opening night jitters.
The Battery's exterior promised good things.
The interior looked authentic enough.
And it smelled authentic, in that it was impossible to breathe without inhaling lungfuls of grease molecules.
The Battery's menu is basic but varied, offering chips with gravy, curry, cheese, peas (mushy, one assumes) or garlic mayo; pollock or haddock; battered sausage or burger (yeah, not too sure about that one); and chip butties.
Figuring we shouldn't pig out too much, we decided to get a fish each and share a side of fries. So I ordered fish and chips, plus a fish.
And that's when everything went horribly wrong.
First of all, the woman behind the counter couldn't understand what I was asking for. And she was so soft-spoken, and the combined chorus of hot oil, venting system, and CNN on the TV was so loud, that I couldn't hear what she was saying.
We probably should have realize that the total cost of $30 for one-and-a-half meals was a little high, but we were tired and hungry and we just wanted some damn chips.
And then I asked if we could get a couple of slices of bread to go with it.
"No," she said, "we don't have bread."
But you have chip butties, right?
"Yes, you could order a chip butty. But I can't give you bread."
Okay, no bread. We sat down to wait.
Eventually, the woman came toward us, bearing a tray piled with food. It can't be all for us, can it?
She unloaded a fish and chips for The Boy. And then a fish and chips for me. And then a super-sized extra mountain of chips.
Now I understood why our food cost so much. Now I got why she sounded incredulous when we said our order was "for here" instead of "to go."
But didn't it strike her as slightly odd that we'd want an entire sack of potatoes?
She was apologetic (though grudgingly so), took the extra fries away, and said we should stop at the cash register on the way out for a refund. Back behind the counter, she explained the situation to the manager, who explained that she should figure out the difference and bring the cash to us.
So, after all this, what about the food?
Okay, I admit I have a gold standard for fish 'n' chips: The Station Chippy on Station Road in Billingham. The chips are pale, soft and pliant. The fish is delicate, and the batter clings to it the way one holds on to a dream in the moments before wakefulness. I'm serious. There's a sweetness to the frying oil that infuses everything. And also, they do pineapple rings. And you can get scraps.
At The Battery ... well, the haddock was lovely. Generous, flaky, flavorful and generally good quality.
The batter was thick and chewy, dry on the outside, gluey inside, unnecessarily crunchy in places.
And the chips were just. Sad.
Little-known piece of kitchen science trivia: thinly cut potatoes cook more quickly than thickly cut potatoes. Oh, you knew that? Apparently the spud-basher at The Battery is unaware of this arcane fact, which is why half the fries were okay and the other half were cooked to an inedible crisp.
Look, I don't claim to be a frying expert. I know it takes practice to be able to turn out perfect fish and chips every time. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of practitioners in the UK who have figured it out. And until The Battery gets it right, it's upholding the myth that British cooking is bad.
In the meantime, I'll content myself with dreams of fish suppers to come.
The champagne is optional. The buttered bread is not.