Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Battery: an assault on fish and chips

When I learned about the recent opening of The Battery, an "authentic Irish chipper" in Brighton, I was delighted. Finally, I thought, there was a place I could find something approaching real fish and chips without having to go all the way to New York.

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 Battery in Brighton

The interior looked authentic enough.

The interior of The Battery in Brighton

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?

It was.

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

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.

Battered fish at The Battery in Brighton

And the chips were just. Sad.

The Battery in Brighton has unevenly cooked french fries, which they call chips.

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.

Fish and chips

The champagne is optional. The buttered bread is not.

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Blogger Unknown said...

I'm a bit bummed, I read about this place and was too, excited. Now, not so much.

9:34 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Exactly. The Battery promises so much ... it's really no better than any other takeout place (except that the decor is more interesting).

5:59 AM  
Blogger B said...

Bah, alas my search for a good quality yet inexpensive fish 'n chips place in Brighton Center must continue. I was really hopeful for this place.

Maybe in a few weeks they will have their act together, though the prices seem a bit prohibitve.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

Well, this sounds just awful.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not mind crispy bits at the bottom of the bag, but not so many that it accounts for half the chips. My favourite chipper, Capocci's on the Malahide Road in Dublin, sets the standard as far as I am concerned. A few pints in Kavanaghs and a chicken sandwich and chips from next door for the way home - bliss. I suppose a few beers in the Corrib or Porter Bellys and chips from The Battery on the way home might not be a bad substitute.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Britain and this place is as good as it gets. Found batter perfect and chips lovely. Some people are just frustrated food critics.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As much as I respect the review here. I am neither English or Irish, but I do work with a woman from Manchester who simply raved about this place. We both went and got a chip butty and I was not disappointed. I have never had anything more delicious. I was in heaven.

Please give this place a try. No one in out part was disappointed in the food. We were off to the pub afterwards and I was already drunk on chips they were so lovely.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the warning...I was all set to take husband for a few with mushies.

7:21 PM  
Blogger McKeon1979 said...

Well I have to say, I am shocked at your feelings on the battery. Like so many, I too was extremely excited when I heard about an authentic Irish chippy opening. Having spent years 0 to 20 of my life between Ireland and England it had been very tough to spend years 21 to 30 in Boston living without a chippy (especially after a few drinks!)
Since it opened, I have been a frequent visitor to The Battery and can honestly say I have never been disappointed... infact... me and "the boy" have always loved it!!
Obviously they had their teething problems like all new businesses but please are you tying to tell me, you get everything right first time??? I think not. I have to ask...have you given the place another try?...if not, I suggest trying the kids sizes to start...(seeing as the portions put you off so much) then try the coleslaw....also how about asking for a kids size haddock portion or a battered burger. If you are still not impressed....then I'll just have to go with the old saying....'you can't please em all' (it's your loss and my weight gain!!!)

11:52 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Wow, a lot of great comments here! I'm glad to find most people recognize that my opinions are just that--not the final word. As I mentioned, I have a gold standard for how fish and chips should be, and few places live up to it; I was just hopeful that The Battery would come close to something I could call a taste of home.

Oh, and what exactly is a "frustrated food critic"?

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We loved the Battery - garlic and mayo chips!
was wonderful to have this very hot food on a very cold night, late at night!

they were kind enough to make us a FRIED mars bar! for free!
someday it might be on menu

sure its not perfect, but what place is--
PLEASE Go back a few times,

i have found most places, how good the food is will vary within a certain range of from perfect to not so good, so please try it again!

also loved the ball of potatoe that was fried,

sure the fish didnt impress me, and the fried burger wasnt great

i do understand that there are better places in UK, but until there is more competition
I am really liking the Battery, only wishing i knew where to park near by,

1:01 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

The have fried Mars bars now? Okay, maybe I'll give it a second chance :-)

Also, there are a couple of parking lots on the streets behind the Battery; check Google maps for exact locations. I know street parking is a pain around there!

9:13 AM  

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