Monday, 27 February 2012

Fish & Chips and Black Country beer

Last summer, my interest in fish & chips was reawakened by starting to home-brew, as the first batch we made (a Woodforde’s Wherry kit) seemed to work perfectly as an accompaniment, so we tried to hunt down the best fish supper in South Birmingham, following up leads and recommendations. It’s normally a combination I’d only go for when by the sea or visiting long established chippys in County Antrim (they taste completely different over there), but it was good fun to explore the varying quality on offer in the local area. Eventually we settled on The Dolphin on Raddlebarn Road, Selly Oak, being consistently the best, and once the Wherry ran out, thoughts of chippy trips were put away until next summer.

But word of a new opening recommended for the quality of their fish reached me – Chamberlains in Warley, just to the west of Bearwood along Hagley Road – this has been open less than a year but has already scooped some recognition  - including Best Newcomer 2012 in the UK National Fish & Chip Awards. So when we came across a voucher (in local magazine The Harlequin) offering two fish meals for the price of one on any Sunday or Monday to 19th Feb, and I realised the restaurant was on the Number 9 bus route, which very conveniently carries on to the front door of the Waggon & Horses in Halesowen (a brilliant real ale pub), a plan formed …


So on a bright Sunday afternoon we headed up to check out Chamberlains, armed with voucher and appetite. We were so hungry by this stage, after an earlier bike ride and a morning thinking about fluffy chips and crispy fish, that we would have eaten the menu if we hadn’t been quickly served some thick-cut bread with butter while we waited for our cod and haddock meals to arrive. There is a spacious seating area which is tastefully decorated, which made a nice change from the formica greasy spoon décor of most sit-in chippys. 


They also offer a range of menu items beyond fish and chip standards – particularly standing out was the Mackerel & Cod Scotch Egg starter, and a main of Smoked Hake with Breaded Poached Egg sounded intriguing – these are definite contenders for a re-visit, but on this occasion it was the classic fare we were after. 


The fish was indeed as good as reviews had said – very light, very crispy batter, with tender, hefty pieces of fish inside, perfectly cooked (not overcooked) and flaking with the merest push of a knife. My dining companion doesn’t normally go for cod – often it’s just really tasteless – but commended it as the best cod they’d eaten, and my haddock was up to standard too. I liked the fact we could get something healthy on our plates too, with the minted mushy peas (perhaps a little too mushy for my preference, but nice enough) and some chunky fresh vegetables that still had a good bit of texture. The pots of tea were humungous, but they do cleanse the palate. I took some photos, but chose not to post them as they really don't do the food justice - fish & chips ain't pretty, just tasty.

It seems there are different offers and events you could take advantage of – the ‘Tenner Tuesday’ with 2 main courses from the restaurant menu for £10 (12-9pm) and themed nights for gluten-free menu options, St Patrick’s Day with free Guinness, and St David’s Day with Welsh spring lamb - so they're clearly clued up on what 'extras' people might want from a restaurant these days.

My only gripe was that I would have loved a decent Black Country bitter to go with my food – particularly if I was making an outing here in the evening – I just kept getting cravings for a bottle of Bathams Bitter or Holdens Golden Glow, knowing that with both those beers, their subtle malty tones would really go great with the chips & vinegar, but there were just some standard bottled lagers on offer. If they did offer some decent ale, it would make this more of a ‘destination’ for an evening dining trip – and have the cachet of offering some local & traditional beverages to go with the traditional foods.


Happily sated anyway, we returned to the Number 9, and carried on towards Halesowen. This bus stops almost outside the Waggon and Horses, which is what can only be described as a “cracking boozer” – lots of real ale, about 5 Belgian beers on tap, real cider, and a real local atmosphere – very down to earth. And the best thing – both the Bathams Bitter and the Holdens Golden Glow happened to be on tap and in perfect form – so I got to indulge my cravings, just a little later than as a chip partner.


I thoroughly recommend this pub to anyone who wants to while away an afternoon, sampling a mix of traditional bitters and hop-forward ales (they often have something of that ilk from Oakham or Thornbridge), and rounding off with a rich, warming Belgian bruin on draught.


So with the quality fish and chips living up to their reputation, and the great selection of beers for afters, it seems the Sunday Black Country trip out was a success that will be repeated. Updates on what's on offer beer or food wise can be found from both @chamberlainsB68 and @Waggonales on Twitter.

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