What could possibly be more British than eating fish and chips in the rain? Not a lot, we concluded over lunch at The Scallop Shell, our dripping umbrellas propped against the table.
Granted, we weren’t exactly out there braving the elements (soggy batter just won’t do), but instead were watching the downpour from the more inviting side of the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows, beneath draping lengths of nautical rope and low-hanging, glowing bulbs. The dining area sports a sea-battered industrial style, with polished concrete floors, lots of painted metal and plenty of raw, weather-beaten wood. The table we were sat at was even made from an old door – complete with keyhole – which had been given coloured hairpin legs.
This Bath restaurant is The Scallop Shell’s second, the original being over at White Row Farm near Frome. Its reputation definitely preceded it; when we got the news at Crumbs HQ last year of the city centre opening, there was lots of probing for more information from excited work pals. And, as a seaside-turned-city girl who grew up spoilt for choice when it came to Friday-night fish dinners, the idea of a great chippy in the middle of Bath (where they’d be no competition from ferocious seagulls – or so I foolishly thought) got my stomach growling, too.
The drinks list is kept short but sweet, with tipples carefully chosen for their seafood-loving characteristics. My hungry (and off-duty!) nurse pal went for a glass of Rosé, while I chose the Sauvignon Blanc.
As soon as you read the food menu, you know you’re onto a good thing here. The three sections – Shellfish, Fresh Out o’ the Sea, and From the Grill – cover everything from simply prepared fillets and traditional fishcakes to battered favourites and steaming piles of shellfish in dressings. (There are non-seafood options too, but they’re no concern of mine.)
First out of the kitchen were River Fowey mussels (£4) and Weymouth Bay scallops (£4). The mussels were hot, juicy and lightly coated in garlic dressing – “such a nice change to the creamy sauces you usually get,” the Nurse pointed out. The impressive-looking scallops came complete with shells in which bright green herby butter pooled, underneath the soft, plump flesh. The thick slices of fresh bread and butter that had also appeared were quickly employed to mop up the delicious remnants.
I maybe shouldn’t tell you this, but despite the obvious quality of all the seafood here, I came to The Scallop Shell probably most excited about the chips. I love chips. (Like, really love them. Maybe it’s my aforementioned seaside upbringing. Or maybe I just have a special appreciation for a well-formed carb. Either way, I’ve never been known to leave a chip standing after a meal. I’m talking about the proper kind here, mind; fresh and chunky.)
I’d heard the chips here were pretty spesh. I’d heard they’re fried in beef dripping. I’d heard that people come here for them alone. And I knew I’d be one of those people.
So it was the main course that I was really waiting for. I did, of course, have fish with my chips, though – cuttlefish, to be exact (£11.75). Marinated in cumin and fennel seeds, garlic, lemon, chilli and herbs, and served with aioli, the meaty flesh had a satisfying chew to it and a lovely subtle flavour. The Nurse, who let me choose for her like a 1950s husband, had the fillet of ling (£11). It was coated in the lightest batter, which rose up from the fish in wispy peaks like it could almost float away at any second. And boy, was it crisp. It came with homemade tartare sauce (I’ll stick my neck out here – the best I’ve tasted), which the Nurse gracefully shared with me. I could have asked for more, but we already had a pot of mushy peas and a rich, tomatoey curry sauce to get through. And I’d hate to be called greedy…
And so to the chips. They really were spot-on. The chunky little guys were cloaked in thin, crisp jackets, which opened to reveal thick, fluffy interiors. They were really tasty too; along with my love of chips comes a tomato sauce-related guilty pleasure, but I didn’t even feel the need to dip.
We finished our seaside-inspired feast in the traditional manner too, with sundaes. One featured sweet vanilla- bean ice cream with red berries, and the other a creamy quince sorbet with poached winter fruit (both £4.50).
What a top lunch: the young staff were helpful and friendly, the setting quirky but comfortable, and the stream of delicious, thoughtfully presented dishes continued to surprise, while maintaining that all-important chip-shop comfort factor. I would say I’m hooked, but that would be a terrible closing line.