Long before we all caught the balti bug Fish and Chips was our national dish, as British as a cup of tea, lousy summers and losing at football. It’s a deceptively tricky thing to get just right though; its reputation’s no doubt sullied by those sad, dried out specimens that you often see lying forlornly under heat lamps on high streets up and down the country. Being here in the landlocked Midlands (pretty much as far away from the coast as you get) probably doesn’t help but even a lot of seaside Chippies seem to have lost their way in recent years.
Against this backdrop expectations for Chamberlains were modest, despite it winning Best Newcomer in the UK to the Fish and Chip Industry at the National Fish and Chip Awards 2012.
The set up’s simple but effective with a take away section at the front of a welcoming 76 seater restaurant that’s got a modern feel without losing that traditional edge. Mirrors and subtle lighting mix well with old photos and there was a nice early evening buzz about the place. We were greeted by Kate, friendly, efficient and knowledgeable about both the restaurant itself and the food, and handed our menus. Again, as with the decor, there’s a pleasing mix of the old and new with traditional favourites like Cod and Chips nuzzling up against the more exotic Smoked Hake in Boursin Sauce and Mussels in Holden’s Cider.
When in Rome (well, on the Bearwood/Oldbury border) it seemed almost sacrilegious to have anything other than the traditional fish and chip meal though (especially on our first visit) so we plumped for the Haddock and Cod options with side orders of onion rings and mushy peas and a bottle of chardonnay (well, it was Saturday night!). One of the big sells of the Chamberlains experience is that everything’s cooked fresh and to order.
Despite this waiting time is minimal and just a few minutes later our feast arrived. And it was a feast...for the eyes, nose and tastebuds. Even without diving in you can see it’s a fresh as a spring day on Scarborough beach (now that’s fresh!).
The generous bowls of onion rings and homemade minted mushy peas looked every bit as inviting as the main dishes too.
After a gentle drizzle of vinegar and a light dusting of salt we cut into our fish, the crisp, golden batter satisfyingly crunching away to reveal the moist, pearly white flesh within. So often these days fish batter’s hard and cloying, burying the subtle taste of the fish rather than complimenting it. At Chamberlains the batter’s light, crisp and full of flavour (that’ll be the traditional beef dripping that they use) without being overpowering, enveloping the fish and keeping it mouth-wateringly moist. That first bite whisks you away to the seaside...you can almost feel the spray of the ocean...and it takes a second or to two to come back to reality. If they serve fish and chips in heaven this is what they’ll taste like.
Overcoming our reverie we checked out the sides. The onion rings (again, how often do restaurants get this one wrong?) were perfection, with the crisp batter yielding to a tender, juicy halo of onion. It’s probably a bit sad to rhapsodise about mushy peas but bear with us here. The mushy pea is the forgotten hero of the fish and chip world, bringing a springtime freshness to all that deep fried loveliness. They can be miserable, grey and anaemic, slopped out of can and reheated so many times that it’s difficult to detect any signs of life. Chamberlains make their own though and, by the taste of it, they’re up at the crack of dawn to pick the freshest peas and sprigs of mint, blending the two together to create unctuous spoonfuls of deep green loveliness that cuts through the fried elements of the meal, cleansing the palate beautifully. Top the whole thing off with thick freshly sliced wholemeal bread (don’t worry, they’ve got white on offer too) and proper slabs of butter and you’ve got a meal that puts the humble fish and chip supper on the pedestal it deserves.
Efficiency personified Kate cleared away our plates and returned with the menus. We were nicely full but the puddings looked so tempting they were impossible to resist. The Creme Brulee Cheesecake was even more delicious than it sounds, with tiny nuggets of brandy snap offering up a neat contrast to the soft creamy cheesecake, whilst the bread and butter pudding (smothered in proper custard) was moist and rich in plump raisins.
At under £20 per head (including a honey and lemon-tastic bottle of Chardonnay and two large pots of tea) Chamberlains offers exceptional value and truly memorable food, sourced, cooked and served by people who really care. Best Fish and Chips in the country? This place batters the competition...
P.S. Just wanted to say a BIG thank you to everyone who entered our competition to win Fish and Chip meals for two. We've been overwhelmed by the number of entries and the competition is now closed. The winners will be notified shortly.