Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The best ‘Fish & Chips’ outside of the UK

Like Picasso’s work can be classified into a ‘Blue’ and a ‘Rose’ period, my life can be divided into an ‘English’ and a ‘French’ period! My ‘English’ period lasted all through the seventies and the early eighties. As a teenager I spent many a summer in the UK, more precisely on the Kentish coast, in the attractive seaside town of Deal and the tiny village of Kingsdown. I used to stay with an English lady who over the years has become like a second ‘mum’ to me. Although I haven’t seen her since Christmas 1983, I still telephone her regularly to catch up on the latest news about her health (she’ll be ninety next March) and her two children, who are about my age.

August 1974: a 35-year old picture of the beach at Kingsdown seen from the cliff.

We used to have a lot of fun together, hanging out on the beach, playing miniature golf and taking long walks on the cliffs between Deal and Saint Margaret’s Bay. When we turned eighteen, the local pubs - The Sun in Kingsdown and The Ship in Deal - became out favourite hang-out places. In the evening, we would meet up there with other youngsters who lived in the neighbourhood. Apart from the odd young man who tried to drink 'a yard of ale' in an attempt to impress us, it was all good, clean and innocent fun. After closing time we would move to someone’s house where we would listen to music, play cards or try to scare each other by experimenting with an Ouija board until midnight, our curfew time!

My lovely lady of the house’ had lived in India with her former husband, and was familiar with Indian cooking. She was a great cook too and introduced me to English and Indian cuisine. I can’t honestly say that I liked everything she prepared though, as my continental and young taste buds were not quite ready for fried pig’s liver, steak and kidney pie and hot Tandoori chicken!

As a special treat she would surprise me once during every annual stay with fresh stuffed North Sea crab from the fishmonger’s or fish and chips from the local shop by the seashore. I’ve been a big fan of fish and chips ever since. However, fish and chips shops are a rarity, not to say non-existing, in Belgium. If you are lucky to find the dish on the menu card of a restaurant, the fried fish usually looks and tastes like an ordinary frozen Captain Iglo’s fish stick! Until recently …

Waterloo, the town south of Brussels where in 1815 Napoleon was defeated by the armies of the Seventh Alliance, hosts a large colony of ‘expats’ working for NATO, the EEC or other governmental or private organizations. They’re mainly American, British and Scandinavian. The town therefore has a number of food stores and restaurants that cater mainly for them. Last year we discovered a great restaurant in Waterloo that not only specializes in seafood, but also does great fish and chips and an extremely hot Beef Vindaloo.

Fish and chips in their newspaper wrapping

It had been a while since I’d had my last portion of fish and chips. So today, we decided to treat ourselves to this great British classic. In spite of the classy interior of the restaurant, the fish and chips are served in the traditional way: wrapped in newspaper and with a bottle of malt vinegar on the side. Although roughly cut, the chips are tasty and crispy and the batter on the fresh cod filets has a nice golden colour. The dish is served with an excellent tartar sauce … everything is perfect, except for one small detail … the newspaper the fish and chips are wrapped in is the Belgian French ‘La Libre Belgique’. They should at least use ‘The Sun’ or ‘The Daily Mirror’, shouldn’t they?

By the way, my ‘English’ period’ more or less ended in 1984, when my friend, who’s a real Francophile, insisted on taking me to France for our holiday… something I’ve never regretted … although I feel that I still have an Anglophile streak in me!


1 comment:

Jean said...

You can't take fish and chips for granted these days. Last weekend we had them sitting by the river at Bakewell in Derbyshire. The surroundings were divine but the fish and chips were positively mediocre and served in a cardboard box. (Perhaps there is enough tourist trade to keep the shop going and they don't have to rely on regular customers.)
Luckily our chip shop close to home does superb fish and chips so we can get a 'fix' whenever we need one.