However I’d gladly eat them a good deal less often if whenever I did eat them it was at Maggie’s.
Maggie’s is an institution, hidden behind the huts of Hastings beach, down the Old Town / Rock-a-nore end, behind the fish stalls, above the miniature railway. I can’t swear that Maggie makes the best fish and chips in England but they’re definitely the best I’ve had – and what’s more in all the times I’ve eaten there I’ve never been disappointed. They’re always good.
Fish and chips remains the quintessentially English dish. I know we’re told periodically that it’s been displaced by chicken tikka masala or balti, burgers or spag bog, but fashion sweeps contenders away, fish and chips are eternal.
For a start there’s something amazingly sympathetic about the combination of fish and potatoes. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the potato was a sea vegetable. Perhaps it is. They originate from the Andes, and the Andes, relatively recently in geological time, were under the sea.
‘Pah’, you say and you’re probably right.
One of the things that Maggie’s gets right is that it’s generous with its portions. Luca didn’t want a child’s portion of haddock and chips so I got him a small adult cod and chips. The cod, small though it supposedly was, was the size of a battleship. Unfortunately for Luca that battleship was the Bismarck and he was the HMS Hood. He was sunk. Couldn’t finish it at all. But it wasn’t for want of trying.
Maggie herself meanwhile is the ideal chatelaine. She gives the impression that all she wants is to do what she does, and do it well. Surely there’s no higher calling than to take pride in your endeavours and to want to excel.
We live in a world where people’s worth is increasingly measured in pounds, shillings and pence. Maggie’s is a world where somethings worth is measured not by how much customers are charged (at £6.50 her cod is a bargain and I’ve paid twice as much for something half as good far too many times), or by how much she makes, but by the pleasure she brings and the respect she and her staff have earned for it.
Maggie told me she’d been approached by a TV company that wanted to bring in a telly chef to show how fish and chips should be made. They couldn’t have chosen a better place and Maggie couldn’t have given them a better answer; ‘no thank you’.
I like Hastings and Maggie’s is one of the best things about it. The rest of the seafront however is a good deal less generous, from the arcades that take your money with games that never pay out, to the crazy golf course that treats all children over 5 as adults and charges them £6.50 per round. It was just above freezing and there was a bitter wind blowing in straight off the sea. I think I’d have rather paid thirteen quid to have had my toenails pulled out than to have coughed up to stand in that wind and trolled round an overpriced crazy golf course.