This is a review about how memory can deceive you, about how things are not as good as you remember, and about how returning can be a bad idea.
My memories of the Friendly Fryer chippie in Maldon are pretty good, but then I always did like Maldon anyway – a quaint and lovely little town with old-fashioned shops and a splendid prom on which to stroll by the harbour and mud flats. On occasions I’ve eaten the unpretentious fish and chips, usually while sitting on the bench on the road outside the church, just up the road from the wonderfully Victorian town hall, always replete with hanging baskets in the Springtime.
In trying to choose a venue for an early birthday lunch for my son, this occurred to me as a safe choice – possibly better than the pie and mash shop down the High Street, which had run out of pies the last time we went there. From the outside the FF certainly looks friendly and inviting, though the dining room appeared strangely sterile and lacking in atmosphere. It is separated by a frosted plastic panel from the business end, without giving the “open kitchen” views now popular in many restaurants. One waitress was working, looking slightly bored if truth be told.
Next thing to note if you are going to the Friendly Fryer is to remember to take cash since they won’t accept credit or debit cards. At the time I had about £20 on me, which for a chippie should have been plenty for a simple lunch. Not so – I had to go out to the cashpoint for more. Dining in prices are steep at £9-10 for fish and chips, £1.60 for a dish of mushy peas, £1.90 for a glass of Pepsi poured from a bottle costing less than £2 for the entire 2 litres, and £2.10 for a very mediocre and minimal cup of black coffee. All in, £24.75 without service for one course and a drink apiece did not strike me as good value.
So the quality must have been great? Well…. bear in mind that unlike a fair proportion of fish & chip shops this one is open on Mondays. This is significant because there is no fresh catch of fish over the weekend, so the fish served will have been bought on Friday or will be frozen. In fairness, the standard of the fish was pretty good, though the freshness of supply chain makes all the difference to the output, as does the fact that it was fried fresh to order.
So the battered fish is reasonable, but the chips were unquestionably at the soggy end of the scale. Why chippies insist on cooking limp chips when it’s so easy to do twice-cooked at the very least I don’t know, but I for one would much prefer crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy inside, which these were not. Call this the way it’s been done in chippies for generations, which still doesn’t make it a good product.
I’m not saying this is an awful establishment, in fact I’d lay money on there being many worse – and they deserve credit for frying their fish fresh to order. But equally it could be much better without a lot of extra effort, and certainly should be to justify the prices. I’m not tempted to return in a hurry.