“Rock eel, when available,” I said excitedly as I studied the fish and chip restaurant menu. “I’ve never had that.” But I had, many years ago only then I called it rock salmon.
It may have been near the rocks but it was never an eel. It’s also called flake (occasionally) and also huss but is in fact a kind of dogfish or shark. That first doesn’t look good on the menu.
It’s all these years of living Up North which have made me forget what I once knew, or ought to have done. Up here chippies sell only cod or haddock (unless you’ve got a rogue one passing catfish off as cod). Down South, and for me this was a broad swathe of country from Norwich via East Grinstead to Exeter, they also sold plaice – and rock salmon.
At Fishers, a very pleasing chippie with adjacent restaurant in the gritty North Norfolk resort of Hunstanton – think Rotherham on Sea with so many fatties on parade or Great Yarmouth without the bling – they do rock eel as well as deep-fried plaice. They also have scampi, roe, fishcakes, fish pie, saveloy (also when available) and Spam fritters and for a moment I wavered. But you can only wander down one Memory Lane at a time and rock eel was available.
It came swathed in batter with the outline of a bony spine showing through so it could have been Squalus acanthias (spiny dogfish) or Scyliorhinus stellaris (bull huss). It was interesting.
The flesh was not pearly white like my wife’s cod but had a faint pinkish tinge. It did not fall apart under the fork in flakes but had a soft texture with very little ‘bite.’ As for taste, there was no contest with the cod, which was far superior. In fact, I was hard pressed to detect much flavour but that is never a problem with added vinegar, lemon, salt and pepper.
The batter was good and crispy, the chips, pale and soft. The mushy peas, faintly minty, were a bilious green and I suspect they were factory made but there was just something which suggested they could have been soaked peas with added colouring.
My palate told me the frying medium was not oil but beef dripping or lard, which is traditional in East Anglia. So which? I asked our waitress. “It’s got meat in it and I’m a vegetarian,” she said. I remarked there was not that much for her to eat here, then. “I have a lot of peas,” she replied.
This is the second time we have called in at Fishers. The first, on a cold, blustery winter’s day, was a revelation. This time, with a Country & Western singer warbling on the verge of tunefulness outside the bar next door, it was good but not as memorable. Normally I’d have the haddock.
I fancy there is an Italian input to this place, a chippie since the Sixties, because there are a range of homemade Italian ices (bubblegum flavour anyone) and, besides the Golden Jumbo Fishcake, fishcakes with spinach or mozzarella.
It was cheap. With drinks the bill was around £20. It was good quality. And I’d ticked (or re-ticked) another fish off my list. Next time round I’ll stick to haddock but those Spam fritters are tempting . . .
# 2-4 Greevegate, Hunstanton PE36 6BJ. Tel: 01485 532 487. Web: www.fishersofhunstanton.com