Lockdown has presented us all with challenges hasn’t it. Some are of the gravest nature and filled with sadness and some are frivolous with everything else in-between. To be denied of something seems, more than anything else to create a craving. This is true as much in food and drink as life.
In a prime position on the quayside of Viareggio in Tuscan, Italy home to the manufacture and birth of the world’s most expensive superyachts there is a boutique shop with a Union flag in the window. There is, in this global mega centre for billionaires and the rich and famous, a place where you can buy Marmite, HP sauce and any other brand of British you care to mention. Even the rich it seems get the hankering for the simple thing in life once they are no longer at our fingertips.
And so, it is with lockdown easing that I had the irresistible urge to risk everything and venture out into our new scary world. Essential, means essential and in my case, it was the first fish and chips I’d had for a few months. Once that idea was in my head, nothing, could distract me from it.
The fading seaside towns of the UK are all blessed with these humble fast food shops. Once derided as food of the poor and working classes as well as desperately bad for you – Quinoa does nothing for my wellbeing I’m afraid – who hasn’t enjoyed the gastronomy of fish and chips with the scent of the sea in your nostrils and a force nine blowing straight through your outer clothing?
In wonderful news science changed yet again one week and we all found out that when cooked properly in bubbling hot fat that didn’t soak into the fish and potatoes, our beloved Friday night special was in fact good for you!
But where does this tradition come from? A staple of the working class, British Fish & Chips has become woven into the fabric of society, relatively inexpensive, hearty, good for you and now, traditionally classless. Even the staff in my favourite French seafood restaurant (see blog below) have fish and chips when they come to Britain. Be it myth or legend, since a Catholic Pope decreed “Fish on a Friday” and the meat free days started piling up in the Christian calendar, fish, a cold-blooded creature not regarded as “meat”, hit the culinary headlines. There are myriad tales of fish as a celebratory food even in Viking times and so maybe the Pontiff just rebranded an existing tradition. Catholicism hasn’t always had so much good news in its emanations but I’m calling this their masterpiece!
Our absolute favourite Fish and Chip shop anywhere in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley is Frydays. This smashing little “friary” tucked away on High Beech Road in Bream is brilliant example of all that’s good about traditional British food. Great fish, properly cooked paired with fab chips given the same treatment. Pete and his staff provide great service from behind the stainless altar to a Friday tradition and recently have made great leaps forward in making their service sustainable. Bring your own bag because one use plastic bags are no longer available here. The staff have moved over wherever possible to sustainable packaging and done away with the styro trays.
In response to Covid and keeping everyone safe it is currently necessary to pre-order by phone (number below) and collect your order at a specific time. There is a short wait outside (dress for the weather) whilst your order is prepared so that it’s all fresh out of the fryer rather than waiting in the paper wrapper. There is plenty of room for social distancing but the staff need a Tannoy so you can hear your name being called.
I’m often asked about good fish and chips because, living locally or holidaying, it’s a treat, and I always have no hesitation in recommending Fryday’s. I’ve lost count of the times a resident says “have you tried….”. the answer is generally yes as I’ve been on a mission since we moved here all those donkeys years ago but if not, I will make an effort to try a new place. And there are some great alternatives in the area, but believe me Fryday’s is worth the extra effort to try even if you are not staying in or around Bream itself.
I am a traditionalist. My order rarely changes – fish, chips and peas week in week out. I love the food, the quality never wains and I love the tradition. I love the familiarity of having the thing I like best over and over again. It isn’t always necessary to try something different. Where tradition holds sway, I feel it much more appropriate to be traditional. There is a wide variety of other stuff on the menu to serve all tastes but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you much about them! Occasionally on a full moon day I might knock myself out and have a fishcake as well.
In a slight aside and with a tipped cap to my Northern roots – I have a guilty pleasure. I do like a pickled onion with my chippy tea. Now, you may have noticed that the fascists have weighed in a stopped anyone producing proper pickled onions any more. Having surveyed many brands I find them softened to a snowflakes palate. There can be nothing less pickled onion-like than a squidgy excuse for a pickle than these soft retch inducing options where the middle always shoots out when you bite into them. As luck would have it, here in Bream and just around the corner from the chippy is a small 7-11 shop. One manufacturer, a nice old lady called Mrs Baxter still produces proper pickled onions in Scotland, the lawless north, where the food fascists can’t get to her. In a single row of merchandising like wild Celtic soldiers in line, lives the antidote to mediocrity in the pickled onion world. Just close enough to be able to order (in normal times) your fish supper and nip and get a jar or 6 – best to panic buy if you can.
Back at the chippy, the portion size is more than ample and renders that pleasurable “stuffed” feeling as a result of finishing the lot. If you have a smaller appetite or haven’t wound-up all-day Friday about the impending feast you will reward your busy and stressful week with, the smaller OAP fish are a great alternative. Here I have to admit that we buy and OAP fish as well and split it for our two terriers who, although not Catholic now also love Chippy Tea Night!
Tell the staff we sent you.
Fryday’s High Beech Rd, Bream, Lydney GL15 6JG 01594 562281
The small print. There are several “best fish and chip shop” awards around the country. Whitby alone has three separate (expensive) winners of three separate awards. You suspect therefore that there might be some sort of financial arrangement behind these gongs. We would like to assure readers that our only financial connection with Fryday’s is where we hand them money for fish and chips on a regular basis!