THE MAGPIE CAFE: LINING UP FOR FISH & CHIPS IN WHITBY
Three years, seven hundred posts. Who knew?
Along with our love of binge drinking and the attendant projectile vomiting, one of the things that Johnny Foreigner finds most curious about the descendants of John Bull is our love of queuing, our desire to join any line we encounter just to see what happens at the end of it.
Put it down to good old British politeness, but while in the rest of the world (China, in particular, take a bow) you are jostled and manhandled out of the way, the compunction to quietly wait your turn seems as firmly ingrained in our national psyche as grime on a ten-year old’s neck.
I hate queuing, and particularly queuing for food. I live in London, I don’t have to and even at places with legendary lines such as Tayyab, I always manage to pre-book and walk to the front of the line, much to the disgust of waiting punters.
But, Saturday, I donned a woolly hat and a thick coat to join one of the most famous lines in foodiedom, the queue outside of The Magpie Café in Whitby. Pictures of the snake line of people waiting to have the most famous fish & chips in the U.K are legion and, despite the cold, as my friend, Gary drove across the bleak East Yorkshire moors, still covered in snow, I was expecting a long drawn out wait shivering in anticipation of good frying.
Well, what do you know? It may be the weather or the credit crunch, but only a handful of lonely people stood in front of us when we arrived and, within fifteen minutes, we were inside and seated at a tiny table for two.
The Magpie Café, of course, is a seafood restaurant, not just a fish & chip shop, but going there and ordering anything else would be like meeting Picasso and asking him to give you a tune on the banjo. So, when our waitress asked for our order, there was only one reply “regular haddock & chips, mushy peas, bread and butter” with the only variation coming with my order of brown instead of white bread, for health reasons.
Fish is cooked to order here, so what better way to distract ourselves than with a portion of old school prawn cocktail? Much better than it had any right to be and with sweet prawns covered with enough sauce to require the use of dainty little triangles of brown bread to clean out the bowl.
By now, our pot of tea had arrived, which heralded the coming of the main event and, the moment it is placed in front of you, one can understand why lines here are longer than those of cocaine on top of a supermodel’s coffee table. The fish is superb, fresh, meaty, flaky and piping hot under the coating of perfectly crunchy batter. Not so long ago, I was an anti skin person with my fish & chips, but I have undergone a damascene experience and no prefer to see the skin holding the fish together and, even like the taste. Gary did not and pushed his to the side of the plate. Horses for courses, but we both murmured appreciatively about the fish itself.
Mushy peas were top of the tree, but the chips were not. Too soft and too floury for me they lack the heat to create the smog of vinegar steam that is the mark of great chip shop chips and for that I would not place The Magpie Cafe at the same level as the meal I had recently at The Anstruther Fish Bar , the winner of “The Best Fish & Chip Shop in The UK 2008/9”.
Like Gary, I am also not sure that I would be tempted to suffer the normal lines to experience what are very good, but not the best fish & chips in the country. On a cold Saturday, however, with us both suffering the after affects of our night before at The Pipe & Glass, it was definitely worth a short wait in the chill blast of Easterly wind.
Only a short wait, mind. I may be British, but I am not mental.