Despite the fact I look like I live exclusively on cheese Quavers and McCain’s oven chips thanks to an ever so slightly vitamin-light and wan complexion, I love me food. Honest. And despite having a body that is rakishly emaciated and periodically concave, I eat a lot of it too. So what with all the usual chat at this time of year about detoxing, dieting, Special K-ing and Slimfasting squished ever so faintly ridiculously up against comfort food recipes for half a pig and three sides of dumplings, my mind naturally turns to foraging for vittles.
I’m a man of eclectic tastes, having eaten most meats available in a large supermarket, and a fair few that aren’t (horse is gorgeous, as is kangaroo. Crocodile is like eating your dad’s slipper, salted). French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican…my taste buds have travelled further and wider than my passport, though I have sat on the Atlas Mountains and ate goat tagine in the snow, ate kebap (not a typo) on the dockside of Istanbul’s Golden Horn, and had a cheese and ham toastie in coffee bars all over Amsterdam. I even ate a rather unfortunate bull’s balls in Lisbon once, after misreading a menu and thinking that ‘swinging beef’ meant it had been well hung in a totally different way.
So lucky me, living in Beeston, surely the countries culinary heartland. The Michelin Guide may have been a little slack in dishing out the stars (though I like to think Sat Bain’s expensive little hut by the Trent is technically Beestonia…you can reach it from the Rylands without crossing a road, so that’s good enough for me), but where else could boast so many fine Chinese restaurants, a happy by-product of the East Asian student influx towards Broadgate. Have you ever been to the supermarket at the corner of Marlborough Road? Then do so, now, and pick up a three-kilo bag of chicken feet and a sack of pig uteri. Dunno what you’ll do with them, but they’ll liven up your fridge no end.
Pub grub is of a grade well beyond what should be expected. 90% of pub meals are dished out by Wetherspoons, true, but the other ten percent more than make up for that. The Victoria is long famous for its food, winning loads of awards and being so packed on a Sunday two hour waits are not uncommon. The veg burritos are simply proof that meat isn’t necessary every meal and the puddings have been known to make grown men weep. Plus, they have the best beer in town. So, up its own arse and full of people who don’t really do pubs so look baffled by the bar area it may be, but I still can’t knock its food.
Another star (not The Star, where fusion-cuisine means dry-roasted AND salted nuts on the bar) is the newly reopened Royal Oak. Yes, the Royal Oak, formally Beeston’s roughest pub, has now transformed from a place where the most likely thing you’d end up eating would be your own teeth, into a very smart, very clean bar-cum-restaurant. I ventured in with great trepidation recently, and had a splendid breakfast for a fiver, with free filter coffee. Once I got over the paranoia that this wasn’t a trap and the locals weren’t going to burst from the walls and feast on our flesh, I felt a flush of optimism. You can polish a turd after all.
The real gem for the ravenous Beestonian is the HUGE amount of takeaways: fresh-made pizza places that give you a good nine inches for the price of a mere slice of a chain establishment; Middle-Eastern palaces of rotating elephant legs and chilli sauces developed at Portnum Down, straightforward no-nonsense burger and chips places that flourish happily in their artery-hardening greasy glory since McDonalds was viciously ousted from the High Street.
But much as I often leave the last plump king prawn of any curry to the very last morsel on my plate, I’m saving the best till last, can you tell? Are you salivating with anticipation yet? Well, get to it Pavlov’s pet, for now it is time to talk about the pinnacle, the zenith, the very summit of Beestonian FineDining…The Chippies.
But tease that I am, here’s an aperitif before we get down to the main course. I was tipped off recently about a very fine blog on grub which is found right here: ginandcrumpets.wordpress.com/ , by a friend of the blogger who set it up. Written with real verve and passion about snap, I assumed that when I sent said friend a menu for Humber Road Chippy: www.humberroadchippy.com/ they’d balk at its contents. These are people who lose sleep and exchange multiple Facebook postings over the consistency of their roux, think nothing about paying more in a week on olive oil than wine and don’t feel, as I often do, like they’re utterly blagging it in fancy restaurants. Self-confessed gastro-tarts and food nerds the both of them. And Londoners too. Need I say more?
So, its a surprise when I get a message ‘Been with Miss Gin’n’Crumpets today, we spent all afternoon salivating over the Humber Rd menu’. Women who can actually pronounce Blumenthal without spitting; moistening, nay lubricating, at the just the thought of pea fritters, cheese ‘n onion fry-its and fishcake surprise? What madness is this? These are people, nay, gourmets, bon viveurs, with the whole of London’s seven and a half trillion restaurants just a stroll away, and they are feeling groovy over Beeston gravy. These are not people who eat, no, they deliberate, cogitate and digest.
Once I’d ascertained that they were honest, I gave thought to why. It can’t be right that given the option of the multiple tried and tasted permutations of all the world’s ingredients, they can get so very het up about that most base of meals, the fish supper. However.
I once lived, when an exiled Beestonian, in Tunbridge Wells, where 50% of the population have the surname ‘disgruntled’ and the rest have so many hyphens in their name their keyboards ‘-‘ key has worn down to a stump. Restaurants proliferate, and working in the service industry as a pub assistant landlord I could regularly call in favours and eat super food on the cheap.
Great for dates, I soon realised, despite having to slip the Maitre’d a note at bill time ‘YOUR BOSS PUKED ON MY FLOOR LAST WEEK. REDUCE BILL ACCORDINGLY’ but I craved grease. I would mop my lips after a fine Lobster Thermidor, eat cheese made by cows long extinct and nibble on the goodbye mint handcrafted by Swiss artisanal virgins, and then, with a goodnight kiss and like a Premier footballer drawn ever so inexorably towards fake-breasted blondes and supercars, straight to the chippy.
It was a source of great guilt. Did my prole roots simply predestine me to be inescapably attracted to food fried in tallow? Apparently it’s more complex than that.
Feed us Mediterranean delights, Oriental wonders, South American spice-fests, and we will, from the Lord to the Lidl stacker, from the High Court Judge to the High on Skunk Jeremy Kyle-phile, default eventually to the call of the fried. Oh, it’s so bad, but who hasn’t read reports of Glaswegian deep fried Mars bars and pizzas and felt their mouth dripping slightly? Yeah, well, baste me in Balsamic, sauté me in sun-dried tomato juice, but I know that somewhere, deep in the jungle of British DNA, is that love of nothing else but a bubbly battered cod.
Thus, Beeston’s Humber Road chippy, apparently the best in the East Midlands, is truly a Palace of Delights. Skip the invite to World Service, claim you are washing your hair when called to Harts, and go and get some greasy glory. And if you work there and read this, yes, I would like some free mushy peas.
A GooldBell Production, 2010.