Battle of Hastings
Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sam Taylor finds that when the chips are down, don’t go to the fish shop

It looked empty enough. There were obviously tables free and some of them even had the much coveted sea views out over the fishing fleet, But Maggie’s fish and chip shop is a law unto itself. ‘Sorry, we’re fully booked,’ the uninterested waitress said. It was 1.45pm and, unless they were expecting the arrival of the Armada for a late lunch, it really made no sense. I had learnt from previous failed visits that protesting made it worse, but I tried anyway – not having a kitchen makes you overly concerned with food. ‘Surely you can squeeze us in somewhere?’ I pleaded. ‘No,’ she replied, before walking back to the servery.
Hastings has first-class catering practitionersHastings has first-class catering practitioners

There is something vaguely reassuring about the contempt for customer service still delivered in parts of the English catering industry and Hastings has some first-class practitioners. Maggie’s long ago grasped that demand far outweighed supply and has exploited its advantage ever since. It’s position on the beach is unique, the dining room built across the top of two of the historic fishing-net huts. Rather like a deep-fried tree house. Below is the wholesale fish market where the daily catch is sorted, thereby giving it pole position for the best ingredients.

The restaurant literally does what it says on the tin: it serves fish and chips. It also serves mushy peas, sliced white, a standard array of soft drinks and a glass of house wine for £2.50. For someone down from London, this price is almost an invitation to alcoholism. They don’t open in the evenings and they only serve lunch from 12pm till 2pm. Although, clearly, they like to stop a lot earlier than that.

Maggie's epic chipsMaggie's epic chips
In my desperate bid to get a new builder, I was attempting to woo one with a lunch date. I know, it’s embarrassing, but since the last one left me for the woman round the corner I have been forced to adopt new tactics. She makes him homemade cakes, apparently. And freshly brewed coffee. If he’d installed my oven then I might have been able to turn out the odd bun but there is no accounting for what builders really want.

As we stand outside Maggie’s with my renovation wish list in my hand, I apologise for not being able to get us a table. ‘I’m not that bothered,’ Marco (not his real name) says. ‘I prefer something a bit more upmarket, anyway.’ Flustered, I say that I think that, in an organic way, Maggie’s is really quite upmarket. ‘The chips are epic,’ I say. Marco smiles politely. Then he looks at his watch. He has to go, he has another date. ‘I’ll give you a call,’ he says.

We both know it’s a lie but I haven’t got to the stage when I am prepared to start throwing myself at him. Not yet, anyway.

Next week: How big is a mini digger?

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