For my mum’s birthday dinner this year, we decided to toss aside presumptuous and pompous proceedings and instead resort to the kind of favoured family tucker that ticks all of the treat boxes – the incredibly classic fish and chips. And where better to enjoy an upmarket takeaway than at Westcliff-on-Sea, near the seaside town of Southend, where chippies roam the streets in abundance. Although not much to look at from the outside, Oldham’s Fish Restaurant is a restaurant my sister had heard about through the grapevine, enthusiastically regaling us with tales of cheap prices, stories of ginormous portions, but most importantly, it is claimed to be Jamie Oliver’s favourite chippie. You couldn’t get us there fast enough.
Splashed with the typically nautical white and blue signage in big, bold letters, complete with plastic silver seating under a tucked away awning, first impressions were the same as any normal fish and chip takeaway joint. Granted Oldham’s is not a looker and this continued when we went inside. The cream tiled front section housed the takeaway business, with the trademark clear counter to the left showcasing the foodie wares available. We didn’t even pause here as my sister instantly led us through a small archway into a small back room that was defined as the restaurant. Completely unpretentious and unapologetic about its basic presentation, Oldham’s has the confident yet casual atmosphere of a place that doesn’t need to bother with such things as décor, as it lets the food do the talking.
Pale blue walls juxtaposed intensely deep wooden panelling on the bottom half of the walls, which matched the tables and chairs placed around the edges of the room. There really was not a lot of space to manoeuvre so I don’t think it would be ideal for larger groups, although it was fine for our table of four. There was one bigger group clustered at the back of the restaurant where two tables had been pushed together against the back mirrored wall, however, luckily the rest of the venue was empty, so we didn’t have to worry too much about bumping into people sat behind us. The table was armed with paper mat style menus, typical salt shakers and bottles of vinegar, cutlery swathed in paper napkins. There was nothing fancy or classy about Oldham’s but oddly enough, it didn’t need to be. It’s almost as if Oldham’s had shrugged off the need to get dressed, and just gone to work in pyjamas.
We started by looking at the wine options and first things first, the bottles were lovely and cheap yet still decent brands and flavours. Jess and I settled on sharing a bottle of white wine, a Rioja, which was absolutely delicious and only £16 to boot. It was fruity, refreshing yet still had a punchy flavour without being too watery, which can be the danger with lighter white wines.
The menu offered a really nice selection of food, although the starters resembled the main courses, just smaller versions I assume. However, starters weren’t in our game plan as we were fully focused on one main aim – the fish and chips. Glancing haphazardly across the menu I saw non-fish eaters would still have been happy as Larry with plenty of chicken options, burgers galore, as well as ribs, pies and sausages. It seemed to cover every basic of chippie cooking, and then threw on a few more choices just to be on the safe side to cater to all tastes. Their fish selection is another example of this, offering skate, plaice, haddock, eel, cod, scampi and salmon to name a few. However one section of the menu screamed out at us indecisive diners with an alluring authority – the two fish special.
For a mere £12.50, you could order two different styles of fish, which was dished up with a scattering of salad and a bowl of chips. The four of us instantly honed in on this box on the menu. Mum instantly decided on the cod paired with deep fried king prawns, whilst Jess selected the cod with the battered squid rings. Dad and I both went a bit more traditional, putting our boneless and skinless cod cuts with a fillet of plaice instead. We also ordered a roll with butter each, as let’s face it, who didn’t want a butty? It was nice they offered some more unusual fish options, such as the squid rings and scampi, giving a vague nod to classy cooking, before smothering it in batter.
Our food arrived promptly at the table after being freshly cooked, and my jaw hit the table in an amazed thud. Yes, we knew the portion sizes were going to be daunting, but my plate was so piled, I understood now why both the chips and roll had to be delivered on two separate plates, our empty table soon straining with china. Instead of two pieces of fish as I was expecting, I had been given three – two medium pieces of the cod cuts, and then one large triangle of plaice, that seemed to occupy three quarters of my plate. Somehow rocket and cucumber had smuggled itself into a tidy corner of the long oval plate, the chips in a plain white bowl besides. Even the roll and butter seemed to have grown from the norm, the beautiful white domed bap squishy and soft on the inside once cut, but with a pale, crusty top. I smeared the split halves eagerly with butter, selecting the longest and fattest chips for the butty, which I always place in the roll first, salt, and then leave until the end so that the butter has all melted.
The fish was out of this world. The batter on the fish was so light to eat yet a gorgeous deep golden colour, with absolutely no grease whatsoever anywhere. This fish itself was brilliantly white and easy to cut even through the addictive crunch of the batter. The juicy flakes of fish were hidden under the natural undulating fish-scape of batter. The cod was pure fish and batter, having had both the skin and bones removed. It tasted wholesome and so soft, a stark contrast to the vibrant bite of the batter that had an intense flavour without being oily, heavy or cloggy. The plaice was boneless yet still had skin within the batter, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest. Again, the fish tasted quite meaty and it was a succulently thick fillet with no expense spared. There wasn’t a dry piece in the house, every mouthful a pure delight. I can’t exalt how tasty this true takeaway tucker was.
Even the salad was yummy, with a simplistic drizzle of dressing, some slices of cucumber and a dusting of onion with the odd tomato. Completely miniscule when compared to the gigantic fish owning the plate, but nice nonetheless. The chips were also very moreish. They were soft and slightly soggy like any decent fish shop chip, however they did look a bit anaemic – I would have preferred them to have a bit more colour to them although they tasted fine. There was a variety of thicknesses and sizes which always mixes up the mouthful between fat, soft chips and little crunchy ones . My concluding butty was also worth the wait, as I dunked my leftover roll crusts luxuriously in the ten millionth tomato ketchup sachet I had split open. Ahem, I like ketchup…
Out of the four of us, I was the only one to completely clear my plate. For me, no food challenge goes uneaten, and I wasn’t going to let the colossal portion sizes of Oldham’s defeat me, despite being so stuffed afterwards! There’s no doubt about it, Oldham’s know a thing or two about fish, but after reading their bio, I fully expect them to. The family owned venture opened back in 1967 and has been passed down from father to son for the last three generations, with every sibling in the family running their own fish and chip shop since the war. With such dedication to the chippie craft, it is little wonder they take such enjoyment in providing the highest quality fish and potatoes , cooked with good quality oil, to make such delicious food.
Once we had allowed our food to go down, we couldn’t resist having a Rossi’s ice cream sundae to seal the deal. Plus, it was a birthday meal out so dessert is a must. I chose the Butterscotch Nut Sundae. Again, incredibly simplistic but hitting the spot, as somehow only ice cream can. Costing £3.25, the sundae was served in a shallow silver ice cream saucer, with three scoops of plain vanilla ice cream, topped with very generous pools of golden butterscotch sauce and a big handful of chopped hazelnuts. I loved the combination of flavours here – Rossi’s ice cream is naturally creamier and thick to boot so it acts as the perfect base for the oozing globules of sauce, and I adore the sticky sweet caramel goodness of butterscotch in general so this was always a winner. The hazelnuts added a lovely contrast in texture with some crunchy bite, the sweet nut a fabulous friend of desserts in general.
Although the décor was plain and simplistic, it was by no means tatty. It was hygienic, clean and tidy, presenting a perch where you could catch your breath to enjoy the undoubted star of the show – the amazing fish. The surroundings may have been basic, and the genre of the food may have been traditional and a favoured takeaway choice, but I have never experienced such a huge dinner portion. Three decent fillets of high quality fish battered beautifully all for little old me? The food was delivered quickly to the table and it was all delicious and very reasonably priced for the portion size. In fact, it was dirt cheap for the wonderful quality and a definite bargain. I would 100% recommend Oldham’s Fish Restaurant to anyone visiting the seaside – it’s casual, does what it says on the tin fodder; and sometimes, that’s just what you fancy.