Since opening on a quiet side street with not much more than a couple of pubs a few years ago, The Scallop Shell in Bath has garnered a reputation for serving the best fish and chips in the city, something backed up by countless awards and a premises that’s pretty much constantly packed.
Founded by Garry Rosser, whose career as a chef helped him forge a network of the finest fish suppliers, the menu offers everything from the humble British staple of battered cod to the most highly prized seafood such as razor clams, Dorset crab and Tarbert langoustines, all served in a shabby-chic setting that offers diners an atmospheric taste of the seaside all year-round. As for the chips, they’re some of the best you’ll taste due to being the finest seasonal British potatoes prepared each day in the dedicated ‘spud room’, while the mushy peas and curry sauce (no snobbery here) are also proudly homemade.
Service is extremely efficient and friendly, with an unpretentious format that means diners place their order at the counter, a system that works well with a restaurant that has such a fast turnaround. Other changes include their reservation policy, for where once The Scallop Shell adopted a strict walk-ins only rule, those who have been turned away in the past, or had to wait in the neighbouring New Inn pub, will be glad to note the change to advance bookings. That said, they still very much welcome walk-ins which is great for the spontaneous.
The takeaway fish and chips option which caused queues to form when they first opened has long been banished in favour of a dedicated eat-in restaurant more aimed at foodies and tourists looking for a British fish dinner to remember. Serving up a more ambitious choice than the traditional high street fish and chippy we all remember from our youth, there’s nevertheless a welcome sense of romance and humour when the sliced white bread and butter arrives on nostalgic blue and white Cornishware. The good-value Fisherman’s Lunch even includes a mug of tea.
Most notably the restaurant now occupies two floors, the upstairs dining room with booths being an altogether smarter, trendier affair than the bustling downstairs environment, which understandably many prefer due to being able to see the chefs hard at work, while a new outside terrace overlooking the Bath rooftops is framed with fishing net lights and adds a touch of glamour to evenings spent al fresco with a bottle of fizz and a seafood platter to share.
The Scallop Shell is unique in that it can be a venue for a lunchtime bite, a quick mid-week dinner or a celebratory feast. My favourite way to start has to be the trio of scallops, served in their shell, as befitting the restaurant’s name, along with a generous helping of garlic butter, the remainder of which can (and should) be mopped up with the white bread. For me, it’s a small starter so I opt for three Weymouth Bay rock oysters alongside. Husband made a bee-line for the simple prawn cocktail (what’s new), overflowing with Atlantic prawns and served in a trademark scallop shell.
As for mains, if you’re in the mood for good old-fashioned fish and chips, whether you’re a cod or haddock fan, nothing else will do, and this is surely the place to have them. When you’re feeling more extravagant opt for the Brixham Market Dover Sole with tartare sauce (no meunière here alas) or the seasonal half lobster with garlic butter and chips. Divine. A side of English asparagus is the perfect accompaniment. Instead of a pudding menu, there is simply a ‘dessert of the day’ which on our night proved to be a classic Eton Mess served in a retro sundae glass.
The no-frills dining experience at The Scallop Shell is all about the quality of the food (hoorah!) and bringing the humble British chippy into the 21st century, with a friendly nod to its retro past. There’s a roll- top bath filled with the ‘catch of the day’ as you enter, along with an evocative, highly appealing scent of malt vinegar, taking you back to happy childhood days spent by the beach. This informal, fun concept, which nevertheless takes its grub extremely seriously, is a breath of fresh air – or should that be sea air? And that never fails to makes me hungry, nor does passing The Scallop Shell and getting a waft of all my favourite things when the door opens. I’m already planning my next fish supper date, and so should you.
The Scallop Shell, 22 Monmouth Place, Bath. Opening hours 12noon – 9:30pm Monday – Saturday. For more information and to book please visit the website.