Review: Haultain Fish & Chips

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I had not had fish and chips since leaving the East Coast back in July, for a couple of reasons. Prime one? As a Newfoundlander, fish and chips means cod. Living in Nova Scotia for so long, fish and chips means haddock. Out on this coast? Fish and chips can mean Pacific cod (not as sweet as it’s Atlantic cousin) or lingcod (not a true cod at all) or, more commonly, halibut.

Halibut as fish and chips, seems wrong somehow.
Do you really want to take this expensive piece of fish and deep-fry it? Is coating it in beer batter the best way to showcase this lovely meaty white fillet that lends itself so well to so many other preparations?

But for me, it’s the only option if I don’t want to fall into a pit of cod comparisons. And such was my desire for a taste of batter-fried fish that when a friend suggested Haultain’s for supper, I took the bait.
Didn’t know much about the place, other than a picture she sent me of the food and a copy of the menu, both of which looked good. I didn’t read any reviews before going, same as back in my restaurant reviewer days on the East Coast, because I don’t like to pre-form opinions or have set expectations before going somewhere new.

We pull onto Haultain Street, in what looks like a residential area, and spot the little diner easily. It’s early in the evening but the place is almost full, and there are folks waiting for take-out at the counter. A long bank of deep fryers pop and sizzle along the length of the space, with two rows of booths making up the eating area. Haultain’s opened in 1924, and most of the patrons tonight look they’ve been coming here since opening day and very happy about it. My friend gestures at the table across from us, and the china teacup the lady is drinking her tea from. And that teacup encapsulates the feeling here, that of a homey neighbourhood diner that doesn’t bend to trends, where everyone knows the regulars (a lot of interaction between servers and diners confirms that), and where you just know the food will be good. Or so we hope.

Surveying the menu, we settle on what we came for: halibut and chips. Our server–okay, server seems so inadequate here. She’s more like our host, like we’re in her dining room. I’m going to call her our host. Our host assures us that the fish is fresh, not frozen, and that the portions are fairly large, so a single piece of fish should be plenty, and if not they’ll be happy to cook us up another piece.

I order a vanilla milkshake, and although I can’t see the milkshake maker, I’m willing to bet it’s one of the old-fashioned ones with the tin cup, and especially when it comes with the extra bit in a side glass. It’s delicious.

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Our food arrives in short order, and it looks great. Handcut fries, cooked just right. The classic batter is not too heavy, although it is a slightly less cooked on the inside than I prefer. At first bite, all concerns or aversions to eating halibut deep fried are wiped away, and I’m transported to fish nirvana.
Accompanying coleslaw (homemade) is crunchy and dressed lightly. Overall, this is a pretty darn good plate of fish and chips. By now, the restaurant is packed, and the air is heavy with that greasy fog that happens when fryers working overtime force hood vents into overdrive, and we feel a filminess settling onto our glasses and in our hair.

I love tea after deep fried food–the hot tea cuts the grease in my throat, and I’m looking forward to having it in a little china cup but alas, it is not to be. Our host goes from being solicitous and welcoming to okay-you-cleaned-your-plates-move-along mode by dropping our bill on our table and rushing away before asking if we want anything else. I feel so cheap, so used. She wanted us for our stomachs, and now we are left to make the walk of grease shame to the car.

Despite being given the unceremonious boot at the end, the only thing that might deter me from coming back is the price. One piece of fish and chips is 17.95, which, given the surroundings, is expensive. Or is it? I haven’t ordered it anywhere else, and so haven’t really noticed the price. (By comparison, and 1-piece fish and chips on the East Coast is typically less than 10.00–but then again, it’s haddock.)
Well, one thing is certain–I’ve gotten over any internal conflict about halibut as fish and chips. I know I’ll be having that again, though where remains to be seen.

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