Loch Fyne could be finer with decent beer

At the top of the (long) street where we now live is what used to be a pub called the Lord Nelson, the middle one of a trio of boozers with Napoleonic names between Hampton Hill and Twickenham Green. (The other two being the now-closed Wellington and the Prince Blücher, which is named after the Prussian general who pulled Wellington’s derrière out of the hot fat by turning up just in time at Waterloo, and which is a fine Fuller’s outlet.)

The Lord Nelson was well known for specialising in fish dishes, and it had half of a fishing boat outside the main entrance. Soon after we moved to this area, however, it was taken over by Loch Fyne Restaurants and converted from a pub specialising in fish to a proper fish eatery (with, as it happens Loch Fyne’s head office upstairs above the restaurant).

I never got there when it was a pub, though I’ve dined there several times since its reinvention as a Loch Fyne outlet, and the food is well up to the mark: properly cooked (it’s easy to do fish badly) and very reasonably priced. But the beer selection is absolutely dreadful: Beck’s, Stella, some other awful eurofizz lager, and (the only saviour) bottled Guinness.

I had hoped that after Greene King, which has been making some serious nods at beer and food matching (it actually has a website called Greene King Beer With Food, and its Hop bottled beer used to be called The Beer To Dine For) took over Loch Fyne not quite a year ago there would be an improvement. But a trip up the road for our wedding anniversary recently revealed that everything was just as awful as ever on the beer menu.

Not one of Greene King’s beers was available, so, still no ales, though ales, including Greene King’s, go extremely well with fish: Abbot with mackerel, for example, where the beer’s heaviness, slight sweetness and full mouthfeel works well with the oily fish; or XX dark mild with salmon, setting off the coffee/roast notes of the beer against the sweetness of a good wild Alaskan; mussels with IPA; a creamy smoked fish pie with Strong Suffolk; or bouillabaisse with Hen’s Tooth, one of my favourite bottle-conditioned ales.

Greene King need to get a grip and point out to Loch Fyne that Muscadet sur lie is well and fine (which it is) but beer is equally good with fish, and it’s a brewery the restaurants are owned by now. There’s a mass of great fish and beer matches. Indeed, fish is great cooked with beer: here are a couple of excellent recipes I offer to Loch Fyne for free.

Fried Fish in Clouded Yellow beer batter (serves six)

Making batter with beer containing live yeast beer is fantastic, because the yeast starts working again on the carbohydrates in the flour, and the carbon dioxide produced as a result makes for a lighter, frothier batter. I’ve nicked this from Sue Nowak’s Beer Cookbook, with the added wrinkle or twist of using St Austell Brewery’s bottled Clouded Yellow wheat beer: the vanilla pods, cloves, coriander and maple syrup that go into Clouded Yellow with the malt and hops give the batter a zing that perfectly lifts the fish

Ingredients

Six medium-sized cod (or haddock, or plaice, or other white fish) skinless fillets

100g (4oz) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium egg, beaten
The bottom 150ml (1/4 pint), including the yeast, of a 500ml bottle of St Austell Clouded Yellow (do I need to tell you what to do with the other 350ml? Get a grip.)
50g (2oz) seasoned flour

Lard or beef dripping (or oil if you must, but lard/dripping gives much better results, because the temperature achievable with hot lard/dripping is higher) for deep frying

Add the beaten egg and the beer to the self-raising flour and the salt, slowly to avoid lumps, and whisk well until consistency is between thick and runny (thin down with cold water if necessary). Leave to rest for at least an hour. Heat oil to around 350-375 degrees F, 180-190C, pat dry fish, give batter a final stir and dip fish piece by piece into batter, cooking no more than two pieces at a time, and shaking off the excess batter before frying. Fry fish for 10 minutes or so, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper towels, and keep cooked pieces warm while you cook the rest.

Serve with freshly cooked chunky home-made chips (once more fried for preference in lard/dripping), mushy peas, salt, lemon or real malt vinegar and, to accompany, Clouded Yellow again, or a hoppy pale ale.

Heather Ale Baked Fish

The Williams Brothers’ Fraoch Heather Ale is not only a fine accompaniment to fish dishes, it is a very good ingredient in fish dishes. The heather and bog myrtle/sweet gale in the beer again perk up the fish, and because the beer is only lightly hopped, there is not the problem of over-harsh bitterness that arises if hoppy beer is boiled during cooking.

Ingredients

Two (or more) fillets or steaks of white fish, skin on if possible
One bottle of Fraoch Heather Ale
250ml fish stock
Herbs, ground pepper, chopped onion, and/or chopped celery leaves to taste

Place the fish in a shallow, buttered ovenproof dish and sprinkle with your selection of seasonings. Pour in the heather ale and fish stock 50/50 until the fish is about 60 to 70 per cent covered. Cover the dish with foil and cook for 15 to 20 minutes in an over at 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Remove fish from dish with a fish slice and keep warm: swiftly reduce liquid in a saucepan to use as a sauce. Serve with boiled potatoes and peas/sugar snap peas/mange tour/green beans. To accompany, Heather Ale, or one of the Williams Brothers’ other flavoured ales, such as Kelpie or Grozet.

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