The diner was certainly satisfied as I took his vacated table in the small Coastguard Café on Hayling Island’s seafront.
He told me he’d come all the way from Guildford just for the fish and chips.
Originally coastguard cottages, the café-cum-fish and chip takeaway was opened in 1942 by Victor and Annie Elliott.
The menu then consisted of cream teas or eggs, beans, ham and peas. Still in the family and with a Fish and Chip Shop of the Year award, it retains its beams, a wood-burning stove and offers a more extensive menu.
Naturally, those fish and chips take centre stage on the menu, with cod, haddock, huss and plaice yours for the asking at £7.70 for a medium portion, £8.50 for a large one. Other fish includes a fishcake; cod’s roe; fisherman’s pie and a prawn cocktail, one of the few starters. Or go down the specials route with a French onion soup; venison pie; chicken, mushroom pie with a white wine sauce; cod fillet with parsley sauce or a macaroni cheese.
Other familiar dishes include breakfasts from £1.40; burgers; jacket potatoes; omelettes from £5.60 and salads, a prawn one setting you back £8.40. Or there are roasts, a curry and steak and kidney pie. All fish and meat dishes come with chips or mash, mushy peas or garden peas
Billed as sustainably-sourced fish, the haddock is line-caught. Potatoes are locally-sourced from Wilson’s at Stoke Fruit Farm, the batter a bought-in mix.
The website boasts that ‘Elliotts’ fish and chips and garden peas have 7.5 per cent less saturated fat than a KitKat’ - an odd comparison.
Portions are large, a walk on the beach before or after a meal to be seriously considered.
Diners around me in the small, unadorned space must have taken that walk, those hefty dishes disappearing with enthusiasm and alacrity.
There’s something delightfully old-fashioned about Coastguard, from the blue and white pinnies the friendly young girls wear to the oval-patterned china plates and complete lack of cool decor.
If you wish to return to the past, somewhere in the 1950s hinterland, come here.
My haddock, chips and peas, on one of those retro plates, were vying for space, peas tumbling on the table. The fish, despite asking for a medium-sized portion, took up quite a chunk of the plate.
I wish I could say it was the best fish and chips I’ve had this year. But the over-cooked fish, a lovely thick piece, had been deep-fried for too long, the batter’s outer edges quite greasy.
The chips were okay, if not the crispest, and peas were just peas. The advertisement on the café door might point to where the problem lies: ‘Frier wanted’.
The café is licensed and the kitchen can rustle up a hearty pud too. I am unsure how anyone could tuck into a spotted dick or treacle sponge (£4.20 each) after any of the main courses. Or there’s the island’s own ice cream from Northney’s in various flavours including strawberry, vanilla and ginger, my choice.
The not-very-creamy ice cream (it is quite thin in comparison to other local ice creams including Jude’s) was, however, a bargain at £1 a scoop.
Overall, this place has a charm and heart and fills the hungry. My bill came to £8.70, not including a well-deserved tip.
Coastguard Café, 14 Seafront, Hayling Island (023) 9246 3202.
Open 12am–3pm (Mon-Thurs), 11am-1pm (Fri-Sat) and 11am–8pm (Sun)
Disabled access: Little space for wheelchairs.
How to get there: Follow the signs to Hayling Island, following the A3203 along Manor Road and Beach Road on to the seafront. The café is on the left, once you reach the shops. Public car park on the side of the road.
FOOD Three stars (Out of Five)
SERVICE Four stars (Out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE Three stars (Out of Five)