When making a trip to Blackpool for the first time in decades to wallow in nostalgia and the light of the illuminations (see my earlier review of The Village Hotel, Blackpool), thoughts inevitably turned to sustenance.
You would think that on a Friday evening in October, a table at a restaurant would not be hard to find. It’s true that we were able to find tables, the trouble was, all of them were occupied, some restaurants having queues out of the door.
In fact, not having the foresight to book, we were turned away from FOUR Italian restaurants with looks from the Managers that said ‘ Are you out of your mind?’
We returned from the town centre towards the promenade and came across a familiar name. Harry Ramsden’s.
Harry Ramsden (1888 – 1963) founded his original fish and chip business in a wooden hut at White Cross, Guiseley in Leeds in 1928. Such was the popularity and quality of his dishes that just three years later he was able to transfer the business to a huge, brick built ‘palace’ next door.
No expense was spared in making this building into a glittering homage to the dish.
Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, plants softened the brightness, a piano tinkled away, whilst all the waitresses had maid style black uniforms with white aprons and hats.
The Guinness Book of Records hailed this as the largest fish and chip restaurant in the world, with 250 seats. It too, became hugely popular, serving more than one million portions a year.
Day trips to the Yorkshire Dales from the industrial West Riding of Yorkshire were not complete without a visit. There were always long queues.
Coach parties of people came from all over the North of England to feast on his legendary dishes. I remember the hut and the bigger restaurant very well from my childhood and teenage years.
In 1954, on his retirement, Harry sold the business to his business partner.
It was sold again in 1965, 1988 and 1999. The brand had by then expanded into franchises, at motorway services, airports, shopping centres and abroad in Australia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. There are presently 45 franchises operating in the UK.
The current owner took over in 2010. Harry’s original, iconic site was sadly closed in 2011 and is now very successfully run by the Wetherby Whaler chain of fish and chip restaurants.
Bournemouth’s branch of Harry’s has now taken the crown as the world’s largest fish and chip restaurant, seating 417 diners.
The Blackpool restaurant is not hard to find, for it sits directly underneath the famous Blackpool Tower and lies in the well of the building on the ground floor.
It is such a cavern of a place that it has three entrances from different streets.
Even so, we had to wait fifteen minutes to get a simple table for two, despite the restaurant seating more than 200 diners.
All staff were extremely busy yet retained a friendly attitude throughout.
Our waiter introduced himself by name and explained what was on offer.
The restaurant itself is lovely, with a bank of booths to one side giving more privacy.
These are lined with wood and are arched, giving the impression of upturned boat hulls.
The remainder of the seating is at standard tables and chairs.
There is a bar with an extensive selection of drinks.
We opted for a regular haddock, chips and mushy peas, which came with two slices of white bread with margarine and a pot of very decent tea.
The plates were not the largest and to my mind, neither were the portions.
The chips were ok but the fish was smaller than I expected and if honest, a little chewy.
The fish came with a fresh wedge of lemon for drizzling and a small pot of tartare sauce.
Overall the dish was nothing to get excited about and I thought it was a little overpriced at around £25 for two. I suppose this is down to supply and demand.
My local, independent fish and chip restaurant at home does this much better, has much bigger portions – especially the fish – and is quite a bit cheaper. Maybe I have been spoiled.
However, overall it did a job and we left replete, into the night air.
I don’t think Harry would have been very pleased to see his name attached to somewhat average fish and chips like this, his originals were legendary, but I guess that’s progress.
You will find the location of the many branches by going to www.harryramsdens.co.uk