You learn about what makes real quality and meaningful excellence in the strangest places.
During my visit to the UK I have visited the seaside twice. There, one of the great British institutions is fish and chips and it should be well nigh impossible to get a bad fish supper beside the ocean. So you would think. In Morecambe on the English west coast we went looking one evening for some simple ‘pub grub’, nothing flash, just good food well cooked. In a ‘family restaurant/pub’ my wife ordered a chicken salad and I opted for fish and chips. After a wait of about 40 minutes the meals arrived, and I use the term loosely. the salad was as boring as it was awful as many of the touted ingredients mentioned in the menu were nowhere to be seen on the plate. My fish looked like a well worn, dark brown moccasin and tasted only slightly worse. This fish had clearly spent more time sitting in an oven somewhere than actually swimming in the sea and try as I might, I couldn’t even use the chips to kill the taste as they were lukewarm oven chips. On a scale from minor misdemeanor to hanging offence, serving seaside fish and chips using oven chips spells ‘Gallows’. And so we did what all Brits are so good at. We complained to ourselves, left most of the food and left the restaurant, wondering how a service industry can get things so completely wrong.
Fast forward a few weeks to the little Scottish seaside village of Anstruther on the Fife coast. This has been a long time favourite holiday destination for us and one of its attractions is the Anstruther Fish Bar and Restaurant. This is the Cathedral of Cod, the Heaven of Haddock, the Pinnacle of Plaice (OK, no more I promise). This is the Fish Supper as an art form. On both of my visits there were fairly long queues of people waiting to enter and be served. The usual scenario for this shop. Were people moaning and complaining about this? No. Because firstly, they could see that all of the staff were working hard at serving and looking after their customers and secondly, because when quality is so high, it is worth the wait. As I waited to be served I was watching. I saw a level of hygiene and cleanliness that would have made an operating theatre proud. I saw staff washing their hands more frequently than many hospital staff. I saw more nutritional information and product description that you could imagine the humble fish supper ever meriting. They even tell you exactly which fishing boat brought in their catch that morning. I saw quality in every single corner of the shop and in every action of the staff.
Does this establishment need a florid ‘mission statement’ or ‘vision statement’ to remind them of what it is they are all about? Don’t make me laugh. Their food does the talking for them and their swathes of awards are testimony to what a single-minded focus on being the best can achieve.
Oh, and by the way, the fish and chips and mushy peas were of course, sublime.