Seamaster Fish & Chips, Meadway Precinct, Tilehurst, Reading, RG30 4AA.
By Jono Barber
Memories of traditional fish ‘n’ chip shops at the seaside conjure up certain things like the sting-y odour of vinegar and yellow-stained linoleum slowly curling up around the edges of the fryers, don’t they?
This could have been said about Tilehurst chippy Seamaster for many years. Add to that the fact that when it rained heavily, the water pooling on the luxury apartment’s patio above would drip through the ceiling and in through the windows. That rain would then often drip down the back of your neck as you sat on the rusty, grease-covered former office chairs with chunks of vinyl and foam torn out of them by frustrated teenagers waiting for their chip butties.
This added a feeling of authenticity and, at certain times of the week, this was enhanced by the ‘sit down and wait’ area which would be haphazardly occupied by sleeping pensioners and even the odd outpatient from the nearby hospital (usually accompanied by their carer speaking loudly on their phone to someone in Nigeria whilst their charge ate a curry sauce sandwich).
This is now but a distant memory. No longer is Ginger Doris with her acne and Sandra with her scalp issues serving; the place has had its second makeover in as many decades. It’s now a shining example of the modern chip shop, scoring maximum points for effort and a full two out of four for execution.
The walls are now adorned with seaside images of London buses, driving around London. An inspiring mural next to the fridge shows an enduring image of some peasant types carrying sacks of potatoes near the borders of Scotland. While a random distribution of frames from local charity shops help show off other views similarly unrelated to Reading or seafood.
The old traditional former school assembly plastic chairs in 1970’s orange or blue were unceremoniously fly tipped somewhere near Pingewood. They’ve been replaced with faux leather high-backed chairs bought on the cheap from that weird, cheap Indian furniture shop in Broad Street when they needed to shift them after the lease came up back in January 2018.
The tables are a significant improvement but lose the ambiance of the usual chipped Formica efforts that proudly displayed racist slogans scratched onto them by local students using their school issue Stanley knives.
The decorator does though need to have a word with themselves for the application of flooring glued to the walls. This may be an attempt to mitigate the problem of those who park their feet on the plasterwork whilst sitting and waiting in the ‘sit and wait’ dining area. Or maybe it’s an attempt at post-millennial irony. Or maybe it’s just a bit shit.
The use of fake wood flooring continues appropriately on the floor, but to mix it up a bit it’s done in a different fake colour…
What does blow your mind as you walk into the refurbed place is they seem to be at the correct level of apathy, with clever use made of the original grease-stained parquet effect lino. Either that or a nearby flooring specialist can supply decades-old chip shop lino.
The menu board area could confuse the uninitiated as it resembles a fishmongers’ Offers of the Day board. On a quiet week you’re given about 7.3 seconds to ‘make your mind up’. Which, to be fair, can be helpful to more indecisive stomachfillers/timewasters.
Little emphasis is placed upon choosing the healthy GRILLED FISH option (which gave them an extra 0.075 score on the door). To help with the olde worlde authenticity, the application of masking tape to the board covers up anything you may actually want.
A real plus point is that Seamaster do not accept card payment, which is appropriate for the area but also puts off any pretentious ‘experience hunters’ who only use Apple Pay or debit cards. These Tilehurst tourists can go to the bloody cashpoint like the rest of us.
What they sell: Chips, various fish, pies, sausages, reformed chicken. All this stuff…
Vegetarian options: Spring rolls, pineapple fritters, chip forks.
In their own bullshit: ‘Restaurant’.
‘Restaurant’ ‘Decor’: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen meets David Blunkett circa 1997; everything a chippy shouldn’t be.
What we ordered: The wife asked for regular chips and a saveloy (“Whassa saveloy?!” came the response). And, because I’m a growing lad, I asked for LARGE chips and LARGE cod. Both to take away.
Price: About £14 based on the indigenous teenager member of staff’s limited use of English and the change I got back.
What we got? The wife got regular chips and a jumbo sausage and I got what I actually wanted.
Number of mistakes on order: 1 – The difference between a saveloy and a sausage is not common knowledge at Seamaster.
The Taste: Wife said hers was ‘alright for a sausage’ but ‘a saveloy would have really made her day’. The dirty cow. My chips were – I have to say – awesome. And, although the large cod was quite fishy (if you know what I mean), the batter covering was just right.
Clientele: Staff from Asda, residents of the penthouses above and Allen Sinclair from BBC South Today (well, once).
Time taken from ordering to leaving: Not measured as bets were being taken as to if an elderly man’s trousers would fall down while he struggled to pay for his order.
Digestive impact: The meal was washed down with a combination of Thatchers and alcohol-free lager* which probably didn’t help. Indigestion at 1:25am the following morning was improved by consuming half a pint of lactose-free milk.
Would we go again? Yes, absolutely. We go often (with a minimum gap of at least six months).
All ‘information’ in this review is accurate as of January 2020.
*Inedible Reading and Shit Things in Reading in no way endorses the drinking of alcohol-free lager.