In my attempt to keep posting a bit more about Birmingham, I thought I would start a new category: Local Gems. These will be places which may not exactly set the culinary world on fire, but are local places where solid, tasty food is served. The first local gem I want to write about is Bedders in Small Heath, Birmingham.
Bedders for me, embodies everything I want to write about local gems – Most people in East Birmingham and Solihull know of Bedders but not so much outside of these geographic areas although they very much should. Fish and Chips is one of this nation’s beloved dishes – Who doesn’t like Fish and Chips? – and Bedder’s has been at the same location selling the same dishes today as they did over 50 years ago when they first opened (with a few additions to reflect the change in times). You don’t need me to tell you that any business which has survived for so long is obviously doing something right but here they are, still serving Fish and Chips as they probably did all those years ago when they first opened. What’s more astonishing is the fact that Bedders only opens Monday – Saturday for lunch and the only time they open in the evening is on Friday evenings 4:30pm – 7pm.
The menu is delightfully simple; Fish is a choice of cod, haddock or plaice (the latter 2 costing a bit more), they have pies and you can request tinned roe when you get there, although there are times they have fresh roe available too. No Southern Fried Chicken, no battered mushrooms or onion rings, definitely no kebabs here. If you order fish and chips, you can have it either as a single (piece of) fish and chips, or even a double (piece of) fish and chips. What’s more, in a really nostalgic twist, this is one of the few places I know of that offer you crispy bits of batter too (think some people know them as scraps?)
The fish is incredibly fresh at Bedders, too. Urban legend has it that fishermen call Bedders first to offer their wares before going to the Wholesale Market, but what I do know is that the fish is prepared fresh every day and the beauty of Bedders being so busy constantly is that all the fish is so freshly cooked that it’s rarely out of the fryer longer than 10 minutes before sold (and the fired fish has to be stacked sideways to allow more room once out of the fryer). It’s no small feat for somewhere in landlocked Birmingham to have been able to consistently get such fresh fish every day for as long as they have at Bedders. In my case, I always get my fish freshly fried as the plaice and haddock are cooked to order.
However, it’s not just the high quality fresh fish which should have you going to Bedders; You should be going for their superlative mushy peas and pickled onions. I admit, I never really liked mushy peas until I went to Bedders. I mean, why would you eat anything bright green that didn’t have a whole lot of flavour and subsequently needed a load of white pepper and malt vinegar to make them vaguely palatable? Much less did I see how/why they were considered to be a good accompaniment to fish and chips.. Admittedly, having to clean out a mushy peas machine when I used to work in a kitchen never helped my cause but then I tried the mushy peas at Bedders and it all became clear; Here at Bedders, the peas were freshly boiled down with ham hocks so that you got the ham flavour infused into the peas so it had a load of flavour – It didn’t need any extra white pepper or to be drowned in malt vinegar. I finally saw how they were a savoury accompaniment to fish and chips and could even enhance the fish and chips. Seriously, I’m a bit of a mushy peas snob now and even in more upmarket places that offer mushy peas with mint don’t have the same deliciousness as the mushy peas at Bedders. As for their pickled onions, rather than offer the jarred variety of whole button onions which have been in a jar for godknows how long, Bedders offer you freshly chopped onions steeped in a bowl of pickling vinegar (AKA proper pickled onions). Again, these are made fresh every day and you may not think they look particularly strong (in a pickled sense), trust me, you will be scooping as many onions as possible onto your food.
I used to only do a takeaway from Bedders with the fish and chips still wrapped in newspaper but if you want the full Bedders experience, then you need to eat in. It’s only then can you really soak in the nostalgia not only with the Formica and various newspaper clippings framed on the wall along with photos of stars whom have eaten there (My personal favourite is of David Suchet). Even the crockery is pure 60s and 70s with their glass plates and tea served in glass teacups and saucers. Order a fish dinner to eat in and you get your fish and chips (with or without peas), a glass of tea or coffee along with some bread (white, smeared all over with margarine, not butter). I absolutely love eating in at Bedders when I get a chance – I love seeing whole families enjoying themselves, sitting alongside an elderly couple enjoying their fish dinners just as they did 30 years ago.
I can’t believe I never thought of this before, but YKL created what can only be described as the Ultimate Fish Dinner Butty when she gets a fish dinner there; She gets a half-slice of bread, puts a bit of fish on half the side of the bread half slice, adds a couple of chips and some onions, then dollops a generous helping of mushy peas before folding over the bread. I’d never thought of doing that but it is every bit as good as it sounds and looks.
I admit, I’m fully biased about Bedders because they’re local to me and I’ve been going so long now that upon walking in, the manager asks me how much plaice he needs to cook – No hello or anything, just “How many today?”. But as I mentioned earlier, Bedders must be doing something right given they’ve lasted so long and essentially only trade during lunchtimes. I mean, they’re constantly busy and whenever I go past, there’s always a queue going out the door. Whenever I have visitors from abroad, I like taking them to Bedders because they offer fish and chips like we used to get when we were younger – Not like chippys these days which are more a kebab-house rather than a chippy. It’s not just for nostalgic reasons that I love Bedders, it’s because they serve Fish and Chips very well and I only hope that they can go on for at least another 50 years. So if you ever nearby and Bedders are open, you absolutely should go.