The West

Fife is the pick of the bunch
The award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar serves delicious haddock and chips. Picture: Andrew Baillie

If there's one food that the Scots know about, it's fish and chips, and any Scot worth their salt (and vinegar) knows that the best fish and chips are found in the East Neuk of Fife.

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Nobody can beat the crisp batter, moist, flaky fish and the chips - crunchy outside, fluffy within - served at the Anstruther Fish Bar. The East Neuk of Fife is a rural corner of Scotland on its east coast, about an hour's drive north from Edinburgh.

Before migrating to Perth, I had been known to travel the 120km from my home in the Scottish Borders to the picturesque seaside town of Anstruther, just to fulfil my desire for the perfect fish supper.

This time my 14,680km journey back to Scotland is to see family and friends - but a visit to the fish bar is on my list of essential things to do.

But let's start the day on a healthier note.

I miss Scottish raspberries (the cool climate helps produce some of the best in the world) and, on our way to Fife, we pass West Craigie Farm, near South Queensferry (only a few kilometres out of Edinburgh). So we make an unscheduled stop to pick a punnet of my favourite fruit.

Berries at West Craigie Farm. Picture: Andrew Baillie

The £2 ($3) per person entry fee entitles you to a container, advice on where to find the best fruit and access to the fruit fields. As well as raspberries, you can pick strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and redcurrants. Your entry fee is deducted from the cost of the fruit at the end of your visit.

We are told the raspberries aren't quite ripe and it will be another week or two before they are ready. As I have been looking forward to my first taste for two years, this news doesn't go down well. However, I engage my British stiff upper lip and head off in search of strawberries instead.

Picking strawberries isn't as easy as raspberry-picking due to the fact that they grow low on the ground, but there are plenty of berries and, with glorious views of the Firth of Forth before us, our punnets are soon full.

I look in the poly tunnels containing the raspberry bushes to see what might have been. The first is full of flowers and the bushes are buzzing with bees. The second reveals green berries just needing a burst of sunshine to bring the fruit to its final stage. And then, I spy the perfect specimen. Plump and perfectly pink, I gently pull it off the bush and pop it into my mouth.

Generations of children have grown up being warned that they are weighed on the way out to prevent them eating the fruit before paying but I've waited two years for this and I'm willing to risk it. It is delicious, sweet, slightly sharp and very juicy.

My husband and two children decide they want a piece of the action so we scour the remaining bushes and manage to gather a full pot of raspberries. We collect over 2.5kg of fruit which costs us around £9 and once we deduct our £8 deposit, we've £1 ($1.50) to pay. I recently paid $10 for 125g of raspberries in Perth, so a visit to the farm is a bargain in my book.

Inside the shop, as well as ready-picked berries for sale (not as satisfying as picking your own) there are locally produced deli goods, a butchery which stocks local meat and a cafe serving delicious food. Jam-making classes are also available.

We continue our journey to Fife, stopping briefly in Queensferry to marvel at the iconic Forth Bridge.

Completed in 1890, the single cantilever bridge is Scotland's biggest listed building and spans a total length of 2528.7m. The rail bridge connects the north-east and the south-east of the country and it makes a spectacular picture.

As we are travelling by car, we take the other bridge - the Forth Road Bridge - over the River Forth, enjoying the view of the rail bridge as we cross, and continue north to Anstruther, arriving just in time for lunch.

There is always a queue at the award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar. The fish is cooked to order and it is worth the wait. You can sit in or take away, the service is excellent and the food is second-to-none. Most of their menu is locally sourced.

Fish and chips. Picture: Andrew Baillie

The menu is substantial but I can't go past the traditional haddock in batter which costs £5.90 ($9.25) to take away and £8.25 ($12.90) to sit in. If you eat in the restaurant, your fish and chips are served with a wedge of lemon and the price includes bread and butter, sauces and a hot drink.

The batter is light and crunchy, the fish is perfectly cooked and the chips are just as they should be. Don't take my word for it, the excellent fish and chips have earned the cafe a multitude of awards and it has the royal seal of approval with Prince William among its past customers, Anstruther being just 15km from St Andrews where the prince attended university. Robert De Niro and Tom Hanks have also sampled the food here.

Five minutes north of Anstruther is the picturesque fishing village of Crail and a walk round the quaint harbour is the perfect way to burn off the calories consumed over lunch. My two girls declare the harbour "stinky" and, to be fair, they are right - it's a working harbour so there is a fishy aroma. However, it also has that distinct "sea air" smell and the anchored fishing boats, piled-up lobster pots and colourful houses are a photographer's dream.

A walk up the narrow streets finds us outside Crail Pottery, set around a pretty flower-filled courtyard and displaying a range of stoneware and hand-painted earthenware. Every piece is hand-thrown on the wheel, decorated, glazed and fired in the workshops on the premises.

Our last stop for the day is back south along the coast, past Anstruther and Pittenweem to St Monans. This quaint village rests on a hill overlooking the Firth of Forth and has stunning views across to North Berwick, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May.

Along the coastal path you will find a defunct windmill that once powered a salt panning industry. The Forth Basin had abundant coal supplies which fired the saltpan furnaces and its direct shipping routes to northern Europe ensured it was Scotland's main area of salt production for 800 years.

You can see the remnants of an old salt house beside the windmill and the grassy Teletubbies-style hills beside it are the overgrown ruins of more salt houses. These make it a fun area for the children to explore.

As I watch my kids play on them, I can't help but think what a pity it is that these houses are no longer in operation. The popularity of the Anstruther Fish Bar would keep them in business for years.

The West Australian

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