For years it’s been an ambition of mine to visit Billingsgate Fish Market. Ambitious in the sense that I’d be extricating myself from bed at a time that I’d usually be arriving home on a Saturday morning. Last week though, I decided to see what the fuss was about (whilst crossing my fingers that my regular fishmonger wouldn’t catch me in the act of defection) and I fell in love.
I went by bike, which wasn’t as horrendous as it sounds. The early morning air gets you alert and awake and it only took me around thirty minutes from my home in Hoxton to get to Poplar, where the market is situated. I also felt a bit smug about getting in a good chunk of my daily exercise at a time when I’d normally be tipsy or asleep.
First impressions of the market were, “Oh my God, it’s huuuuge”. It is literally a food lovers’ Disneyland. The loading bays and freezer rooms make it look deceptively big though – the actual shopping area is an unintimidating size. You could do a thorough nosey of the whole place in half an hour. Wholesale buyers make up the bulk of customers in the early hours of the market but when we arrived (5am) the place was filled with members of the public, many with shopping trolleys in tow.
There are two cafés at Billingsgate. I popped into one for a much needed coffee (which was delicious). The atmosphere was great. The place was bustling with regulars and the banter was palpable. As I waited, I had a peek at their menu board. They obviously make the most of the abundance of fish on offer, with kippers, mackerel and smoked salmon all featuring. One item on the menu had me salivating so much that I decided I just had to make it for brunch (more on that later).
Prices are extremely reasonable at the market. The best offers I spotted were a huge wild salmon which would have fed at least ten people generously for £20 and five kilograms of mackerel for £10. Bemoaning the lack of a chest freezer (and 10 eligible guests!) I bought half a kilo of gorgeous, fat tiger prawns for £7, a box of around twenty scallops for £15 and two glorious live lobsters for £25. Other items that caught my eye were the live oysters and meaty swordfish, which I’m planning on purchasing next time I go.
One thing I have to mention about the market is the lack of cycle parking. There’s a large car park, if that’s your thing, but we and other cyclists had to use random railings as makeshift racks. More bike accommodation would be welcome, seeing as a substantial number of visitors arrive on two wheels.
All in all, Billingsgate Market is a wonderful experience and I’d highly recommend it to fish lovers (and those who need to be converted to the fruits of the sea). It opens up a whole world of culinary opportunities at highly reduced costs. A true East London institution, brave the early alarm clock and get down there!
Billingsgate Fish Market is open Tuesday to Saturday. Opening hours are 4-8am.