Steve Hatt - As fresh as it gets in Central London
In case you have not noticed, I am on a food roll here. Two weekends back, I finally paid a visit to the local fishmonger. Come to think of it, that wasn't really a big deal considering that I used to tag along with Mum to the local wet market back home.
Till this day, I'm still haunted by the early morning chaos at Queensway wet market with hawkers screaming about their wares at the top of their voices trying to outdo the sellers next to them, and 'aunties' who were determined to get the freshest groceries at lowest possible prices. There I was, half awake, trudging along behind Mum and lugging her conquest, which would occasionally include a fresh sea bream.
Fresh fish or seafood for that matter is hard to come by in London. Unless you don't mind turning up at 5am in the morning at Billingsgate Market, which is inconveniently located at Isle of Dogs served by the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) that has proven to be unreliable during weekends, you would have to contend with the fish counter at your local supermarkets.
While most supermarkets do a decent job removing the fish guts, I could not help but noticed a slight fishy smell lingering in the air - a sure sign that the fish could be fresher. Even the fishmonger stall in Chapel Market (which name I can't recall, 'Chapel Market Fishmonger' perhaps?) fared no better in the freshness litmus test.
Enter Steve Hatt Fishmonger, Islington's Essex Road's answer to Billingsgate Market. The fishmonger stall looks like one of those struggling backwater stores and gave no hint that it was given the honour of being one of London's most famous fishmonger.
We were there two weeks back trying to get fresh crabs (read about our crab buying experience) for our attempt to create one of Singapore's hot favourite - the Chilli Crab. A queue was already building up outside Steve Hatt's when we were there at 11am.
Non-discreet, but it did seem strangely inviting
Steve himself were in the shop with three burly staff - one picking out the seafood from the extensive range on the window display, another weighing it and wrapping up purchases in layers of grease absorbing papers, and the final one perched over the sink just chopping up larger fishes into more manageable chunks. And nope, there was not a hint of the much dreaded fishy smell.
It became quite clear that most in the queue were returning customers as Steve was rather familiar with their preferences. The staff were unexpectedly friendly as well and I must admit that I had not seen any person flashing a wider grin while wielding a chopper before.
Fresh seafood, reasonable prices, friendly service. What more can one ask for? I don't think I'll be heading to the supermarkets' fish counters for quite some time.
88-90 Essex Road
Islington, London N1 8LU
Tel: 020 7226 3963