A P P L E B E E ' S F I S H
Graham Applebee Stoney Street, London SE1
Graham Applebee is different from the other people featured in this book because he isn't a producer but a restaurateur and fishmonger. Some of his stock comes from Billingsgate but some is sent directly, eg farmed salmon from Loch Duart, in Scotland, and line-caught mackerel and sea bass from Cornwall. As much of his fish as possible is line-caught because, quite apart from the issue of sustainability, it's in better condition than fish caught in nets, as his manager, David Wilson described it: a fish struggling in a net 'loses its shine' rather in the same way as stressed meat becomes tough.
Neither Graham nor David were fishmongers before Graham opened the shop. They met working for a group of Italian restaurant in The City: Graham was the buyer and David the manager. As buyer, Graham went to Borough for vegetables and as the market developed saw that it offered a promising opportunity. Why, I asked, did they choose fish? 'Why not?' said David. 'There are very few fish shops and the fish in the supermarkets — well, I wouldn't want to buy it.'
After twenty years in the restaurant trade, he declares that he'll never, ever go back. 'Restaurants kill you! I've got children: I never saw them. The hours are very long and unsociable.' He also hated the pressure. 'You have to cater for 160 people in the space of three hours.' He's been at Borough for two years and loves it. 'Here — it's good fun. If you have a passion for something, of course you enjoy selling it.' His ambition is to open up a shop of his own. Graham on the other hand already has a restaurant in Wanstead and is hoping to start another next door.
Since opening Applebee's, Graham has developed strong opinions on the issues currently surrounding fish. He believes that the future lies in fish farming — by which he means responsible fish farming, carried out in an environmentally-friendly way and where the fish have plenty of space. He also believes that the issue of fish food, which at present is fish and thus further depletes natural resources, will soon be settled by the introduction of a non-fish alternative.
In the meanwhile, however, he says that he feels perfectly justified in selling all kinds of seafood, whether scarce or not, because the fishmonger is too far down the food chain to be relevant. By the time the fish have been caught, it's too late: effective action is needed at the fishing end. He is emphatic in his condemnation of the quota system, which he sees as pointless because the use of nets makes it impossible to control the number of fish taken, at least with any accuracy: even with the best of intentions, therefore, all the fisherman can do is to throw back the excess.
On the day of my visit, his stock included red mullet and red snapper, monkfish, turbot, Dover and lemon sole, cod, John Dory, mackerel, wild sea bass, wild sea trout, wild salmon, live langoustine, clams, scallops, and prawns. The sea bass was from Guernsey, where cold, deep water gives the best possible fish; like the farmed version, the wild salmon, was from Scotland. In general, they only stock Scottish salmon. 'Scottish is best,' declared David. 'Salmon from Canada and Alaska are noticeably different. They have darker, softer flesh which we don't prefer.'
Graham gave me a piece of wild Scottish to try and I can vouch not only for its wonderful taste but its firm, smooth, fine-grained, virtually oil-free texture. He does sometimes stock bream and gurnard (which aren't on the threatened list) but they don't sell well. He says that most of his customers pay lip-service to sustainability but in the end they buy the sort of fish they're used to and know they like.
In the belief that part of the difficulty is that people don't know what to do with lesser-known fish varieties, we have given you recipes in the hope that if you try them, they'll become favourites too.