A fishy business

Pescatarians unite! We at appetite have a passion for fish, and as long as you know what’s good (ie sustainable),
there is so much variety you can live
on it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Jane Pikett takes a coastal tour

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in our opinion at least, deserves a knighthood. Nay, he deserves to be King.
Of all the world. At the very least. 

Not only because he is a great cook, but because he cares so much. About vegetables. About deer. And rabbits. And all sorts of things. And particularly, about fish. Or, more precisely, about the health of our oceans, which must be maintained – actually, restored, after years of breathtakingly stupid fishing practices – a) so that the whole world doesn’t actually experience a catastrophic ecological breakdown, and b) so that you and I can eat fish. And where, pray, would we be without it? It doesn’t bear thinking about!

So, while Sir – sorry, King Hugh – is doing a grand job spreading the word about what is sustainable and what is not (and yes, we at appetite take the fantastic, downloadable, fish you can- fish you can’t eat, graphic helpfully produced by www.informationisbeautiful.net, with us to the fishmonger, just to be sure…) there are many fishermen and fisherchefs around these parts treating us to the bounty of the North Sea.

If we were to do full justice to the Robsons, the Taylors, the Latimers, the Lindsays, the Rileys Fish Shack, the Lindisfarne Oysters and so many more doing their bit for fish in this region, we would have to write a book (we may well…) so for now, we took ourselves a trip coast-side and landed on just two of what we consider to be the North East’s most notable fish restaurants, just to give you a flavour of what’s out there and the ethos behind it.


The Jolly Fisherman 
at Craster

The Jolly Fisherman got through a ton of crab last year. Or is that a tonne? We don’t know, because we don’t really understand numbers, but it is rather a lot.

And that’s just the meat. It doesn’t include the shells and claws. We try to work out how many crabs produce a ton of meat and give up after about half a minute in favour of getting on with The Jolly Fisherman fish board (crab, potted salmon, smoked salmon, roll mop herring and the like, with sourdough bread). It is extremely good, and the sun is shining on the waves crashing on the shore just outside the window, so this is about as good as it gets.

The pub’s owner, David Whitehead, is quite pleased because they have just had a good Easter, which equates to more than 200 lunches daily over the holiday period (285 on the busiest day) and more than 90 diners each night, attracted, one supposes, by the relaxed, rustic feel of the place, the simple, fresh produce, and the fact this is still a pub, with real ale and a proper bar.

It’s predominantly fish (the crab sarnies are renowned for miles around), but there is also great meat – venison and lamb star. The ice cream is Doddington’s up at Wooler, as is much of the cheese.

The pub has just featured in the Sunday Times, courtesy of BBC TV Masterchef host John Torode, who said it’s the only place to eat in Northumberland, which isn’t accurate, because there are loads of amazing places in the county, but it is deserved praise. David, much as he loves his food, helped by a stint playing rugby and eating his way round south west France, ain’t no cook, it transpires, but then he has John Blackmore in the kitchen, so he doesn’t need to.

John is not only a superb (superb!) chef, but he is fantastic, wonderful company, his passion for food and cooking palpable.

“Fish is just amazing; a challenge, a science,” he says.  “I enjoy it. We have a whole seabass dish which we put on a slate with banana leaves and people love it. We do a fish stew; the perfect dish for where we are. It’s fresh, wonderful produce. You need three, four ingredients, that’s all. It’s beautiful, so we make it really relaxed.”

Blackmore has been around a bit. Classically trained and a veteran of many establisments, including his own pub, restaurant and hotel in his time, his passion is for making food, and fish presents a happy challenge.

“You must treat it with care and respect. It takes on flavours so quickly, and every fish has a different flesh. It is too easy to ruin it. I’m 56 and been doing this for nearly 40 years, but I am still learning. You’re only as good as your last meal.”

The Jolly Fisherman, Haven Hill, Craster, Northumberland, NE66 3TR, tel 01665 576 3TR, www.thejollyfisherman.co.uk

John Blackmore’s top tips for fish

Keep most flat fish unfussy – lemon sole or Dover sole is best simply grilled with butter – and keep scallops simple, too. More complicated, meaty fish like seabass and bream can carry a sauce.

We do a fish layer of kipper pate, crab and salmon in dill mayo, which looks pretty and works so well together, and serve with artisan bread from Neville at the brilliant Running Fox café in Felton.

I never, ever use frozen fish. To check your fresh fish is really fresh, look for shiny gills and skin and a firm texture. Talk to your fishmonger about it and learn from him. It’s important to use different species these days. We have coley on the menu. It’s different, slightly meatier, and hard to work with. It’s a bit grey and doesn’t have much flavour, so you need to do it with crab, say, or a mustard sauce.

John’s monkfish with Serrano ham and caper mash

Ask your fishmonger for a chunky piece of monkfish, about 6oz. Season with pepper and wrap it with two slices of Serrano ham and season with pepper (no salt). Put on a baking tray with some butter and bake at Gas 4/160C for 15 mins. Let the fish rest, during which time it will sweat out juices which you now put over a low heat, add some blanched leeks with white wine and cream and season to taste. Pop the fish on top of some wilted spinach and a drizzle a little sauce around.

John’s Craster kipper, cod and salmon pie

Take an individual pot for each person and layer chunky bits of cod (3oz), then half a kipper fillet, then about 3oz salmon, then some dry, fresh spinach leaves or broccoli and pour on some double cream, which will take on all the flavour and counteract with the kipper, cover with mash and grated Doddington’s Cuddy’s Cave cheese. Bake for 10 mins on Gas 5/180C. Serve with green veg.

John’s fish stew

It includes red snapper, scallops, king prawns, salmon and mussels, sauteed in a hot pan with garlic and white wine. Add fennel and a thin tomato sauce, bake it in the oven, turn out in a bowl and serve with artisan bread and some nice micro herbs.

The Old Boathouse, Amble

The Old Boathouse has been open a mere fortnight when we visit to interview co-owner Richard Simm (pictured above). This is our second visit within seven days (the first time, we had the salt and pepper chilli squid, moules frites, and crab cakes for the grownups, and pizza for the kids), and it was then we decided we had to return, this time notebook in hand and photographer in tow.

Richard Simm and Martin Charlton – both of them well-known names in North East food and masters of their trade – have created here that rare thing; a comfortable, basic place, with open kitchen, basic wooden seating (no frills), and superb (amazing!) food worthy of any posh establishment, but tasting all the better in this old shed on the harbour at Amble.

We like their Facebook page – a lovely, pictorial diary of life here, which includes a picture post a few days before we visit, detailing a diner who asked for scallops, only to find there were none, and then watched, amazed, as a boat landed a haul of these very things yards away. They were on her plate in minutes.

Nick Spurelli, from the brilliant ice cream parlour round the corner, tells us he was there three times in the first week. The Old Boathouse is causing a stir among those who love great, simple good in plain and simple surroundings, served within yards of the sea.

Richard Simm is a highly charismatic chef; delighted to chat about his trade and share a few secrets of the kitchen.

He spends the shooting season cooking for shooting parties, while Martin has a thriving business touring festivals with his food van. So, when one is away, the other will be here.

This is one of those word-of-mouth sensations; much anticipated and booked out within days of opening. An old RNLI building, it had at one time been a café. “Now, we just want to do the freshest fish you will get, landed right here, cooked simply. We are filleting fish that is difficult to work with because it is so fresh it still has rigour mortis,” says Richard.

Too much information, but good! There’s the downsides – you can only buy what comes in, and that is affected by the weather and what’s there. The crabs landed today aren’t needed, so Richard has asked the fisherman to set them by in a holly box (aka condemned cell) to keep them underwater in the harbour until tomorrow.

So, 90% of the fish on the menu is landed within yards of the door, the rest from Hartlepool and off the west coast.

Richard, a native of Alnmouth, knows the fishermen and knows John Blackmore (previous page) extremely well, of old and because he was involved with helping to get the Jolly Fisherman going in its first half year.

His first passion is for game, but he enjoys the technicality behind the cooking of fish, and the difficulty. Martin is a big fish man, though.

Richard is a keen salmon and sea trout fisherman, off the coast and on the River Tweed. He’s been fishing since he was eight, on the Aln, the Coquet and now on the Tweed and Tyne. He lets 90% of them go, because it would be wrong, he says, not to, he gets such good fish here at Amble.

“This place is a chef’s dream; no pressure, I buy the wines I want, I buy the beers I want, my fish is landed here. It’s lovely. It’s only 35 covers. We are just enjoying it.”

They are launching an outside catering business from here called Push the Boat Out, catering from six to 600.

The Old Boathouse, Leazes Street, Amble, NE65 0AA, Northumberland, tel 1665 711 232, The Old Boathouse on Facebook



Richard’s top tips for fish

When you’re buying, you really need to see the whole fish (if they don’t sell whole fish, they are hiding something), they need shiny eyes, and bright red gills. And it should not smell. Mackerel is a fantastically versatile fish; and actually the cheaper the fish, the more you will do with it. Mackerel, when amazingly fresh, is great raw – thin sliced with soy sauce, like sashimi.The woof fish (a bit like a cat fish) is great – firm and meaty and landed at Hartlepool – while halibut Richard’s favourite; a real luxury.

Richard’s sea trout and pea risotto 

Soften shallots and garlic in butter, add and coat Arborio rice, and then the key is to gradually ladle in boiling hot vegetable or fish stock. It’s the stock that makes risotto creamy, not the stirring, so keep the stock on the hob. The heat splits the rice and makes it creamy, so you don’t keep doing that stirring all the time; just fold it now and again. Finish with peas, parmesan and a little more butter at the last minute. Serve with sea trout, pan fried. Remember to rest your fish – just cook it to 75% and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the pan.  

Richard’s lobster
Buy, kill, boil. Make mayo. Make chips. Eat.

Richard’s squid
Prepare the squid, score inside so it curls back on itself and leave in milk (makes it soft and creamy), mix one part chilli flakes to one part salt to two parts cornflour and two parts Japanese breadcrumb, coat squid  in mix, deep fry at 190C in vegetable oil.


Star man
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