Imagine for a moment that it’s a Thursday. You set your alarm clock for 3.55am, wake the others at 4am, get into the car at 4.10am, and collect a friend at 4.15am. Then you drive, groggily, through the deserted City of London, before turning east towards Canary Wharf.
The office-blocks are still lit, and you look up, wondering how many unlucky souls are still at their desks. A little further on, bright lights emerge at a lower level; a green and white hangar structure is surrounded by a January-sale of parked cars. You turn off the A-road, cross a round about and turn through the signed arch overhead “Billingsgate fish market”.
Imagine all that. Then imagine how you’d feel if you parked up, went in, gazed, prodded, and discussed the price of fish for half an hour. You look at the clock: barely 5am. Purchases collected in heavy-duty black plastic sacks, you start making your way – sleepier now – to the exit. Passing, as you go… wait for it… “SCALLOP AND BACON ROLLS FRESHLY COOKED”.
This was me a couple of days ago. I bought a turbot, lobsters, oysters, kippers, and samphire and was done by 5.10am. Ready to go back to bed. Well, at least until I saw the sign… I’ve blindly passed it many times before, but as a foursome with a leisurely day ahead, how could we resist?
Flimsy IKEA chairs pulled in round the table, order called out for teas and rolls. Coats pulled tightly around us as we thought for the first time about the Winter morning temperature.
“Scallop and bacon roll? Oh… one minute, think we’re out of scallops. [shouts] Henry, can you get us some scallops?”. Henry trots through the caff, returning 2 minutes later with a full box of fresh scallops, corals intact, from a stall just 20m away.
We sat, sugared the teas, stirred, and pondered our purchases, chilling in the boot of car.
“Box of bass – that’ll help my filleting skills!”
“Is it reasonable to have a kipper for breakfast #2 at 7am?” *
“Didn’t realize the fine for catching lobsters with roe in Canada is $50,000 – do you think that’s true?” (no idea)
Arrival of the rolls drew an abrupt stop to conversation. I wanted to add ketchup; I really did. I LOVE ketchup. No, I would wait until after the first bite, and how right that decision was. Just one scallop, roe intact, with just one slice of bacon, pan drippings, and a fresh white bun. The scallop takes the place of an egg – adds moisture and texture, and an increased depth of flavour. Perfectly cooked juicy scallop. Crispy bacon. The silence at the table said it all. They certainly know how to showcase seafood at Billingsgate Fish Market.
Four cups of tea, and four rolls for £13. I was happy, yet saddened that I have made do without for so long.
* The answer is yes.