By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Oh how I miss spontaneous, local, seasonal food. For nights on end I bellow “where art thou market-based cuisine” across the rooftops of London, my desperate whimpers reverberating against the constant stream of wagons bringing food from afar. A city founded on the bustling markets of Camden, Portobello, Borough and Smithfield is crumbling under the weight of mass-produced foods marketed as being artisan, organic, ethically sourced and the rest (when will ‘local’ become a fad?), pulling the wool over our eyes in what has become the classic omnivore’s dilemma.
Which is why I was rather pleased when I received an invitation from Chamberlain’s of London, an evolution of Chamberlain & Thelwell of Billingsgate market conveniently located in Leadenhall Market. Despite rubbing shoulders with Pizza Express, La Tasca and a selection of high-street fashion outlets the cobbled stones and restored 14th century architecture makes it a fitting place for a family-run restaurant that champions ethically sourced ingredients with traceability from “the deep to your dish” and “the farm to your fork”.
This philosophy is amplified across the restaurant’s A La Carte, Brasserie and Tasting menus with buzzwords of authenticity in good supply; Hand Dived Scallops, Guernsey Skate Wing, Darjeeling Tea Smoked Mackerel and Butter Poached Scottish Lobster (the latter two brought tears of joy). Those dining in the brasserie also have the choice of a Fish Mixed Grill comprising of a chef’s selection from Billingsgate Market with béarnaise sauce and lemon; bliss!
We were seated in the restaurant and left to peruse the menus at our leisure, fortuitously, because the narrowing down process certainly requires a leisurely approach. Home made bread and seafood Pâté was on hand soon followed by a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc to aid our strife as we eliminated dishes that would stand out from the crowd in most restaurants.
The restaurant manager is a real character and his friendly demeanour was refreshing. On his recommendation we started with two oysters, one of Essex origin and one of Irish, which served as lovely props in underlining my narrative on locally-sourced foods. Both were excellent, but they were distinctly different.
As an entré we enjoyed roasted hand dived scallops garnished with brawn, tartar, caviar and capers and darjeeling tea smoked mackerel with apple salad, crispy shallots and burnt leek dressing. Both dishes were a spectacle to behold and were as pleasurable on the palate as they were on the eye. The skin of mackerel had been smoked to perfection (a delicate balance, I find) with the subtle sweetness of the darjeeling complementing the garnishing and the meaty fish that combined to create (and I don’t use this term lightly) a dish made in heaven.
For the main course I placed my trust in the chef and selected the fish of the day from Billingsgate Market which was a lovely, meaty Brill that was pan fried and served on a bed of mash. The dish created one of those strange juxtapositions where you feel guilty for eating such a well presented dish and regret for swallowing such tasty food, but you soon succumb to your gluttonous side and emerge your senses as best you can as the surface of the plate becomes steadily more visible. My girlfriend enjoyed Baked Paupiette of Lemon Sole that was bathed in butternut squash, forest mushrooms, spring onions and crab cream that comfortably puts to bed the tired argument that “fish isn’t filling” in one fell swoop.
We finished the meal with a cheese board and hearty glass of port (for the gentleman) and white port (for the lady), by this time our belt buckles under considerable strain and our eyelids beginning to flutter. The chef Andrew Jones was kind enough to pay all the tables a visit – a trait of a truly good chef – and discussed with enthusiasm the family history from Billingsgate to Leadenhall. I rattled on until my repertoire of superlatives had been exhausted. My friend had requested that I ask whether the chef knew The Bastard of Billingsgate if I got to speak to him. As I expected the response was to the affirmative and he spoke of the famed fishmonger’s leaving party, the community and the market that has become a second home to so many. It was a heartwarming tale not too dissimilar to the history of Chamberlain’s, but one I fear we hear too little of in this day and age.
Whole heartedly recommended.
Related Content: The Truth Behind the Market Menu