January 18, 2011 § 3 Comments
A couple of days ago, I had the occasion to go on a quick, private tour of the Fishmongers’ Company, one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London. The Hall, built in 1837 after a relocation from down the river, sits on the edge of the Thames, bordering the London Bridge. At its origins one of the original trade guilds of London, dating back about 700 years, the Company once controlled the entirety of the city’s fish trade, from who could sell fish to at which markets fish could be sold. Despite losing their monopoly on the fish trade in the fifteenth century, the Fishmongers’ Company still functions as an exclusive club of members — not much unlike the original “members” of the fish trade — and works to ensure the quality of fish that reaches the city’s market. For instance, the Company is responsible for carrying out proceedings against the sale of bad fish under the 1955 Food and Drugs Act and prosecutes offenders of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Acts while holding other sanctuary powers relating to sustainable fishing and food hygiene regulations.
The walls of the Hall are lined with the coats of arms of the Company’s past Prime Warrens (Chairmen). Most come from families with their own coat of arms but the occasional Chairman appointed without such will have one made for the occasion. The top level boasts a series of dining and sitting rooms, tastefully decorated in early Victorian style with later Regency tones, with delicate gilding and old paintings displaying open oysters and still lifes of the day’s catch. The Banquet Hall, which can seat up to 220 people, also boasts the famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which has appeared on many postage stamps since Pietro Annigoni painted it in 1956. In the following room hangs the 1752 chandelier made of pure silver, which must be cleaned on a yearly basis. The dining rooms host lunches and dinners, catered by the award-winning Executive Head Chef Stephen Pini. Going downstairs, we find the dagger, with which Lord Mayor Walworth is said to have killed Wat Tyler in 1381, though this has recently been called into question by historians who say that the dagger, which comes in two separate parts, was actually made later.
Formerly located by the busy fish market of Billingsgate Wharf — the market has since moved to New Billingsgate market by Canary Wharf — the Company works with schools, offers scholarships and draws together NGO sustainability campaigns to create a cohesive, neutral plan for the future of fishing. Most recently, the Company has become involved in eel fishing sustainability. But sustainable fishing isn’t the only plan the Company has for a healthier future. A tour of the building comes with a booklet on healthy eating by Stephen Pini on — you guessed it — deep-fried fish and chips. Offering a wide variety of fish, batters, sauces and methods of cutting and frying potatoes, the book gives a fresh take on the traditional pub fare.
Trying out some of the book’s flavor combinations, I chose to make a local halibut battered in cornmeal, Parmesan and chili. I flash seared the halibut in a cast iron skillet to get a crispy exterior then baked the middle of the fish through in the oven. For someone who fears making anything but cookies (and cakes, and pies and…well that could go on forever yeah?), I’d say making dinner is quite an accomplishment.
Also, did you know 2010 was the 150th anniversary of fish and chips? Well it was.