In pictures: Billingsgate Market

In pictures: Billingsgate Market

Tom Shingler 20 May 2016

Tom Shingler gets up at the crack of dawn to take a tour of the legendary fish market with chef and Roux Scholar Andrew Jones.

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Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

As fish markets go, Billingsgate is up there with the best. A huge warehouse full of stalls selling every kind of fish and shellfish you could ever ask for, it’s been supplying London’s best restaurants for decades. Based in Canary Wharf – a strange setting for an historic fish market – the building is surrounded by towering glass skyscrapers and gaggles of suited city workers queuing up for their first coffee of the day. As I tried to locate the entrance (and, more importantly, get out of the rain) amongst stacks of empty pallets and forklifts whizzing around in all directions, I started to hear the hustle and bustle of a food market; a slightly surreal experience when it’s six in the morning and barely light. I eventually ducked inside and entered a world of ice, polystyrene boxes, bright fluorescent lights and more fish than I’d ever seen before.

I was there to meet Andrew Jones, a Roux Scholar and the chef at Chamberlain’s of London, in Leadenhall Market. The restaurant is owned by Chamberlain and Thelwell, a company that’s been sourcing the best fish for chefs since 1947 and has its own stall at Billingsgate dedicated entirely to buying produce for the restaurant sector. Jeff Steadman, a partner in the business, was there to greet us and show us around the ninety-eight stalls and thirty shops housed in the giant building.

Billingsgate Market
Ray Steadman
Sea urchin

Being an inland market, Billingsgate doesn’t rely on day boats like those found on the shorelines of Britain. Instead, fish and shellfish from all over the world arrive in lorries throughout the night. While species from further afield may have been frozen en route, the majority of the British varieties are just as fresh as anything you’d find on the coast, being caught just hours before being transported to London. Everything a chef could possibly ask for is available, from fresh cod, mussels and scallops to sashimi-grade tuna, sea urchins and blue swimmer crabs. There were dozens of brightly coloured, exotic looking fish I’d never seen before, which tend to get snapped up by restaurants specialising in international cuisines.

Indian Ocean fish
Eel drawers

Many of the stallholders at Billingsgate have been working there all their lives – Jeff included. He knew what was at its best that day and seemed to be on first name terms with everyone there. Despite the early start, we were there as the market was beginning to wind down – trading finishes at eight o’clock in the morning – but there were still giant scallops, fat, juicy prawns and glistening sea bass for sale. There were even shelves full of live eels and giant tanks housing gargantuan crabs and lobsters, for chefs after the freshest produce possible.

Andrew Jones
Ray Steadman
Fresh fish

After browsing the stalls, Jeff took us to Chamberlain’s dedicated prep area, where a very skilled group of workers were gutting, filleting and cleaning fish with lightning speed. These fillets would then make their way to restaurants across London, with some of the best specimens kept for Andrew and his team of chefs.


After our tour was complete, Andrew drove us back to the restaurant so we could taste what was bought that morning. The team at Chamberlain’s regularly takes people around Billingsgate so they can see what a great place it is, and I saw quite a few members of the public doing a bit of shopping on their own. It’s a fantastic place to experience and, if you can face the early start, well worth visiting the next time you’re after a decent bit of fish.