Delicious East End Traditions on Fish Island

Delicious East End Traditions on Fish Island

by Chris Osburn 31 July 2015

Chris takes a tour of one of the country's oldest producers of smoked salmon. Who'd have guessed it was a stone's throw from the Olympic Park in London's East End?

Chris is a freelance writer and photographer, longtime blogger and avid foodie.

Chris is a freelance writer and photographer, longtime blogger and avid foodie. Originally from the American deep south, he's worked all over the world and has called London home since 2001. He thinks the British dining scene is as dynamic and delicious as ever, but more and more seems to find his own kitchen to be the most exciting place to eat.

Most folks familiar with Fish Island probably know the area for its couple of canal-side hipster cafes, plethora of street art, views of the Olympic Stadium, and proximity to the Olympic Park and Westfield Stratford City. It’s as dynamic an East End destination as anywhere, and just a short stroll from Hackney Wick Overground Station (and not too terribly far from Stratford Station as well).

However, more than all of that, Fish Island is home to the H Forman & Son Smokehouse. A 110 year old venture that’s been smoking Scottish salmon in the same way as it always has, Forman supplies some of the nation’s top restaurants with its smokehouse delicacies. Over the past decade, this family run business has branched out with Forman & Field, an online catalogue of gourmet food from independent producers. There’s also a restaurant at the smokehouse as well as a gallery and events space (each capitalising on Fish Island’s views of the Olympic Stadium).

I spent the morning with fourth generation proprietor Lance Forman touring his Fish Island facilities. It was Lance’s great grandfather, an émigré from Odessa escaping the pogroms, who set up the smokehouse seeking to replicate the smoked salmon he was accustomed to having back in his Eastern European home, as well as to cater to the tastes of the rest of the East End’s growing Jewish community. Lance reckons the business that his great granddad started represents the oldest commercial producer of smoked salmon in the world – and that smoked salmon as his family does it, was the first British gourmet food.

H Forman & Son Smokehouse
H Forman & Son Smokehouse
Smoked salmon
Smoked salmon

More than just a smokehouse though – and far from any sort of food factory – the Forman site is a production kitchen, which just happens to be world renowned for its salmon smoked on site. According to Lance, there are some restaurants in London (he wouldn’t get more specific than that) where more than half their menus are actually made in his Fish Island kitchen. He was glad to mention the Savoy and the House of Lords are steady clients though, as well as the salad shop group of eateries, Chop’d, which receives more than 3,000 roast chickens per week from Forman.

Of course, top quality smoked salmon is still the key to Forman’s success. Up until the 1970s, there were a dozen smoked salmon producers in London, but today only Forman remains. When the others jumped on the mass production bandwagon, Forman kept to its traditional smokehouse methods staying “pure” as Lance put it and never compromising any standards … all the while watching the local competition wither away, as modern factories linked to salmon farms in Scotland and beyond undercut the industry.

Fish Island graffiti
Packaged smoked salmon

Forman’s finished product certainly is delectable: melt in your mouth texture, not overly smoky flavour. Unlike much of the smoked salmon on the market these days, the Forman way is to do as little as required to dry cure the fish, using salt and smoke and nothing else (particularly not sugar, liquid smoke or other flavour enhancers as many other producers do these days) to keep the fish – and its natural flavour – preserved.

The style of smoking developed by the Formans is a London Cure, a rather basic but nonetheless distinctive process of preserving salmon, without masking the delicate flavour of the fish with too much smoke or ruining the texture of its flesh.

To this day, Forman’s salmon is sourced from Scotland (thus is the freshest available to the London market) and is still cured, carved, filleted, trimmed and packaged by hand. Awaiting the rubber stamp in Brussels, London Cure is soon to be granted DOP status – which will be a first for a London-made product, according to Lance.