Supply chain: The Grundisburgh Dog and The Felixstowe Fishmonger

Supply chain: The Grundisburgh Dog and The Felixstowe Fishmonger

by Great British Chefs 30 September 2016

Tom Shingler heads to The Grundisburgh Dog in Suffolk to meet Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year Milan Hukal and his fish supplier Hannah Branch to find out how important working relationships are in the kitchen.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Along with a strong work ethic and a good set of knives, one thing a chef can’t live without is a good supplier – even the most talented cook in the world would struggle to create anything of note if they’re only given poor ingredients. From the quality of the fillet steak right down to how flavourful the onions are, it takes time to seek out and begin working with producers and suppliers that can consistently deliver what’s needed. And once that business relationship is established, it needs to be maintained and nurtured if the chef wants first dibs on the best of the best.

Milan Hukal is head chef at The Grundisburgh Dog in Suffolk and holds the title of Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year 2016. He scooped the title with a dish of brill and razor clams – something he couldn’t have done without Hannah Branch, his fish supplier.

‘When I first started at The Dog we had a different fish supplier and the quality was absolutely terrible,’ he says. ‘It was prepared in an awful way, with lots of cuts in the flesh and fillets that were V-cut rather than pin-boned, which meant half the fish was wasted. I think they were bulk bought, too, so they weren’t the best quality.’

At his previous job Milan sourced his fish from Hannah Branch at The Felixstowe Fishmonger, and was keen to get her on board. ‘I’ve been working with Hannah for over four years now,’ he explains. ‘She goes up to Billingsgate Market every night and takes the time to pin-bone all the fish, which means less work for me in the kitchen.’

Hannah and Milan
Milan has been getting his fish from Hannah for over four years
Hannah wakes up at midnight every day to go to Billingsgate Market in London to ensure she has the best produce possible

Hannah has only been working in the world of fish for five years, but her business – The Felixstowe Fish Monger – has already grown in size five times over. ‘My brother bought a fishmongers and asked if I wanted to sell fish; before that we ran a fruit and veg shop,’ she says. ‘That was five years ago and we’ve been growing ever since. We’re a family-run business that’s gone from employing two people to ten in that time, and it is word of mouth that’s helped us grow so quickly, particularly in the last six months.

‘I liked going to Billingsgate for the first few years but the novelty wears off when you have to wake up at midnight every day to get there!’ adds Hannah. ‘I tend to use one guy in London and ninety percent of his fish comes from day boats, and the quality can’t be beaten. I also get quite a bit of fish locally in Felixstowe and some from Grimsby to keep up with demand.’

Despite the boom in business for Hannah and her brother, they know it’s important to be able to work with chefs on a personal level. Rather than putting in orders through larger systems and relying on numbers, Hannah ensures she’s always on-hand to speak with chefs directly. ‘Because we’re quite small chefs can just call me on my mobile at any time of day – I’m usually awake at midnight then don’t go to sleep until eight in the evening,’ she explains. ‘Milan isn’t just a number on a shipping route with us – he’s an actual person we know.’

Grundisburgh Dog
The Grundisburgh Dog is just a few miles outside of Woodbridge, in Suffolk
Milan recently won the title of Pub Chef of the Year, cooking brill with razor clams for the judges

Good catch

As a nation, the UK eats far more cod, haddock, salmon, tuna and prawns than any other fish or seafood. These five species still account for the majority of sales in the shops, but when we eat out we’re becoming more and more adventurous and willing to try something new. ‘The locals used to only order things like sea bass and cod and I had to almost educate them about what other fish they could eat,’ says Milan. ‘Nowadays monkfish is always a good seller, and flatfish like lemon sole and plaice are popular too. They even like swordfish or whole mackerel and bream, so the variety of fish I can work with is definitely getting better.’

This is good news for chefs, as it allows them to be more creative, but also for the fishmonger, as they can sell a wider range of fish when it’s in season. This means better quality produce and a more sustainable supply chain, and when there’s an abundance of a certain species Hannah can call up the chefs she works with and offer it to them for a low price.

‘I think it’s vital to move with the seasons – although I know of one pub that’s had lemon sole on its specials board for two years now!’ she says. ‘But you have to evolve and use what’s available if you want the best. This means we have to work with the chefs, letting them know what there’s going to be a surplus so they can change their menu. This is why building up a working relationship is so important, as we need chefs to buy certain fish and chefs need us to source certain fish.’