Seafood done the Wright way: from shore to door

by Great British Chefs 12 August 2022

Founded by brothers-in-law Ben and Robin, Wright Brothers started out in 2002 as wholesalers of oysters and have since grown into one of the go-to seafood suppliers in the UK. We chat to Robin about Wright Brothers’ origins and approach, and find out more about how they guarantee customers only the finest, fresh British seafood.

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Surrounded by some of the finest fishing waters in the world, Britain is lucky to have a bounty of exquisite seafood right on its doorstep. From stunning shellfish to beautiful Dover sole and turbot, chefs and home cooks alike are truly spoilt for choice. Yet despite the undeniable quality of British seafood, it’s taken years for it to get the recognition it deserves.

Even now, a lot of fish you’ll find on supermarket shelves has been imported from elsewhere in the world. However, with sustainability higher on peoples' agendas than ever before and a general move towards using native produce where possible, suppliers like Wright Brothers are more determined than ever to bring British seafood to the masses. Since launching twenty years ago, brothers-in-law Ben Wright and Robin Hancock have made it their mission to not only supply and serve excellent quality oysters and fish, but also spread the word about British seafood more broadly.

‘Twenty years ago, Ben and I felt there was an opportunity to repopularise oysters in the UK,’ says Robin, ‘but over time it became about seafood more generally. As a country surrounded by oceans full of some of the greatest seafood in the world, we’re strangely a bit conservative in our tastes about seafood, so we wanted to try and change that by making people more aware of provenance and freshness.’

It all began in 2002 when Ben, who was a corporate lawyer at the time, went out to visit an oyster farm in the south-west of France and was blown away not just by the sheer scale of what he saw, but by the way in which oysters grew naturally and fed themselves. Returning to the UK inspired to change career, Ben soon got Robin (who up until then had been working in the music industry) on board; the pair began to educate themselves in everything to do with oysters, and soon Wright Brothers wholesale was born, ‘at the time people just thought that oysters were oysters,’ Robin explains, ‘and there we were explaining to chefs the difference between a fine de claire and a spéciale de claire and how they were grown. Soon we were welcomed by chefs like Mark Hix and Chris Galvin, and it all gathered momentum quite quickly.’

Fast forward twenty years and Wright Brothers are now supplying over five-hundred restaurants, as well as having three London restaurants of their own. And whilst oysters were the initial catalyst for their success as suppliers, they’re now just one element of what Wright Brothers do, ‘oysters are still something we love and somewhat specialise in,’ says Robin, ‘but we’re about so much more than that now. We want to champion all seafood.’ The challenge for Ben and Robin has been broadening their offering whilst continuing to provide chefs and customers with the same level of detail about every fish and its provenance, and launching their depot in Brixham five years ago allowed them to do just that.

‘The frustration we used to have when we moved into seafood was that we were buying it off port merchants,’ explains Robin, ‘so there was a lack clarity as to when the fish was landed and by which boat. Opening up in Brixham, which at the time was still an old-school shout market (it has since moved online), meant that we were actually able to see the fish before buying them and seeing which boat they came off. Suddenly, we could look at a fish and see that it had been beautifully handled and well-looked after. That provenance and knowledge of freshness has always been really important to us.’

When it comes to sourcing at Wright Brothers’ Brixham depot, things are overseen by Les Daniels, who has over twenty-five years of experience purchasing fish from the market and became part of the Wright Brothers team in 2017. The level of knowledge that Les possesses means that him and his team are able to select the finest quality fish available, championing seafood from smaller boats, where possible. This is part of Wright Brothers’ broader commitment to being as sustainable as they can, ‘we work closely with a sustainability advisor,’ adds Robin, ‘and he makes sure we’re always doing the right thing and following MSC practices. So much of it is about the customers though; chefs know that if you put line-caught sea bass on the menu these days, for example, there’s a good feeling about that.’

Robin and Ben initially started Wright Brothers as an oysters business but over the years started selling all different types of seafood.
Wright Brothers at home means that everyone now has access to the same quality of seafood that chefs around the UK are using.

Just as essential as the sourcing of exceptional seafood is the assurance that it’s still as fresh as can be by the time it arrives on someone’s plate, and having depots at both Brixham and Billingsgate allows Wright Brothers to move incredibly quickly once the produce has been bought, ‘seafood speaks for itself in terms of freshness,’ explains Robin, ‘you can literally smell it. Chefs want to be assured of that freshness and we can deliver it. You can go to Brixham market at ten o’clock at night when all the boats are landing, grab a mackerel by the tail and you’ll see a beautiful, solid fish, still in rigour. We’ll buy that the following morning and deliver it the next day. You can’t get much fresher than that.’

In recent years, driven both by restaurants closing during the pandemic but also a desire to spread the word about British seafood to a wider audience, Wright Brothers have expanded beyond wholesale and started making their produce available to people at home. This means that people can now experience the same level of freshness and quality in their home kitchens as they might in a top seafood restaurant, whilst also having an understanding of the provenance of their fish. What’s more, it gives home cooks the opportunity to expand their seafood repertoire, ‘something like 80% of the seafood that people buy in the UK is five species and one of those is tuna, which isn’t even native,’ laughs Robin, ‘Wright Brothers at home gives us the opportunity to show people the whole host of other types of fish they could be cooking.’

It can be all too easy to take for granted how lucky we are in Britain to be surrounded by such high quality seafood - even more so to have access to restaurants all over the country serving it at its freshest. This wouldn’t be the case without suppliers like Wright Brothers and people like Robin and Ben, who are dedicated to getting the best fish from sea to plate in as short amount of time as possible. So, when you’re next eating some beautiful seafood, don’t forget to acknowledge the amount of work that has gone into getting it onto your plate.