Covent Garden fishmongers in Turnham Green Terrace celebrates 40 years

Image above: Garry Diamond, owner of Covent Garden Fishmongers

Covent Garden Fishmongers, the fish shop on Turnham Green Terrace, is celebrating 40 years this November. So-called because it grew out of Garry’s father’s fish stall in Covent Garden originally, Garry worked with his father and took over the business fully from him a few years ago.

I talked to him about how he had got involved and how it had changed over the years.

Image above: Some of the team at Covent Garden Fishmoners

For Garry, fishmongering was not exactly a calling, it is more what happens when you are asked to help your father out. He was just starting his own business at 17 selling jeans in north London, but his father had other ideas.

A taxi-driver turned fishmonger who took over a stall at Covent Garden when offered it my a mate, his father opened the shop in Turnham Green Terrace and wanted Garry to take over the running of the stall in Covent Garden market.

As things turned out the market was redeveloped and fish no longer fitted the developers’ vision, so he moved to a shop in central London but after three years there found he was priced out by a rent hike.

Those three years were not wasted. The shop used to supply lots of central London hotels and restaurants, so when he came to work with his father in Chiswick, he brought all those contacts with him.

Image above: Range of fresh fish on sale

Like Macken Brothers opposite, the shop in Turnham Green served the locals while their clients were all over London.

“The road has changed a lot” he says. “There was a lot less traffic and the shop was never empty. It was incredibly busy”.

When he first went to work with his father in the 1980s they had many more customers – perhaps a third more than come into the shop now – but his clients today spend a lot more individually.

“People’s tastes have changed. They started going on exotic holidays and tried fancy, exotic fish that they then wanted to eat at home.”

The drive for more ethical, sustainable fishing has also come from consumers he says.

“I go out of my way to find fish that is caught sustainably” he says, meaning fish that is mainly caught by rod and line rather than trawled. All his stock is wild, not farmed, except the organic rainbow trout and salmon.

“I would like to sell wild salmon but we haven’t been able to sell any this year because of the level of fish stocks.”

“I try not to buy fish caught in nets” he says.

Image above: The shop on Turnham Green Terrace

I asked whether he went and met the fishermen who supply them. During the various lockdowns he started making his own trips to the coast to pick up fish so he could do home deliveries. But rather ironically he gets seasick really easily.

“They always invite you out on the boat and I only have to stand on the pier and look at the sea to get seasick.”

He even gets seasick on HMS Belfast, moored in the Thames by Tower Bridge. Another, more serious problem is that his daughter is seriously allergic to fish, which he found out when she was a baby.

“I would come home and get undressed at the front door and run in and have a shower before I could even touch her”.

They found out the hard way when he gave her a bit of smoked salmon. “Her face just ballooned. If I touched her when I first came in from the shop her skin would come up in water blisters where my fingerprints were.”

It is a great shame as he is a foodie who loves cooking and he gives very good advice on how to cook the fish he sells.

“I’d rather have a customer who doesn’t know anything about how to cook fish than one who is a master chef because I can say ‘try a bit of this, try a bit of that, here’s what you do’.”

Image above: The window display on Turnham Green Terrace

Most of his customers have been coming to him for a long time – “95% I would say are repeat customers” – but the pandemic introduced the shop to a whole new clientele. They like that he knows the provenance of the food he is selling.

“I get my white fish from Scotland and beyond. White fish like very cold water. I get mackerel from in-shore waters around the south coast. I have two Cornish suppliers and one in Wales.”

The fish that sell best are sea bass, tuna, salmon and king prawns. He sells sushi grade salmon and tuna, caught that day.

Garry’s father retired a few years ago and since then he has been able to run the business in his own way.

“I was like Prince Charles, waiting. Not allowed to do anything until dad retired.”

The first thing he did was to refurbish the shop. His father wanted the old tiles, thinking customers preferred the ‘authentic’ look, while Garry prefers cleanliness and ease of cleaning at the end of the day when they hose everything down.

It’s a long day which starts at 2.30am at Billingsgate. As we were talking at 10.30am one of his employees was going out for his lunch. The fish that comes from Brixham market in Devon comes up overnight and is delivered to the shop.

“They have a key and they just let themselves in so it’s all waiting for me when I get there.”

By 12.00 he is fielding calls from suppliers about what they have coming in for the next day and by 4pm he is ready to pack up and go home.

Celebrating 40 years of the Turnham Green Terrace shop in November, he will be offering customers and passers-by (free) oysters and champagne on Saturday 19 November between 12 and 3pm.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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See also: Women’s clothes shop ‘Collection’ closing after 45 years

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