Image above: Oysters
The Whistling Oyster to open in Devonshire Rd
Three friends have decided to open a business which will be part fishmonger, part oyster and Champagne bar in Devonshire Rd.
John Robinson, who has for the past 12 years worked at the Covent Garden Fishmongers in Turnham Green Terrace, got to know TV producer Sasha Mantel and commodity trader Rob Gillon as his customers. They would ask his advice about how best to cook certain fish or what was the best buy.
Sasha and Rob have known each other for ten years or so and gradually their conversations with John turned to how they would like to open a fish bar. Now they are making their dream a reality. They have all left their former jobs to go into partnership.
Image above: L to R Sasha Mantel, John Robinson and Rob Gillon
Rob, who also owns several commercial properties in Chiswick, bought the building on the corner of Devonshire Rd and Ingress St from the estate of Ann Brown, the owner of Strand Antiques, who died in May 2021. They are now in the process of fitting it out ready to open, they hope, in mid-July.
READ ALSO: Ann Brown obituary
From their research they have discovered there used to be a fishmonger on the site many years ago. They plan to have a fish counter facing Devonshire Rd and tables and chairs for customers to eat simple fish meals outside for a light lunch or a Sunday brunch on the pavement facing Ingress St. They already have their pavement licence and are going for their alcohol licence.
The name ‘The Whistling Oyster’ comes from Sasha’s fond memories of an Asian fusion seafood place he used to visit with his parents in Toronto 30 years ago.
Image above: L to R Rob, John and Sasha outside the shop
Fresh fish from the day boats
“I will be the shop manager and fishmonger, looking after the supply lines” John told The Chiswick Calendar. “We want to supply the best British sea food. We want to give people what they want but also to have a go at promoting other fish, to introduce them to types of fish they don’t already know about.”
In practice this means yes there will be cod, yes there will be prawns and tuna, but there will also be the chance to try Cornish sole (aka Megrim, a flat fish commonly caught off Cornwall) and Gurnard. We may be persuaded to try Spider crabs and Squat lobsters (like prawns or langoustines but currently considered a by-catch).
Suspicious, I asked why we might want to eat these fish which the public has hitherto turned up its nose at and they became quite passionate in defence of ugly fish. Nothing to do with the taste, they assured me, people have been put off by the look of them and we should reconsider.
They are also very earnest about sustainability, committed to cutting out the middle men, the agents, and dealing only with producers direct. This means buying the catch fresh from the boats on the south coast and in time, Rob says, hopefully developing their own processing place.
Their ambitions for creating a sustainable, environmentally friendly business also have implications for price and for variety.
“There won’t be 30 different types of fish on display” says Sasha. “It will be what’s fresh and available seasonally.”
They are currently grappling with the problem of the price point. If everything is freshly sourced from day boats and divers have collected the scallops by hand, they will not be cheap.
Images above: John fishing; John and Sasha on a research trip to Newlyn Harbour and Polzeath in Cornwall
Totally British within five years pledge
While John looks after the day to day running of the shop, Sasha and Rob will be more involved in the development of the business. They already have a new restaurant opening soon (but not in Chiswick) as a client and are talking to Chiswick restaurants about supplying them.
They are going through the process of establishing their suppliers. Some they are in no doubt about. The salmon has to come from Loch Duart in northwest Scotland, no question. Lobsters and crab will come from Devon and Cornwall. Most of their fish will come from the south coast and within five years they hope to be able to say all their fish will be British.
They have had fun over the past few months testing out potential deli products – the best smoked salmon, garfish and sardines. They are recipe testing, with a view to selling fish based meals such as fish pie and classic French fish soup as well as the raw ingredients, and they are talking to their neighbour on Devonshire Rd, Old Town Deli, about collaborations.
Images above: Lobsters; spiny lobsters; landed bass; langoustines; prepped fish; crab
Fresh fish, dried fish, smoked fish …
They are making connections with like-minded food producers such as wine-maker Jacob Leadley at Black Chalk, who care about producing top quality products.
They are also taken with the idea of dry-ageing fish – drying it in a controlled environment.
“The Japanese have been doing it for many years” says Sasha, warming to his subject. “It has to be caught and treated in a certain way so the bits that would rot quickly are removed. The result is a meatier fish. We will have to get a special fridge for it.”
The subject moves to smoked fish. I look surreptitiously at my watch. These guys could talk about fish till the day boats come home. Their excitement for the project is palpable and even a little infectious.
“But what about the mural?” I hear you cry – the mural of Strand Antiques which covered the wall facing Ingress St. It is safe. It was painted on canvas and has been safely squared away, just looking for the right opportunity to find a new home.
You will find updates about The Whistling Oyster on their Instagram account.
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See also: Theatre returns to the Tabard in July
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