North London’s Highbury Park is home to some of London’s best food shops, including cheesemonger La Fromagerie, family run butcher’s shop Godfreys, established in 1905, and the independent wine merchant Highbury Vintners. The area’s most recent addition is a fishmonger called Meek and Wild. The name is a combination of its owner Paul Meek’s surname and Wild, to describe the character of the produce.
As Alan Davidson explains in “The Oxford Companion to Food”, “Fish and seafood generally represent the planet’s largest stock of ‘wild’ food”. Farmed fish are now a common feature in the culinary world and Paul and I spoke about the ethical implications of over-fishing and the increasing drive for marine sustainability. Sourcing line caught non-endangered fish from day-boats and reputable, approved wholesalers is the key
Paul started work in the industry at the young age of fourteen. It was intended to be just a Saturday job to earn some pocket money, but instead it became a full time career. Now, two decades on and after learning the tricks of the trade at some of London’s most famous fishmongers, namely Steve Hatt’s shop in Islington, Notting Hill’s now closed James’ Knight Fishmongers and Broadway Market’s Fin and Flounder, Paul Meek has at last found his own premises. It was during his time at Fin and Flounder that Paul decided he was ready to go solo.
Highbury Park provided the perfect location with its popular food shops and cafes and discerning clientele. Paul tells me that local food writer Nigel Slater is a customer.
Paul’s preferred supplier is a small husband and wife team based in Cornwall, called Kernowsashimi. This small fishing enterprise, with its fleet of lady boats - Lady Margaret, Hamilton and Rebecca, to name a few - catches fresh fish daily. Paul receives a call in the afternoon telling him about the day’s catch and he selects which fish he is going to buy for the next day. The fish is transported by road, packed in plastic ice bags with fine holes cut to allow the ice to breathe and release its moisture slowly. This method of keeping the produce cool retains the freshness and the vibrancy of colour of the fish.
Paul also sources hand dived scallops, langoustine and krill prawns from the speciality seafood provider Keltic Seafare near Inverness in Scotland. I learned that langoustine are territorial creatures and have a fighter spirit, so are individually packed in tubes to keep them separate.
Meek and Wild’s farmed fish offerings are from Loch Duart in Sutherland in Scotland. They are the world’s first salmon farm to have gained a Freedom Food certificate. Freedom Food is a farm assurance and food-labelling scheme set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to guarantee ethical provenance. Loch Duart has made it easier for customers to verify the authenticity of its fish by introducing a gill tag that allows tracking and verification from sea to kitchen. Some of London’s top restaurants, for example Claridges, Maze and Quaglino’s source their salmon from Loch Duart. One of the founders of the Sustainable Restaurant Association Feng Sushi also used Loch Duart Salmon.
Along with fresh fish, Meek and Wild also sells smoked fish, including Field and Forman’s smoked salmon, whole smoked sprats and haddock. There are ranges of ready to use crab meats, ready-made seafood platters, crab arancini, the Greek fish caviar taramasalata and smoked mackerel pate made with Meek and Wild’s produce. For do-it-yourself cooks, Meek and Wild stocks a range of Japanese condiments and ingredients to make sushi, Spanish ingredients from Brindisa, which would help create fish stew or paella, and a range of Italian ingredients, such as dried pasta to prepare classics like spaghetti alle vongole or pasta al salmone affumicato.
The fresh fish are the stars of the show. Seated on clean ice on an L-shaped table at the front are whole sea bass, salmon, sea bream, skate and gurnard in a bright, shiny medley of colours. There is an abundance of delicate shelled pink and grey crustaceans along with the more hardy brown crab. Whole lemons and small bunches of parsley break up the pinks, oranges and greys of the fish.
The most reassuring thing about Meek and Wild is that the shop does not smell at all fishy, which is the ultimate test of freshness.
Meek and Wild
13 Highbury Park
London N5 1QJ
Telephone: 0207 226 3331