My week of feverous cooking ended with a feast. On Saturday morning I braved the dense drizzle and took a trip to Notting Hill Farmers Market. As it is February I didn’t think to find more than a couple of stalwart farmers offering grubby potatoes and frozen meat. And so my spirits rose on arrival. There were delicate jewel-like shoots and spicy salad greens; cheeses of every description, local honey and preserves. There was a man from Hurdlebrook Farm selling raw Guernsey milk, cream thick as custard, and cylinders of golden butter; I bought all three.
I also bought a kilo of soil robed potatoes for french fries and new season rhubarb for compote. Then I marched out. Not be trusted at farmers markets, I tend to start quivering, lose all sense of proportion and find myself staggering home under the weight of weird offal, stinking cheese, and enough beets to sink a battleship.
For dinner I had my heart set on moules frites, hence the potatoes, and so after leaving the market I went in search of a fishmonger. As luck would have it I stumbled across one within moments. Situated yards from Notting Hill Gate tube station, James Knight is a diminutive shop that looks as though it has been spit out by a retreating tide—wet, dark, and redolent of the sea.
The mussels, ancient and gleaming in their barnacle studded shells, were on display in a big tub. I asked for half a kilo, and as the woman weighed them out, we talked recipes. A chef friend, she explained, liked to cook mussels with smoked haddock. It sounded intriguing but I was hankering for something simpler. A sprinkle of shallots and garlic fried delicately in butter, a splash of white wine, pinch of saffron, toss on the mussels and steam until done. Swirl in a dollop of cream and devour. I was salivating already.
“Nice rhubarb, where did you find it?” asked the man behind the counter, counting out my change. “Goes well with mackerel you know,” he continued, “here, I’ll print off a recipe for you.”
Would they sell me fish heads? I asked for future reference, thinking of bouillabaisse.
“We’ll give them to you. Just call up the day before and we’ll keep them aside. Fish heads, bones for stock, whatever.”
I departed James Knight happy, the mussels and saffron nudging the rhubarb in my shopping bag and the recipe tucked into my purse. In addition to scrupulous sourcing, with 80% of the catch drawn from British shores and a strong commitment to sustainable fishing, this is a shop where the staff are knowledgeable, clearly passionate about fish, and even hand out recipe suggestions! I was sold and vowed to return soon.
In confirmation of my experience, I learned later that James Knight has earned other, more coveted seals of approval: By appointment to H.R.H. The Price of Wales and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, fishmonger.
What can I say. Great palates think alike.