With the Thames on its doorstep it’s a no wonder that Billingsgate Fish Market welcomes daily arrivals of fish from the coast with stocks constantly being replenished. The largest inland fish market in the UK and the largest fish market in Europe.
Billingsgate has been based on the Isle of Dogs since 1982 and has over 150 species of fish. It trades on Tuesday to Saturday from 4am until a strict 9am curfew.
Primarily a Wholesale market serving trade customers, retail shoppers are also welcome. However young children and babies are not, and neither are shopping trolleys. We were told that older kids may be okay to go along, around the age of ten or upward. Yet check beforehand, just to be on the safe side.
When you arrive you’ll often see an array of parked trolleys alongside a burley copper at the main entrance and seldom a rather disgruntled parent with a tiny toddler on their arm desperate to get their wares.
Yet once inside you are met with an array of sights, sounds and a seriously fishy smell. The question arose: should you wear boots? Well it’s not too necessary. However if you’re eating in one of their great cafes then make sure to put something on the seat or else you’ll end up stinking of anything from eel to crab.
The atmosphere is amazing, the jovial nature of all those who work there is wonderfully addictive. You can really sense camaraderie and a real family feel. The traders have their own language, some you can understand yet all of them very willing to help with the odd tip on how to debone, cook and store each fish they sell.
There is parking, although expect a small queue. Plus it is pay and display.
This is a definite – you’ll appreciate your fish dish a whole heap more after heading along here for an hour or so.
We had a lovely time. Within ten minutes of arriving we all dispersed to find our favourite and compared our catch in one of the two great cafes serving up food such as scallops or delicious kippers with white bread and lashings of butter.
It’s true East End style food and with a staple builders style tea to top it off. Where else can you find Alka Selzter on the shelf alongside Lemsip and Nurofen? Here. Apparently the cafe opens up around midnight for the traders who are just arriving and setting up shop.
Unless you want something seriously specific, or unless it’s pre a special event or holiday such as Christmas, there really is no need to get there for some ridiculous hour of the morning. 7.30am is absolutely fine, although don’t blame us if there are no lobsters left.
If there’s a few of you, pitch in to get a box of fish as it works out much cheaper.
Think about what you’re going to cook before you go otherwise it’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop.