*Beep beep beep* – 6:30am
Bleary-eyed, I got out of bed, while at the same time gently prodding my partner next to me, not wanting to have a sleeping monster wake up. Thankfully, she too was still half asleep and in the mood for monster-like behaviour, so we both got dressed quickly in silence, locked the apartment door behind us, and walked down the road to the bus stop.
Get there early for the freshest seafood
Billingsgate Market is the biggest fish market in London, and is only open from about 4 am till about 8:30 am, Tuesdays to Saturdays. You can find practically any type of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans that exists there. Fishmongers, restaurant chefs, and ordinary people go there to get the freshest seafood available and at much cheaper prices too than at supermarkets or fish shops.
However, although you can enter the market at 4 am (when the traders start setting up their produce), you can’t buy anything till 5 am, at which point out of nowhere there is a massive tide of shoppers appearing out of nowhere. Armed with shopping trolleys and a wallet-full of cash (only cash is accepted at most stores), they are there to get the best and freshest seafood available, first come first serve style.
Billingsgate Market not for young kids
Billingsgate’s official rule is that children under the age of 12 are not permitted on the market floor due to health and safety constraints, including babies in buggies and harnesses. For older kids, it could be a really cool experience though. Just make sure your teenagers wear boots, as they will be stepping on fishy floors.
Getting to Billingsgate Market
It is normally a logistical nightmare to get to Billingsgate Market without a car. Although it is next to Canary Wharf, it is still a good ten minutes from the center by walking (which seems more like 20 in the early morning), and the Jubilee Line and DLR are barely functioning so early on. The best option is the D8 bus, which stops right outside the market, and goes either in the Crossharbour DLR direction or Stratford Station.
Bus D8 (either direction, bus stop is right in front of the market, 24 hours a day and night bus service). Poplar DLR (15 minutes walk across the bridge), or Canary Wharf Tube Station (Jubilee Line or DLR, 15 minutes walk). To find out how to get to Billingsgate Market by bus, tube, or train, please use the TfL Journey Planner.
Billingsgate is definitely a place that every seafood lover in London should visit at least once. But be aware that most of the fare is sold in big quantities, with fish usually sold in 1-2kg fillets or five to a box (e.g. seabass), and prawns are sold in 2kg boxes as well. Try to go early on, and read up a bit about seafood so you know what to buy, and be suspicious if you are quoted a very good offer; chances are the stallholder knows there’s something wrong with that particular batch and wants to shift it quickly.
Prices at Billingsgate Market
What are the average prices at Billingsgate Market? Here are some examples:
- Mussels, £3 per kilo
- Tiger prawns (farmed), £6 per kilo
- Tiger prawns (wild), £34 per kilo
- Squid rings, £10 per kilo
- Live Crabs, 3 for £10 each
- Whole salmon, £15 each
- Fresh squid, £10 per kilo
- Mackerel, 6 for £10
The best time to go
On this occasion, I arrived at around 7:30am, with the crowd, and the choice of seafood, having thinned from the peak. I really do recommend going much earlier if you can, as the stuff left over are the ones the pros who come at 5am have passed up. However, if you are not too fussy (and there’s still plenty of fresh produce available), you can get discounts if you come after 7:30.
The best times to go are just before they start selling at 4:45 am. Go after 7 am, and all that’s available are the leftovers for sale. Pricewise, the fish and seafood at Billingsgate are cheaper than you can find at fishmongers in London, and a lot fresher too. Plus, you can get live seafood, something of a bonus.
Billingsgate Seafood Training School
The Billingsgate seafood school is a good mix of self preparation and the course leader cooking small dishes to taste during the session. You learn how to prepare a number of shellfish dishes, you get to taste of course and take prepared dishes home with you.