Independent food shops bring that much sought after air of distinction to high streets, and Wanstead is lucky to have a real life butcher, a proper greengrocer, and two bakers. No candlestick maker, of course, but time and again foodies rue the absence of a fishmonger.
So Noel McRea, the fella who parks his white van in the Corner House car park every Wednesday lunchtime, is somethingÂ of a godsend. A couple of Wansteadium readers have asked for some details of his operation, so Suki is pleased to step up to the halibut.
Noel is a softly spoken diffident man, a Grimsby native, who has been selling fish all his life and has been coming to Wanstead since 1984.Â As well as delivering to his regular customers’ doors, and supplying the 62 Spice Indian restaurant, he now parks up in the car park behind the Corner House at the top of Grove Park. He’s there from 10.30 until 2pm every Wednesday, having driven his fish down from the port the previous evening.
I usually buy fish from Waitrose, as I think it’s worth spending the bit extra for the quality and provenance. But having chosen a seabass and a whacking great piece of cod, all sustainably sourced, I was steeling myself for an independent trader-style hole in my purse. But the two came to just Â£10, and I wasn’t too upset.
Noel effortlessly filleted the seabass, giving me a very healthy and fresh looking serving, enough for two. When home, the very delicate whiff of the cod left me in no doubt at all that this fish really could have been swimming about yesterday. There were a few scales left on the seabass and, upon eating, we found about half a dozen tiny bones, but to be honest that just made me feel that this was the authentic thing – somehow if it had been in sunken supermarket polystyrene tray I would have been much more unforgiving. The meaty subtle flavour works well with some light veg – you feel like you’ve eaten without really having indulged.
I’d be interested in knowing how other Wanstead folk have found Noel’s fish. I know he’s not the only person delivering door-to-door, so any comparison would be welcome too. But by Neptune if Wanstead can’t have its own fishmonger in an actual shop, then Noel’s the next best thing.