Wednesday, 20 March 2013

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Simon Bennett

LYME fishmonger Simon Bennett - or Si The Fish, as he's locally known - has become a popular fixture of the town since he opened The Old Watch House fresh fish place at The Cobb. His many customers include top chefs Mark Hix, Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his shop has featured on BBC, ITV and Channel 4 programmes.

HOW long have you been in the fishmongering business? 
I started at the age of 18, working in my Dad's shop in Christchurch, Dorset. So I've been a fishmonger for 21 years - blimey!

HOW did you and your family come to live in Lyme?
I was working on another of my father's stalls in Dorchester High Street and a good customer - Sarah Wilkinson, the daughter Victor Homyer, Lyme's fishmonger since 1934 - came up and asked us if we'd take over the shop in Lyme as her father wanted to retire. So we took on The Old Watch House and after a week in the town I met Jo, now my wife. Our first romantic chat was during a walk around The Cobb - very French Lieutenant's Woman!

IS FISH difficult to cook and what is your favourite easy fish dish?
The golden rule with nearly every fish, so long as it's been cleaned, is you can wrap it in tin foil with lemon, butter and a drop of white wine and bake it for 20 minutes on 180 degrees gas mark 4. That is a general rule but it really works well with any flat fish. Lemon sole or brill would be particularly fine this way - you could ruin the taste of the fish by dabbling with other stronger flavourings. It's difficult to say which recipe would be my favourite as we cook this way seasonally with all sorts of fish, depending on what's in season. But I never get bored of trying something new that a customer may have recommended. Raw wriggling scallops straight from the shell give me a lift. There's more zinc in them than oysters.

WE'VE recently read that some say mackerel is unsustainable - what's the true story on this?
That confusing media sound bite a month ago was put out by the Marine Conservation Society. It was confusing because they clearly state on their own website that south west line-caught mackerel is the most sustainable way of buying this fish which is famed for its omega content. The sound bite was regarding North Sea/Icelandic stocks and wasn't even related to an actual diminishing of fish, just the amount of quota set between Icelandic and Scottish fleets. On the whole a very confusing load of almost-foreign nonsense has been said recently but the golden rule is: if it's been caught on a hand-line then it's sustainable. Which is good news for Lyme as the fantastic omega-packed beauties are traditionally available locally.

WHERE can I get the best advice on what fish to eat and how to prepare it?
All my staff (with the probable exception of Geoff, our zany apprentice) can offer excellent advice of what fish to choose and how to cook it in all three of our outlets (Lyme, Ottery and Exeter High Street). We don't just wear white coats for our Saturday shifts.

WILL you be taking part in the Mackerel and Crab festivals planned for Lyme this summer? And what's this we hear that you've invented a new sport of mackerel tossing? 
The Great Dorset Mackerel Toss could become something quite big but I don't want to be specific here yet. Let's just say it's very original and a TV programme have already said they'd be interested in filming it. It'll be a great festival season for fish in Lyme this year. There are actually three different seafood-related festivals planned, and my team and I are working with Mark Hix on all of them, especially the Food Rocks event for the first weekend in September.

WHAT advice would you give local shoppers who want to eat more fish because they hear it's good for them?
It's really all about where the fish is from. Processed fish has been fiddled with in a factory. If you buy local you have the reassurance that it's fresh, unprocessed and natural. And because of the variety of Omega oils in fish, it’s good for your heart, your mind, memory and blood circulation. Fish will keep you chipper.

WHAT'S your favourite time of the year in Lyme and why's that?
Autumn - after the madness of the season.

WHAT are your leisure pursuits?
I'm a lifelong golfer and at nights I get my telescope out to indulge my study of astronomy.  But my best thing to do on a day-off is to be with my children, Sam and Rosie.

WHAT would you change about Lyme if you could?
Car parking. I'd build either an overground and doubtless controversial multi-storey by Monmouth beach or an underground one in the same place!

IF YOU were planning a dinner party for six people, who would be your perfect guests and what dish would you cook? 
The new Pope and five of his cardinals. I'd cook Monkfish and we could talk all evening about the meaning of Cod.

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