Sunday, 26 May 2013


Among the many businesses displaced by the arrival of the Olympic Park is the Forman and Field Salmon Smokery - the oldest such smokery in London.  Now, a newly built salmon-shaped and salmon-coloured building, created courtesy of Seb Coe and his Committee, sits glowing resplendently on the banks of the River Lea, across the water from the main Stadium, under the foundations of which lies the earlier site of Forman and Field. 

This is not the first journey in the life of the company, however. Harry (Aaron) Forman left the Ukraine at the start of the last century in search of a new life. He brought with him well-honed knowledge and skills, starting his eponymous fish smokery in Stepney in 1905 to serve the Jewish communities settled in the East End.  The business was transformed by the discovery of fresh salmon from Scotland, rapid delivery made possible by the burgeoning train links. The leap in quality was profound: compare salt cod with the fresh variety and you get the idea. Suddenly, there was no need for the very heavy smoking that had been used to disguise the effects of the lengthy salting that preserved salmon imported (a costly and time-consuming journey) from the east, and a new style of smoked salmon was born.
H Forman and Sons, as it has become with the passing of the generations, has gone from strength to strength, growing and relocating to Ridley Road, Dalston and then to Hackney Wick and the Hackney Marshes before its most recent move to Fish Island. The fame of the distinctive London Cure (much lighter in both salt and smoke) has spread beyond the Jewish East End diaspora and onto the finest tables in  the land.
The business has stayed in the Forman family throughout; pride in hard-earned family traditions and the pursuit of high quality shines through in the firm, lightly salted and smoked salmon, descendants of the Odessa fish on which Aaron learnt his craft. Lance Forman (great-grandson of Harry) now runs the company which is continuing to grow and evolve. The new building has added a restaurant (which champions English food and drink), bar and art gallery, but nothing gets in the way of the core business. Even in today's highly mechanised world, much of the work here is still done by hand, including the painstaking removal of the pin bones.Every so often, Forman and Field runs Open Days and visitors can watch the transformation of fresh fish into high quality smoked salmon.  See film of the whole procedure here. The skills that arrived from the east with Aaron all those years ago are flourishing almost unchanged, as salmon are filleted, salted overnight and then smoked. The "factory" is silent as there are virtually no mechanised stages to the process: it is almost all done by hand in the good old-fashioned way.
But attention to detail remains the key; "smoking" is carefully managed with wood quality and temperature controlled to give off the right amount of smoke for perfect flavour and moisture; even packaging is still done by hand, a final check that each separate piece of fish is perfect.
And perfection brings its own rewards, as the latest Forman and Field press release reveals:
"We are delighted to have had our “London Cure” smoked salmon specially selected to be enjoyed at the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace this July.   
Being served in the form of a ‘paupiette’; a smoked salmon parcel, Buckingham Palace describes H Forman & Son, as ‘London’s Finest Smokery’.  
Why thank you ma’am.  We are most honoured. 
A starter fit for a Queen."

Saturday, 11 May 2013



For some reason I am unwilling to try this place. I've passed it a number of times and know there is a general buzz around it, but somehow I just don't fancy it. So what's stopping me? Is it:
     1) its location in the unlovely end of Mare St (by the way there is no lovely end, whatever Foxtons may tell you);    
     2) the fear that it is the kind of place where you perch on a vintage (read rickety) chair, are served a plate of organic quinoa by a waiter with several piercings; you leave clutching a large bill, sporting several splinters in your butt, all for the pleasure of that edgy east London experience;
     3) the orange signage?

Well, I expect it's all of the above but especially 3) the orange signage - it's inexplicable or maybe a worrying symptom of colour synaesthesia, but when my lunch date suggests Bouchon Fourchette, I dig in my heels.  Can't we go to Lardo down the road? Or surely there's somewhere nice in Victoria Park Village? At this she thrusts her iphone in my face and yelps, "even Fay Maschler likes it." I relent.

Fay, of course, is not wrong. It's charming. The chef worked with Alain Ducasse and the menu offers French home cooking par excellence. For lunch we can choose between omelettes, croque monsieur, sausages with Puy lentils, chicken with a wild mushroom sauce all served with frites and a glass of wine at a price of £7.99.  We read that Fay had followed her meal with a Café Gourmand (coffee with 3 mini desserts) and we follow slavishly, sharing a mini crème caramel and a chocolate liegeois slice with a couple of wafers. Everything is well sourced, delicious and fresh.
Once established, this will be the kind of place that you have to sell your first born child to gain a reservation, so go now. Oh, and our charming French waiter had a nose ring just in case you had forgotten you were in east London.