WHEN it comes to fish, top chef John Lawson has an important message… support your local fishermen.

John, who has been a private chef for the Sultan of Oman and a high-profile celeb family, (who he is not allowed to name) is urging people to try more unusual options to help the seas and UK fishing industry.

At his Leigh restaurant, Food by John Lawson, there is no menu, so diners have no choice but to eat the fish he is serving.

That fish is always supplied daily by Leigh fisherman Paul Gilson and therefore not just one of the “big five” us Brits favour (cod, salmon, haddock, tuna and prawns.)

But how did Paul and John come to work together?

“Before I opened Food by John Lawson I had a clear vision of my concept,” explains John.

“That involved strictly local and seasonal produced, dictated to by the seasons and what’s available at any particular time. So, I searched for the right man to provide me the fish. That’s when I approached Paul.

“Paul shares my passion for fish and the topic of fish being consumed locally that is from the Thames Estuary.

“I believe that we should only be consuming fish that is sourced from our local area. That’s why I decided to work with Paul. He provides me fish daily, we converse weekly about what the possibilities are in the lead up to the following week, so I can plan somewhat in terms of the overall dish.”

How much of a difference to taste does it make using fish which has been caught by a local fisherman, I wonder?

“It’s so fresh and has a natural taste, its wild,” enthuses John. “It’s free, there are no hormones or added grain to increase its yield…this comes through in the taste.”

Are diners happy to try fish they may not usually at Food by John Lawson?

“Yes, yes, yes!” he exclaims. “I constantly get people eating fish that they would not normally eat. At Food there is no menu, so they have no choice, but to eat the fish I’m serving, so it’s on me to make it delicious! I’m having great results.”

Just why are people so stuck on the “big five” when it comes to fish?

“The shortage of local markets for native fish species is arguably reducing the relative viability of small scale, over large-scale, fisheries in the UK,” he muses.

“Supermarket production is another factor and our behaviour when it comes to shopping fish. UK consumers could make a positive contribution to the UK economy and marine environment if they chose to buy native, locally-caught species, over farmed and exotic imports.

This summer, what is a go-to fish dish that even the most basic of cooks could rustle up, with any number of fish caught by Paul?

“Choosing the what compliments first is key to consuming fish, fish is very versatile and works well with lots of vegetables and sauces,” he says.

“Fresh tomatoes with olive oil and basil is a fresh easy way to accompany most fish from the Thames Estuary…skate, gurnard, cod, rock eel, bream, squid and many more…”

What is the most unusual fish that Paul has provided John with, I can’t help but wonder?

“Unusual to our waters…large squid and pollack,” he says.

And what one thing would he say to anyone buying fish?

“Think about who you are supporting? Where has it come from... could I buy local?”

W: www.foodbyjohnlawson.com

I: Chefjohnlawson

Where can I get fresh, locally-caught, fish?

  • Mersea Island Fresh Catch

Sells fresh fish caught locally, by local fishermen in waters around Mersea. Open every Tuesday and Thursday (2.45pm-4.30pm) at the top of the jetty, Coast Road in West Mersea. 01206 385421

* Hughes’s Fish Company

Kevin and Natasha Hughes have their own fishing boat on Mersea Island and sell fish they catch online, after their Head Street shop closed two years ago due to high rent and rates in Colchester. www.hughesfishcompany.co.uk

  • Osborne Bros

Osborne Bros which was established in the 1880s, specialises in producing and supplying quality shellfish and fish from local sources and further afield.

The cockle sheds are located along Cockle Shed row, in Old Leigh, which remains pretty much unchanged, since being built in the 19th century.

The café is housed in the heart of the Old Town in an 18th century stable mews.