Issue 280
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"The most landlocked city in the UK," say people who have done zero research. It's not. Birmingham, we mean. The answer is Lichfield, at 84 miles from the sea. But however you cut it, we're a whole heap of motorway from the planet's big puddle, and its fruits de mer. So when you spot "fresh fish" on our city's menus, you're right to pause and question it. But we've been all the way to Brixham to see just how quickly it can get from the trawlers of Devon, via Europe's most famous fish market, to the plates of Cornwall Street's Opus. Come with?
Fish: a story of supply and demand
We're looking out over the bright, beautiful explosion of activity that is Brixham harbour with Ben Ternent, exec chef at Opus, and Jim Moore, buyer at Channel Fisheries. Ben's been ordering fish from Jim over the phone for more than ten years but this is the first time the pair have physically met. After the requisite catch up on football — and some looks of disappointment at our Match of the Day/Catch of the Day pun — it's time to talk fish.  "The sun might be out but the market'll be quiet tomorrow" says Jim. People think rain might impact the volume of fish caught on a given day, but according to Jim, who knows everything ever about Nemos, it's all about wind. If it's windy, or even if the forecast suggests it might be, the price of fish soars, because however hard the fishermen trawl, they won't catch much. "It's supply and demand at its most basic level" explains Jim. "In the weeks before Valentine's, Easter, Mother's Day and Christmas you should see the price of turbot — especially if it's windy. October. That's when you want to buy". The search for fish coming into Brixham Market can last hours (on day boats) or nearly a week (on "primers" — they catch the fish that gets the most at market: the "prime" fish). Whatever kind of vessel it comes in on, fish lands at Brixham from 8pm, right through to just before the market opens at 6am sharp. It doesn't get much fresher than that.
To market, to market, to buy a fresh fish
Supplying the country's finest eating spots, buyers start to gather in Brixham's harbourside market from 5.30am to view the fish which is graded by size, weight and quality, and labeled to record the area where the fish was caught, and even the name of the boat that caught it. A handbell rings out to signal the beginning of bidding. The auctioneer almost always starts with Dover sole a type of fish expected to fetch among the highest bids — beautiful and plump on the day we visited. Bidding is conducted live, with the auctioneer shouting out a price and the buyers making their opinions known on the offer in no uncertain terms. Jim doesn't need to handle the fish at all to know which he wants — but bright eyes, deep red gills, no strong odour (the fish should smell of the sea) and firm flesh with scales and fins intact is what you're looking for if you're tempted to try some market shopping of your own. We leave with a haul of sole and a single turbot for which the hammer falls at £160. Jim will go on to sell the beauty to a single restaurant client, like Opus, that same morning, and the turbot will be in the team's kitchen and ready to be prepped by 9am the next day.
Big black book
Next stop is Channel Fisheries' offices and plant, where the fish just bought is sold on (via the phone, personally by Jim), prepared and carefully packed up ready for dispatch around the country. Though most of Channel's client list which we spy over Jim's shoulder is impressive (think Fortnums, Sabor and the Barrafina group), SW1A 1AA has to be the standout postcode in the system. Channel has held a royal warrant since 2006 and directly supplies the royal chef. The Assistant Master to the Household rings Jim on the same number Opus uses to place orders, "though I do put on my poshest voice when "Hello, this is Buckingham Palace" comes through my headset", Jim tells us. Though he won't be pushed on any more incite into the royal family's preferences, suffice to say when you see the menu for a royal banquet published and it contains lots of fish, Jim has had a busy week.
If it's good enough for the Queen
And whether you're calling from Buckingham Palace or you're calling from Cornwall Street, you can expect exactly the same super fresh product. "Channel might have started out as two blokes with a van but pride, quality and consistency have made us what we are today and everyone gets the royal standard" says Jim. After orders are confirmed, and the fish arrives from the market, it's trimmed, prepped and packed in the plant on-site, then couriered overnight, ready for Ben and his team the very next morning and for you to order by lunch service. That the same person buys and sells the fish that Ben will go on to work with makes Channel part of a very small club — Jim will regularly buy fish with specific clients, like Opus, in mind. And we don't just mean the breed of fish, he knows what size certain restaurants will look for, and whether they're wedded to a set menu or can change their offering in line with what looks best on a given day.

Eating so far from the sea, we've held a suspicion that specials could be code for "dish the kitchen really needs to use up" for a while. But after our time with Jim and Ben, we'll be ordering fish from the specials menu, at Opus at least, every single time. And we'll be questioning exactly where our poisson came from and when, happy in the knowledge that landlocked or not, the fish we're eating could — and very possibly should — have been landed in Brixham only the day before.
Channel Fisheries is at Opus on June 7 as part of the restaurant's Source dinner series. It's £80 for five courses and plenty of paired wine. Call 0121 200 2323 or email to get a spot.


If you’ve ever had your hairs stand on end watching telly (see, last week’s Game of Thrones), chances are a big part of it was down to the music. Well, those goose bumps become mountainous when heard in person, and if you're looking for an excuse to try the whole classical music thing, the forward-thinking Aurora Orchestra is it. Music of the Spheres sees the boundary-pushing lot take to the Town Hall to perform a new work — in the dark to heighten the hearing sense — by Max Richter. Who he? Only the man behind the music of Black Mirror and Arrival. They'll also be performing works by your man Mozart (by memory) and your boy Beethoven. On June 4, try it for £5, saving up to £35 per ticket. Enter "Aurora5" in the promo code box before payment. T&C apply


Yes, yes, it’s a deliberately provocative title. However, we’d have been more tempted by the less-memorable “This Is Ludicrously Good Value”. That’s because each act is a stone-cold headliner in their own right: Eshaan Akhbar is hot off the back of a barnstorming turn on Stand Up Central. Tez Ilyas has established himself as a bona fide comedy star thanks to stellar performances on Live At The Apollo, Roast Battle and Mock The Week. As any fan of the comedy circuit will attest, the immensely likeable Prince Abdi can demolish any room. And, finally, Shazia Mirza is practically comedy royalty. For all four to be on the same bill guarantees an uproarious night of live comedy, which has been put on to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Eid. At Glee on June 1. Tickets are £15.
Venue: Zen Metro, 73 Cornwall Street, B3 2DF; website 
Choice: King's Platter, (£79.50) Chooser: Signature dish

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who enjoy sharing platters and those who — for reasons best explored in therapy — would rather eat the crockery than divvy-up a dish. If you fall into the latter category then the following might give you seismic jitters. How about ordering a sharing starter platter, as a main? No main course safety net to yourself. Just the above and, as a side dish, a bowl of Thai green chicken curry — also to share. What you're looking at is whole lobster, (six out of ten) pork ribs (eight out of ten), smoked duck (nine out of ten), chicken stir fry (six out of ten) and grilled jumbo prawns (eight out of ten) and split four ways it'll cost just under £20 a head. And with that bowl of chick-chick it saw off four grown men, without breaking a sweat. Unlike the men. Is it the best quality lobster we've ever had? No, no it's not. But it sure was a hefty crustacean surrounded by equally plump, charred prawns and pick of the platter, a thunderously spicy but handled-with-care, juicy pink duck. This isn't the best dish in Birmingham, not by a distance. It's not event the best Thai dish in Birmingham, but it'll bring smiles to faces, and there's plenty of room for that in this world.


Everyday People: candid photography from the streets of Birmingham does exactly what it says on the tin, but unlike Ronseal, boy does it yield some startling results. The new exhibition from Jay Mason-Burns features images like Headphones Moment, capturing a woman lost in a world of her own music in a secluded corridor of the Library of Birmingham. She strikes a figure who is contentedly isolated — alone but not lonely — and like so many of Jay's shots, it’s from the hip. Until June 1 at Gunmakers Arms. Book a free slot.


Two of Brum's best burger composers — Bun Shop and The Original Patty Men — will make like The Bushwackers and tagteam the hell out of Stirchley tomorrow, only, at Caneat. The menu's carnivorous burger option sees aged beef meliorated with sparkenhoe cheese, green toms, sriracha mayo, pickled onion and — get this — pork scratchings! Bun Shop will be on the vegan option (pastrami tofu and mapo mushroom) and they'll be going 50/50 on super-spuds with optional longhorn chilli. Arrive from 6.30pm, no bookings.
Get inside Birmingham Museum after hours with that clever lot from Hidden Spaces. On May 18, your ticket (£30) also includes dinner. Yes, somebody did just say date night.
That Venice is sinking isn't really news. That the RSC is putting on a new production of Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved from May 24 through to September 7 is something you can more immediately act on. Preview tickets from £14.
And they called it, the summer of pizza. Joining Poli and Franca Manca, Rudy's is bringing Neapolitan-style pizza-ing to Bennett's Hill, for its fourth instalment across the country.
King Arthur and his Knights will be at the Crescent Theatre from June 1 as part of Spamalot, a lovingly executed musical rip-off of Monty Python. Tickets are £19.50.
We know, we know, question eleven was almost impossible. But not for Robert Newman, who correctly identified the answer as Hockley and won the Emoji Quiz at 4.16pm last Thursday. Full answers here.

"We what the land folks loves to cook
Under the sea we off the hook
We got no troubles
Life is the bubbles
Under the sea"

The Little Mermaid (1989)

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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom CullenRobb Sheppard, James Gill
PICTURES: Viktor Erik Emanuel (Aurora), Jack Spicer Adams (OPM)

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