Interview – Duncan Ray, The Little Fish Market
It’s not often you come across a hidden gem such as The Little Fish Market. Tucked away on Brunswick Street West, unless you were out looking for it, you’d hardly know it was there. So why is this small fish restaurant fully booked weeks in advance? I met with owner and head chef, Duncan Ray, to find out.
Sitting opposite me in his chef whites in the bright dining area of his restaurant, Duncan tells me his career began as a pot wash and was fortunate enough to have “lucky break after lucky break”. Moving from his first stint in a kitchen in his hometown, he soon found himself training with Marco Pierre White where “straight away that was my style; high-end, good quality food” Duncan says wistfully, blue eyes gazing fondly across the restaurant.
His other credits include the early days at The Fat Duck in Bray alongside Heston Blumenthal which he describes as “extremely eye opening” before traveling and returning to take the head chef position at Pennyhill Park Hotel, where he earned 3 AA rosettes.
His hunger to learn and unquenchable thirst to better himself saw Duncan named as one of the top chefs in the UK at the tender age of 22. Soon finding the protocol of working for large hotels slightly disillusioning, Duncan reassessed and set up a business providing Michelin star cuisine for A-listers.
It was through this project that Duncan discovered when he showcased his work to an array of customers and worked closely in their home, the feedback was honest and sincere. He used this ethos when creating The Little Fish Market and wanted to bring an upfront and homely atmosphere to the restaurant – “it’s like my living room” Duncan says with a smile.
Choosing Hove wasn’t hard for Duncan who refurbished the restaurant with his own fair hand. Upon complimenting the gorgeous terra-cotta ceramic floor, Duncan lets on that he laid it all himself. It was small trinkets of information like this that conveyed the love and affection Duncan has for his first solo restaurant venture.
Every dish is cooked by Duncan, with a kitchen porter on hand to support during busier periods. The Little Fish Market keeps their menu simple, yet highly effective. “I only buy off day boats so it’s as local as it can be… I don’t use any kind of farmed fish, I don’t believe in that” Duncan says with honesty. “If a product doesn’t come in, I can’t just get another fish for that dish and expect it to work… they’re engineered dishes.”
For a menu that is ever evolving and changes with the tide, you can be rest assured that each dish is a sublime testament to Duncan’s skill and technique. Lemon sole with lobster tortelloni, oyster, celery and chive plus monkfish, pork belly and squid are a few of the dishes that Duncan prepares.
“On average, we turn away 60-80 covers on a Friday or Saturday night” says Duncan. I ask if there are any plans to expand, to which a firm no is replied. Duncan feels that Hove is the right home for The Little Fish Market and with the hard graft he’s put in to making the establishment his own, I understand why an expansion wouldn’t be on the cards.
Currently sitting as the number one restaurant in Brighton and Hove on TripAdvisor and with an entry in The Good Food Guide 2014, Duncan is riding a huge wave of success and long may he deservedly do so.
It wouldn’t surprise me if we soon see Brighton and Hove’s first Michelin starred restaurant in The Little Fish Market. Duncan is modest, sincere and above all driven by his undying passion for customer satisfaction and top end cuisine.
Book ahead and savour one of, if not the, best meal you can have in the city.
Originally printed in the Brighton and Hove Independent Newspaper 29/09/13
Words by Claire Beveridge