fish and chips in polystyrene boxes

It has been a year since I launched the Southbank Sustainable Initiative and its very first partner – and in some respects, project – Olleys Fish Experience in Herne Hill, South London, has finally fitted the last part of the jigsaw to their Sustainability pledge. Owner Harry Niazi was initially approached by the London Aquarium after being featured in an Evening Standard article lazily named ‘London’s 5 Most Sustainable Fish and Chip shops’. In reality none of the featured restaurants were anything close to being sustainable, so Harry sought assistance from me, a previous volunteer at the London Aquarium, to help him understand the complexities of the subject, educate him and his team, and achieve the ultimate ambition of improving their sustainable offer to one of the UK’s finest.

Some major alterations had to be made to the menu, including the move from wild halibut to farmed, the removal altogether of swordfish, shifting from cheap mass-produced Bangladesh tiger prawns to wild MSC Spencer Gulf king prawns and a change from generic farmed salmon to an RSPCA freedom food-monitored Loch Duart option – and then a further move to organically-farmed salmon. Additionally, an in-depth analysis was needed of all the offered products which would allow staff at Olley’s to nurture their understanding of the subject so they could successfully relay information to the diners when questioned. Conveying correct information to the diner can be as important as the change in purchasing mentality.

The integrity of wholesale changes to the menu reflected in the buying patterns has to be presented accurately to the public and this must coupled with continued updates. We can now see on the Olley’s menu MSC cod and haddock, MSC Queen scallops from the Isle of Man and MSC King Scallops from Canada, MSC Cornish Sardines, MSC North Atlantic cold water prawns and much more. Olley’s have one of the most concise descriptive offers of seafood information available to the UK diner, which is updated regularly, taking into consideration changes in availability and sustainability ratings of all products. A year on, Olley’s Fish Experience have achieved the Sustainable Restaurant Association three-star rating, the highest accolade, have Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, were highly commended at the 2013 Sea Fish Authority’s Fish and Chip awards (‘good catch’ category) and have attained a 4.5/5 award from sustainable seafood rating organisation fish2fork, equalling the highest award given to any restaurant in the country.

All this is especially impressive considering the vast selection of seafood on offer at Olley’s. Many high profile restaurants championed by the industry as leaders in seafood sustainability have only few items of seafood, and on some occasions only one, on offer; Olley’s have over 20, which is as challenging as any menu in the UK. Harry and his team at Olley’s are a fabulous example of what can be achieved by a restaurant with determination and a vision and who are, most importantly, willing to learn through guidance and education.