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Billingsgate Market – What you need to know before visiting

by Best-Japanese Team
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Billingsgate Market Floor

Where is the biggest fish market in the UK? With a market complex spanning 13 acres, Billingsgate in London is the UK’s largest indoor fish market. The market dates back to the 17th century and moved from the heart of the City to its current location in Canary Wharf back in 1982.

Billingsgate is where buyers from the best restaurants and fishmongers in London source their fish and seafood. Although it is a professional fish market, it’s also open to the general public. The main trading floor boasts 98 stalls and 30 shops where you can find all kinds of fish and shellfish. If you want to research before you go, take a look at the official City of London website. On top of more background information, you can find a complete merchant list and the market floorplan.

Contents

  1. Opening times
  2. When is the best time to go?
  3. How to Get to Billingsgate
  4. Does it have parking?
  5. What’s it like on the floor?
  6. How about the Sashimi-Grade Fish?
  7. Do you need to bring cash?
Billingsgate Market Exterior
Billingsgate Market at 5am

Opening times

The market is open every day from Tuesday to Saturday. It starts at 4am and goes on until 8:30 in the morning. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays, bank holidays, and during the Xmas and New Year period. Good Friday is the exception to the bank holiday rule, however we advise checking the official open days before any visit.

When is the best time to go to Billingsgate?

As the market opens at 4am, most serious buyers are in and out before half five if not before. However, remember you’ll have to queue if you arrive before 5am. We would suggest arriving any time after that and possibly the optimal time is around 5:30am. If you don’t want to miss on the best catch, obviously go a little earlier. Stalls start shutting up at 6:30 which is when prices start going down and bargain hunters arrive. You can easily get deals for prices you don’t often see. For examples 4 rainbow trout for £10, a kilo of mussels for £3, or 6 sea bass for £10.

Sea Bream
Sea Bass, Sea Bream, and a couple of crabs

How to get to Billingsgate?

This is a tricky one if you don’t live in the Canary Wharf area and rely on public transportation. Coming back from the market is not an issue but if you want to arrive before 6am, you’ll need to take a night tube and probably a night bus.

For those of you living close to the Central Line and wanting to arrive by 5:30, we would advise going to Mile End station. From there, you can catch the D6 bus for 10 minutes and walk 7 minutes from Aspen Way. Alternatively, you can take an Uber from Mile End straight to Billingsgate. This only cost us £8 and we were outside the market entrance and the iconic Traffic Light Tree in 7 minutes. If arriving after 6am is not an issue for you, then you have the option to take the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf station. From there, it’s a 13 minute walk to Billingsgate.

Billingsgate Traffic Light Tree
Traffic Light Tree

Does Billingsgate have parking?

There is a pay and display car park where you pay £2 for a 2 hours stay. On the Saturday we went in early January there were plenty of spaces still available in the car park. Possibly this will be different later in the year. To be safe, we would recommend arriving before the bargain hunter crowd gets to the market.

What’s it like on the market floor?

Billingsgate Market Floor
Billingsgate Market Floor

First of all, you’ll find the market floor busy. The stalls are all close together lined-up in four rows but this makes it quite clear to move around. Buyers and bargain hunters were wearing masks but the traders generally were not. You’ll see the floor is wet so it’s better to go in shoes or boots with non-slip soles. Definitely don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t want getting dirty. This is a market with a lot going on. You’ll often hear porters shout out “mind your feet” or “legs” as they pull their trolleys and pallets right past you.

Being at Billingsgate does give you a glimpse into East End trading life but it’s not as rough as some writers may have you believe. The traders we met and spoke to were polite and friendly to all customers. In addition, we don’t believe anyone is out to target unsuspecting shoppers either. If prices are getting lower past six thirty, it obviously means the traders want to sell their stock before closing.

Whole Salmon
Whole Salmon and Lobsters
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns

What about the Sashimi-Grade Fish?

You will need to take particular care when you buy sashimi grade fish. It goes without saying that not buying the correct fish could make you seriously ill. So always take your time and ask the trader if they sell sushi or sashimi grade fish. Be sure to double check if you are not sure. You can even explicitly ask if the fish can be eaten raw as sashimi or used for sushi.

We would recommend that you go early so that you can get the best fish. Also we would advise paying extra for higher quality. You may see cheaper options but surely it’s better to be play it safe. In addition, farmed salmon is the way to go if you are trying to avoid any risks from parasites.

Here is a photo of a box of farmed sashimi-grade salmon from Norway. Each fillet weighed 1.75 kgs and cost £25 – £26. In case it looks small to you, believe us when we say they are huge. We bought one of the fillets under these ones you see on top. While these fillets were not descaled, this took less than 2 minutes work when we got home.

Sushi Grade Salmon Sashimi
Sashimi Grade Salmon

Just to give you an idea of what it looked like, here is the fillet at home on the largest cutting board we have in the kitchen. Moments after taking this photo we sliced up the salmon and had the most delicious sashimi breakfast.

Billingsgate Market Salmon
Sashimi Grade Salmon Fillet

Do you need to bring cash?

Yes, please remember to take cash with you before going to Billingsgate. There used to be an ATM at the market but now the closest one is a ten-minute walk away in Canary Wharf. Some traders may have card readers but all the ones we bought from only accepted cash.

Also keep in mind that Billingsgate is a wholesale market. This means that you won’t be able to buy small quantities. You’ll be buying by the kilo, by boxes, or in our case with the sashimi-grade salmon, you have to buy the whole fillet. Below you can see that there is sliced salmon but it’s sold per kilogram.

Wild Salmon and Pom Fret

We hope that this information about Billingsgate has been helpful. In the next few weeks, we will aim to create our first newsletter with details on which stall we bought our salmon from. If you’d like to sign up, please send us an email via our contact us form.


Billingsgate offers the freshest fish which is perfect for sashimi or sushi making. It is of course only an option for those who are early morning risers and who don’t mind the market vibe. If you are not willing to lose out on sleep, please check out our list of alternative Japanese supermarkets and shops selling sashimi grade fish in the London area and across the UK.

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2 comments

Arturs May 8, 2022 - 11:04 am

Very informative, inspired to visit myself now! – setting my alarm clock for 4AM at some point this week. What makes fish sushi/ sashimi grade? Is it just about freshness, or is there additional effort that goes into transportation and storage to ensure it’s safe for raw consumption?

Reply
Best-Japanese Team May 8, 2022 - 8:16 pm

Hi Arturs, thank you for your comment and excellent question. A combination of freshness, transportation and storage ensures sashimi grade fish is safe for raw consumption. We also bought farmed salmon which is exclusively fed strongly heated and processed dry-feed and contains no parasites. To be extra safe we asked our friends in the Japanese restaurant business which stall they recommended. If you’d like to know the name please pop us an email or use our contact form and we can let you know the stall name and location.

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