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The sun shone – appropriately – as Jack Levine, of The Sun Inn, Dedham, chose dayboat fish to create a summery dish of sea bass with crab, clams, Jersey Royals and a golden saffron sauce
(This article from the book Essex Feast was written before Covid-19 and lockdown)
Standing in the morning sunlight, taking in the watery vista of Wivenhoe Quay with its stylish riverside apartments overlooking moored fishing boats, we watch as fishermen hand over the day’s catch to Phil Wright of The Little Fish Company.
He loads brimming crates of wild sea bass, kite-shaped skate, and distinctive dome-headed gurnard into
the back of his refrigerated van. He used
to be the one doing the fishing from his
own boat the Cathy Anne, but these days he’s too busy with trade deliveries and his wet fish shop in Kelvedon to have time to get out on the water. “Maria (Phil’s partner) and I have just moved to Langham and we are going to concentrate on deliveries due to the number of restaurants we now have as customers,” he explains. His brother Steven will continue run the fresh fish shop with an apprentice, Daisy.
Jack Levine, head chef of The Sun Inn, Dedham, is eager to see what’s in today’s catch. He hops onto the brightly-painted fishing boat. “I use Phil’s company because the fish is caught daily using small day boats, so it’s fabulously fresh, and he consistently gives us top quality. Even the delivery drivers are friendly and helpful! I am forever having to call up with a last- minute order because we’ve sold out,
Chef Jack Levine with Phil Wright of The Little Fish Company on Phil’s boat, the Lady K
and he turns up straight away – we’ll always give him a beer at the bar later for going that extra mile!”
Leaving the tranquil scene of bobbing fishing boats, we head just three miles inland to Dedham and into Jack’s domain, a kitchen he shares with his sous chef, Emil Styczynski and four other members of the brigade. We watch while he deftly fillets the wild sea bass, then steams it in a bamboo steamer in keeping with his ethos of simple, fresh, local and seasonal food.
Starting with his seafood sauce as a base, Jack carefully arranges the palourde clams, local samphire and courgette on the plate, adding a
quenelle of potato before topping with the freshly steamed bass and crab.
“I really like to cook fish, and sea bass is so versatile. Sometimes I pan-roast it in butter and serve with Swiss chard, tomatoes, olives and ‘nduja or slice it thinly and cure it in lemon, fennel and chilli. It’s great with peppery wild rocket and radishes too. I like to cook using a few seasonal ingredients which are well balanced, giving the customer fresh flavours, and just letting the ingredients do the talking.” At home, he will most often grill sea bass whole on the barbecue, adding nothing more than some lemon, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

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