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Hearty Food

Issue: TW Mag May '13

SANDYS FISHMONGERS HAS graced King Street since the 70s and is renowned in the area for its excellent fish and produce. An original amongst other emerging Twickenham jewels such as Lavistock Farm and Rubens, which are helping the area to become a foodie paradise with a growing selection of destination shops.

Owner Stuart Sandy followed his grandparents and father into the trade, ‘I moved here when I was seven and grew up around the business. I was made partner at seventeen. People asked me “do you really want to go into retail?” but I knew I was driven to get everything just right and to be the best, so it fits my character to a tee. I’m a complete control freak, in this business there are a lot of variables you have to get right and I enjoy the challenge of trying to master the details. Of course you can’t always win, and the perfectionist in me gets very frustrated sometimes. In this game everything is perishable, I look in the fridge at the end of a week and see I’ve over ordered an item, and think to myself, “how the hell did that happen”. But it keeps me on my toes. I believe you worst critic has to be yourself, it pushes me to deliver.’

As a long standing retailer Sandys is at the heart of the community, giving Stuart a valuable perspective on Twickenham ‘I’ve seen Twickenham change a lot over the years. Obviously the rugby has grown considerably over the years. There’s been the city boom, then the baby boom. I see customers come in who I knew when they were kids that now come in with their own kids, but there are also lots of fresh faces. The area has lost some of its warmth and character. It would be good to get back to some of that village feeling.’

‘The running cost of shops are so expensive. I don’t understand landlords, the rents they want to charge would scare the living daylights out of me. The regeneration plans for the area will help improve things, but I’d also like to see some names and more specialist shops that draw people here. I’d really like there to be a men’s clothing shop!’

With so many years of experience, Stuart has seen fashions in fish come and go, ‘As people change trends change too. Food has become a hobby, a relaxation, with fads, whether it’s organic, exotic, local, convenience, food has become an extension of your lifestyle. You’d be amazed at the power of the TV chef. Things that I may have been trying to suggest for years get a mention by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and in a month it’s all everybody wants. Mackerel was last year’s hit fish. At the moment it’s all about sustainability, pollock or coley are good examples. Obviously we want a future in the industry and that means respect for the produce, so this is a good thing. Ingredients for Sushi remain a favourite.’

‘I enjoy trying to stay ahead of it all. You have to listen to what your customers want, if you don’t take heed, you know the super markets will. They are trying to do what we’ve always been doing. I can’t knock the big boys, they’ve got an awful lot of money to sling around. But we know we can offer the customer service that makes us incomparable to our competitors, our customers trust us. Again, it makes you pay attention to what you are offering, I love trying to fathom it all out, it’s like an ever changing game.’

‘We stock all sorts of things as well as fish. Traditionally it was fishmongers who sold poultry and butchers meats, so there is a history of diversification. We sell a scary amount of chocolate for a fishmonger.’

So what is the favourite fish of the master fishmonger? ‘Haddock fillet, I love salmon with rice or smoked haddock. I eat fish every day, perhaps that’s not a surprise!’

It is Stuart’s passion that makes Sandys stand out, he says ‘I love it, I work seven days a week, and long hours, but it’s all worth it when I know what we do is really good, that’s perfect for me.’