There is certainly something fishy about the modern pub food trade. Seafood is becoming a menu staple as publicans discover how they can turn this culinary net advantage into net profit.
However, the Seafish Industry Authority does recognise that "some publicans may be daunted by the process of buying and choosing fish".
"This fear is exacerbated when publicans are ordering sight unseen over the phone. Even fish just landed may have been stored on board for a week or more," said Seafish spokesperson Mandy Queen.
"If you can, check out your merchandise first. Choose fish with firm flesh and shiny skin, avoiding limp, lifeless or dry-looking specimens," she advised. "Price is also an issue that can also scare some publicans when first trawling the possibility of selling fish dishes. Prices can fluctuate in accordance with supply. And it is not just UK supply and demand that can determine the price of fish, but market prices across Europe."
But why are consumers increasingly being seduced by these aquatic delights? The versatility of fish as an ingredient is one of its major strengths. While a steak can have a Diane, hollandaise or even pepper sauce drizzled over it; the flavour of the meat is still over-riding. The flavour of fish is far subtler.
"Seafood is an ideal dish to serve in pubs," Mandy added. "It is quick, easy to cook, extremely versatile and is available in many convenient forms. You can grill seafood, shallow fry it, poach it, bake it, steam it, microwave it, deep fry it, BBQ it and even stir-fry it. Seafood is also perfect for both starter and main course."
And with some 21,000 species in the world and more than 60 varieties widely available in the UK you could probably have a different seafood dish every day of the year.
"My advice to pubs that have not yet fully exploited the potential of fish is simple - keep it simple, buy the best quality product possible and have a strong passion for it," advised fish publican Trevor Bosch, owner of the Angel Inn in Long Crendon, Bucks.
Health issues too have pushed fish to the top of the food chain in the desirability stakes. The Seafood Industry Authority is staunch in extolling this benefit by showing that seafood is natural, delicious and versatile and has proven health benefits.
Mandy clarified: "It is low in calories, high in protein and rich in vitamins, minerals and natural oils. Oily fish such as tuna and mackerel are rich in Omega 3 which reduces the risk of heart disease as well as being a good source of A and D."
So while consumers' arteries may be whistling a tune of relief that fish is enjoying a renaissance, pub balance sheets could also be humming a similar melody.
Michelle Nochese, spokesperson for fish supplier M & J Seafoods, is adamant that fish makes sound business sense. "Offering a variety of fresh fish and either a blackboard special or daily fish speciality encourages repeat business. Serving fresh fish is seen as a reflection of quality and by offering customers a choice, you will normally find that they are happy to pay a premium for such a dish," she said.
Angela Thomas, owner of the Hazlephron in Cornwall is in wholehearted agreement. "Consumers have forgotten the skill of cooking fish at home and hence they perceive fish as a luxury and often more expensive than steak," she commented.
So on a scale (if you'll pardon the pun!), how profitable can fish be? Trevor Bosch revealed that GP can be anything up to 70 per cent. Rachel Shah, meanwhile, manageress of The Old Coastguard Brassiere in Mousehole, Cornwall, believes that this figure could be higher. "Because our pub is so close to the coast, we are able to get fresh produce at very competitive rates so our GP is even keener," she explained.
David Barnard, owner of specialist seafood pub, the Crab & Lobster in Asenby, North Yorkshire, believes that the profit potential is as limitless as your imagination.
"If you buy a piece of turbot for £7 and you cut it in half to make two portions, you would have to charge an enormous premium to keep a sensible margin. Have a little more imagination," he challenged, "Use all the influences that are around you - Mediterranean, Indian, Oriental - and create dishes with higher perceived value, more flavour and greater margin."
David certainly practices what he preaches. He spends a large proportion of his time travelling around the world with his team in order to help unearth new recipe ideas for the restaurant. "I recently came back from a trip to the States where I tasted some fabulous dishes. I have since added some exciting fusion dishes to the menu which have been incredibly well received," he recounted.
This research coupled with an unquenchable desire to re-invent the menu and its execution has given the Crab & Lobster a natiowide reputation.
"Although the menu changes monthly there are some dishes that we simply can't take off the menu including our fish club sandwich, our fish pie and our baked scallops in gruyere and garlic. Every year though we try to luxuriate these dishes - for example our scallops are now served in a large shell to create additional interest. The key is to be passionate and create some magic and the customers will surely follow," he concluded with conviction.
Fishy Facts - Amount of fish eaten in the UK in pubs
- Freshwater fish (eg trout or salmon): 3,990 tonnes
- Shellfish: 3,640
- Haddock: 2,190
- Cod: 2,090
- Plaice: 1,860
- Other saltwater: 1,650
- Processed: 600
- Exotic: 240
(Source: Seafish Industry Authority)