My mission; to find the freshest fish for sale in Cape Town.
Friends and contacts made helpful suggestions. Kalk Bay?, Willoughby’s? certain supermarkets? a fish shop in Woodstock?
So why the urge to find out more about fish?
Perhaps it had to do with having eaten fish most of the time on my recent trip to Spain, or perhaps I’m bumping into more people who are consciously eating more fish for health reasons.
I wanted to find a great independent fish monger, and really get my teeth stuck into fish in South Africa.
So after checking, cross checking, asking and generally rooting around I plumped for one; Southern Cross in Tokai.
This is the fish shop mentioned most by top chefs when you ask them ‘where do you get your fish supplies?’
Southern Cross seems to come out top of the list.
Before chatting to the owner, Paul Joubert, I decided to shop there a few times. Ok, you can call it spying. What impressed me was the quality of the produce and the honesty of the staff. They were all clearly able to identify what was fresh, flash frozen and frozen. There was no fudging on the answer.
So after a few visits I felt it was time to talk to the owner.
Chatty, friendly and evangelistic about fish, Paul Joubert eats fish four times a week and grew up in a fishing family.
He’s been running Southern Cross for three years. In the past he spent 10 years being a commercial fisherman. He used to fish for squid and tuna in the Southern Atlantic.
‘Look, people are uncertain about eating fish. Even people who eat it are uncertain about how to cook it.’ He’s on a roll. He continues; ’Not enough people take the time out to find out how to cook it.’ As we’re chatting customers come trotting in and out.
Paul gives a friendly wave to each and every one. He explains; ‘I like the one to one relationship I have with customers, that’s important to me.’ His mobile rings. It’s a supplier offering tuna off the Japanese boats which are docked at Cape Town Harbour.
Paul explains. ’90 % of all tuna in Sushi bars right now is frozen and is coming off the Japanese boats.’ As if on cue, a staff member of one of the biggest fish sushi operations in Cape Town arrives asking about Tuna, Paul explains all he has is frozen, guy in blue tee-shirts says no problem, and says ‘ I’ll take it and defrost.’
Paul looks at me. ’There you go. I wonder do their sushi customers realise that the fish they are eating has been frozen’. ‘And of course’, he adds, ‘all salmon eaten in Cape Town is Norwegian and farmed.’
‘People don’t know where their fish comes from but I have to say my customers do want fresh fish.’
According to Paul the Carte Blanche expose last year pushed his customers to become even more knowledgeable and inquisitive about what fish they eat.
That TV programme showed that restaurants were selling and serving fish, claiming it was one variety when it was another.
‘The customers did not know the difference, and this demonstrates a lack of awareness and knowledge’, said Paul.
And what about the top chefs that Paul supplies?
‘Oh, they like to try out new fish. Every single one of those chefs I deal with complies with the Sassi Code, and won’t cook anything off the red list. I do think that the orange list that has been created is a bit of a grey area. When do those fish move to the red list? Or go green? I’m shocked to think there are certain fish we can’t eat anymore.
The mussel cracker is on the red list. What a beautiful fish. Then there is the national fish of South Africa, the Galijoen, that’s on the red list. Look at what we’ve done. When we started out fishing we didn’t know what we were doing. I wonder about how much damage I caused during my years at sea?’
And what does Paul think of frozen fish? ‘Certain species are taken out of the water and flash frozen. If done correctly it can produce an incredible product. But you have to defrost correctly, slowly, in chillers.’
Still, I’m not convinced. I want fresh fish. So what does that mean? Paul gets started, listing out the fish I need to look out for. ‘You have to go for the daily fish catch. So that means cape salmon, kob, red roman, yellowtail. You can get fresh tuna, but only in summer. Then there’s snoek. That’s an amazing fish feeding thousands of families up and down our coast. It’s bony and strong flavoured, and some people look down their noses at it.’
His top selling fish from his shop is kingklip as number one, then Gurnard, and finally tuna.
So what’s Paul’s favourite fish to eat? ‘It has to be Cape Salmon. I love to bake it with a bit of olive oil, thinly sliced onion and tomatoes some Feta cheese and coriander. Put it on a baking tray. Put it into an oven at 180 degrees for 10 minutes covered. Take the tinfoil off and put back in for 5 mins. I serve that with roasted vegetables and potatoes wedges. I want people to understand what they are eating, and to enjoy fish. It’s a healthy way of eating. Winter or summer, it doesn’t matter’
As I walk away from this ebullient fish monger I get the feeling I’m going to be seeing a lot more of Paul at his shop.
He is passionate about his product. I’ve bought all the fresh fish I can from him over a number of weeks. Mussels, mackerel, kingklip, hake and swordfish. I’ve tried them all.
Southern Cross Seafood Deli
Shop 13 Westlake Lifestyle Centre
021 702 3922
079 887 9050