Tradition, pride and quality are three things that have long been synonymous with the produce coming out of the fish docks at Grimsby. Residents and businesses alike championing the ever-changing fishing industry and its prizes with ferocity and vigour over the years.
And, while the physical and political landscape of the docks has shifted over time, one thing has stayed the same since 1918 – the ornate iron cowls of Alfred Enderby Ltd. Roughly one century old, and originally constructed as a smithy, this distinctive building and the beautiful smoked fish that it produces, has stood the test of time.
Two generations of the Enderby family have been responsible for the survival of the business, a torch which in 2016 passed to current owner, a loyal customer of Enderby’s, Patrick Salmon. Taking the reigns from Richard Enderby who called time on his 42-year career three years ago, Patrick has taken significant pride in keeping the traditional methods Alfred Enderby is well-known and loved for alive.
“Once upon a time there were 80 plus smoke houses in Grimsby,” recalls Patrick. “Today, there are five remaining. There aren’t many of us. And Alfred Enderby is one which is truly independent and able to supply the public and restaurants as well as wholesalers. We may have lost our fishing fleet here in Grimsby but we haven’t lost this – it should be preserved and we should all be proud to help preserve it.
“For me Alfred Enderby was always known as the best of the best. That’s the truth of the matter. I know it to be the best, and I know that both its haddock and, now, salmon are regarded as such by people near and far.
“In some ways I could see the business was just underwhelmed,” he adds. “We had this fabulous provenance, this fabulous story and process and no one outside of the wholesale industry knew about it. From my point of view, it hadn’t been offered to the public how it should have been. So, quite simply, I bought the business because it was great and I wanted to share that with more people.
“I spent a lot of time visiting, a lot of time with both George and Richard – Alfred’s sons – before I took over. I did a great deal of learning. Richard stayed with me for months, and both Richard and George are at the end of the phone even now if I need to ask them anything. They are both so supportive.”
Entirely hands-on, totally immersed in the day-to-day operations at the smokehouse, Patrick compares his experience in smoking fish to the time it would take you to gain a Master’s degree. And rightly so. Alongside his master smoker and fellow smoker, David and Robert – “both absolute lynchpins with around 50 years’ experience between them” – Patrick works 12-hour days, more often than not six days a week. And wouldn’t have it any other way. This is whole-heartedly a labour of love.
“The first impression the building made on me was the smell. It’s subtle, delicate, pleasant. It seeps from every pore, it greets you. It’s in the very fabric of the building. It’s what makes it unique. And the building itself is like an old man. It feels just like that. It’s robust, it’s very functional and purposeful. There are no airs and graces to it. The robustness of Alfred Enderby’s is reflected in all the other buildings around us. That’s always been part of its attraction.
“It all sounds like a very romantic picture but it is the very building which gives our smoked fish its flavour. It comes from the layers of tar that have built up within the smokehouses, and it’s that very thing which can’t be replicated. It is literally the history of the building and the business which sets our produce apart.”
Bearing that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Richard Enderby, along with a host of fellow yellowbellies, fought tooth and nail for ten years to obtain the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for their Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish. The importance of which cannot be underestimated.
“Having PGI status is a huge commercial value and a mark of quality. Any product that has one should be the go-to,” explains Patrick. “Italy has 320 products with PGI status. Closer to home these products make up 25 per cent of the food and drink export in the UK. Yet as a country we are only home to 82 – only one of those, us, is in Lincolnshire. That’s why we need to preserve this product, these processes, this tradition – everything that we are doing.
“For a lot of those in the food industry or businesses who have involvement in it, volume is seen as the answer to profitability. Volume goes up, margins decrease, profits go up. But – and this is a big but – that is where quality gets comprised. I won’t do that. We prefer to produce less volume in order to deliver a better product. You don’t cheat, you don’t cut corners. That is the true route to quality. Suppliers who dealt with Alfred himself in the 40s and 50s still come to us, and still say it’s as good as it’s ever been if not better.”
For further proof of the quality of Patrick’s smoked fish, there are plenty of awards to look to. From the very first – runner-up in Best Individual Product at the Slow Food London Awards for the haddock – in 2014, to last year’s duo of Great Taste Awards from The Guild of Fine Foods. A three-star exquisite award for the smoked salmon and two-star outstanding award for the smoked haddock – these awards are judged purely on taste, so when a product is celebrated you know it’s worth its salt.
To see Alfred Enderby’s full range and history, visit their website here.
For delicious locally sourced ingredients from the fields and waters surrounding Lincolnshire, click here to see the Pig & Whistle Menu.