Monday, July 1, 2013

Billingsgate Fish Co. - Edmonton, AB

When my family first moved from Edmonton to Ottawa, one of our regular weekend outings always included a trip to the fish market in Ottawa. As a kid, I remember distinctly loathing that fishy, sea-water smell of the fish market, the wetness of the floor, and simply how slimy you feel whenever we visited it. However, the fresh fish my parents would pick out for dinner (done Vietnamese style of course!) was always worth it and my brother and I almost always got a fish and chips for lunch as a special treat. The fish and chips were always moist, flaky, and perfectly battered and held its own against the vicious amount of ketchup only a seven-year old would use. Thus, when our good friend invited us to the Billingsgate Fish Market on a Groupon, I was more than happy to join him despite the poor showing of only 68% on Urbanspoon.

When we first walked into Billingsgate Fish Co., we were all hit by the overwhelming odour of fish and seafood. While I had braced myself for that, having had numerous experience as a child, Billingsgate's fishiness had a certain has-been-lying-out-too-long quality. Walking through the front door of a "fish market," I was definitely expecting a wide variety of fresh and/or live seafood; instead, what we found was three empty fish tanks and a measly selection of rather limp looking fish, shellfish, and king crab legs.

The front counter featured specials of the day (which happened to be pasta that day) and the rest of their menu on a large chalkboard menu-board. My companion settled on the special of the day Salmon Pasta, while my friend and I settled on the Fish and Chips and Oyster and Chips, respectively. I had originally wanted the Steelhead Trout - a fish very similar to salmon - but they were unfortunately out of Steelhead for the day (not surprisingly, given their empty display windows). We ordered a few drinks to go along with our meal and settled down while the waiter (who also informed us he was the cook) brought out our drinks and food. The cafe itself was quite nice, with a high ceiling in the dining area emulating the inside of a lighthouse. It even had corny (though I enjoyed them) sea-themed accents such as fishing nets, lobster traps, and ships which lined the walls of the "lighthouse." There were large windows which allowed ample sunlight for all the diners to enjoy, and you could tell that in its prime, Billingsgate Fish Co. was probably the go-to restaurant for casual lunches and seafood cravings.

Oyster and Chips
After I was told there was no Steelhead trout for the day, I waffled between getting the Oyster and Chips ($10.95) and the Oyster Burger ($8.95). In the end, I decided to go with the Oyster and Chips, as Dadeo's makes some of the best fried oyster sandwiches (the famous Po' Boy!) in Edmonton, and with Urbanspoon ratings of 68%, I wanted to give Billingsgate a fighting chance of impressing me with their own unique dish. Unfortunately, even with me consciously giving them a leg up, Billingsgate did not impress. The oysters were left in the deep fryer a little too long and resulted in more-than-just-crispy batter. Even though I tried my best not to compare the two restaurants, I found the oysters inside were rather flat and did not have the plump juiciness I was used to at Dadeo's. In fact, of the three oysters I had, there was actually one that was quite bitter and gritty; you'd think they'd have a fresher selection being a fish market and all. The fries did not taste fresh (they were way too starchy and mushy to even be considered close to good!) and were much too under-salted. The dipping sauce for the fries and oysters was essentially shrimp cocktail dipping sauce, which did help take some of the fishiness away from the oysters, but was nothing special by any means. Overall, a very disappointing dish which showed lack of any creativity, below par ingredients (the oysters!), or even much effort from the kitchen.

Pasta Special of the Day
My companion, being both a pasta lover and a salmon lover, chose the pasta special of the day: Salmon and Pasta ($11.95). After both having travelling through Italy, we have had the chance to appreciate all types of seafood pastas; one of my favourite types of seafood pasta is a simple dish composed of baby clams cooked in their shells in a garlic and olive oil sauce. The simpleness of the olive oil and garlic allows the natural saltiness of the clams to permeate the pasta. Seafood pastas - most of which are cooked in very simple, light sauces such as white wine or olive oil - always taste incredibly clean and refreshing. As such, when the fish pasta was served in a heavier tomato sauce, I was a little sceptical. Unfortunately, my instincts proved me right: the light, flaky fish did not hold its own against the heavier tomato sauce and created a very mishmash, almost soggy, texture. (This is not to say that seafood can never be combined with tomato-based sauces as I have had wonderful mussels or scampi tomato-based pastas in Italy!).  The noodles were a little overcooked for my liking, though since Italy and dining with Shannon and Eric I've shifted my preference over to the more al dente side, so it may be more a matter of personal preference than any fault of Billingsgate. My companion found the fish itself was well cooked, though he complained about the ridiculously small portions. We were both fairly disappointed with the dish. It seems Billingsgate fails to realize that you cannot simply throw any sort of seafood into a pasta sauce and call it a seafood pasta.

Finally, I was able to sample Eat Cook Dream's Fish and Chips ($10.95). The fish and chips were nicely battered and cooked well, though nothing special. The tartar sauce had a nice sweet and sour combination and I found the acidity of the tartar sauce highlighted the flaky fish fairly well. The French fries, again, were soggy, starchy and under-salted (at least they're consistent...). Despite being a pretty mediocre dish (disappointing considering it was from a fish market), in comparison to the other two dishes, this was my favourite dish of the night.
Fish and Chips
While Billingsgate Fish Co. Lighthouse Cafe had a great interior, its heydays seemed long past. And based on the food I sampled tonight, I wouldn't blame the diners of Edmonton; I found the food sub-par, lacking selection, freshness, and creativity. Though the prices were very reasonable, with most dishes ranging between $8-$15 for "fresh seafood," I would likely not return to Billingsgate.

Top Pick of the Night: Fish and Chips


2/5 Erics

Billingsgate Fish Co. on Urbanspoon


  1. That's so disappointing! We need some better seafood restaurants in Edmonton!

    1. It's true - we do need more good seafood. Try the Pescatore Seafood pasta at Enzo's on 76 - it's quite delicious! Thanks for following!