BY PALOMA LACY
Even in a global city like London, sourcing unusual ingredients quickly is an often impossible task for home cooks and professional chefs alike.
It was just this conundrum that drove 38-year-old former chef Drogo Montagu’s desire to set up Fine Food Specialist eight years ago.
Today, the online business, based in New Covent Garden Market, has gone from strength to strength.
It now offers same-day deliveries in London zones 1 and 2, and next day throughout the UK, on orders placed before 11am.
Despite the supermarkets using the ever-growing global palate as weaponry in the battle for market share, there is still a legion of ingredients that most in London, let alone the rest of country, would struggle to find.
Supposing you want miso-marinated blackened cod, finger limes, purple cauliflower or even live sea urchins?
Montagu’s company will come to your rescue at record speed. Food mad Brits, fuelled by food-obsessed TV, are reaching out to Fine Food Specialist in their droves, to help them recreate restaurant quality dishes at home.
Little surprise that edible flowers top the list of sought after products, and much-prized white truffles, just coming into their short season, will spike in popularity.
Sales of exotic seafood, weird and wonderful fruit and veg such as giant Cedro lemons from Italy, and cheese and meat from around the world, are also rocketing. Mr Montagu’s vision was clear.
He said: “I wanted to deliver the finest ingredients possible to the people who couldn’t get them. As a chef, I knew how to use them but couldn’t get hold of the best vinegar and oils, for examples.
“We now have a good offering that works because we ensure the product arrives in perfect condition – even if it’s frozen – and delivered in a beautiful box.
“But most importantly, on time. Getting the logistics right is a big part of why we are where we are.” Once New Covent Garden Market is demolished and rebuilt next year, Mr Montagu says his company will find a new permanent home within the market, hopefully by the autumn of 2019, where it will continue to pick and pack orders.
He said: “We’re also looking at a retail site as part of that, enabling customers to come and try product and purchase. There’s also the possibility of including a deli.
This would tie in with my love of creating beautiful morsels from the incredible products we stock.” And cooking is what Mr Montagu did from the age of 18 to 30, when long-term illness forced him to take some time out and re-evaluate his future.
He counts stints in a range of well-renowned Michelin-starred kitchens in the UK and Switzerland, including Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle, as well as Randall and Aubin as travel and time well spent.
Gaining further experience in the food business strengthened Montagu’s belief that there was a gap in the market for a one-stop-shop for hard to find, products.
“Customers come to us because they can’t get these products anywhere else. That’s what they tell us,” said Mr Montagu.
Starting the business from home in August 2010 saw a quiet first few months, followed by a surprisingly good Christmas period, which saw seasonal product flying out of the bedroom.
But it wasn’t until we moved into New Covent Garden market in 2014, and had our own warehouse, giving us direct contact with suppliers, that we were able to expand into fruit and vegetables,” said Mr Montagu.
This, together with a further move into a new warehouse in 2017, has given Fine Food Specialist the framework to stock “an awesome range of fruit and vegetables, that’s now one of our biggest sellers,” said Montagu.
Customers can expect some exotic Christmas stocking fillers Perhaps Gin & Tonic Marmalade, White Truffle Oil or a Caviar Tasting set – there are too many treats to choose from.
Montagu and his team are encouraging shoppers to give turkey a break and opt for more traditional capon and goose.
For more details, visit www.finefoodspecialist.co.uk.