La Mer, the fishmongers on Broadhurst Gardens is open only two half days a week (10am to 2.30pm Friday and Saturday), because 95% of Karim Thobani’s business is wholesaling to restaurants in central London (and some local restaurants too). This involves a 2am start to get supplies from Billingsgate market, although some supplies are delivered, which causes great excitement for the local seagulls.
What brought you to West Hampstead?
My parents. They brought me to West Hampstead as a two-year-old in the 1960s when they moved from Tehran to England, more specifically West Hampstead and a flat on West End Lane. Later, they bought a take-away fish shop called Saffron, which was a bit further up West End Lane (where Paya is now). They sold it when they retired in the ’70s.
By 1988, I’d been to uni, worked in a hotel and by fluke started the business wholesaling fish. At the time I was selling frozen spinach and my customers were asking for fish as well; so I set up the business with my then girlfriend (now wife).
I lived back in the area at the time too but sold that flat and moved – not that far away – to Willesden Green.
What is your first/fondest memory of the area?
I can remember Broadhurst Gardens as a child – it was not as lively as it is now. There was a chemist here and a Nat West Bank round the corner by the tube station. I can also remember the Railway in its musical heyday.
Growing up I remember enjoying playing in my local park, Kilburn Grange, where I played tennis.
What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
Over the years it has changed a lot and will change even more with the opening of the new (Ballymore) flats.
One change that has surprised me a lot is how much property prices have risen. My parents bought the flat on West End Lane in 1974 for £8,000. It’s now apparently worth 100 times that. Crazy.
But change is good, people are always moving in and out. My customers often move away from the area because it is becomes too expensive, but they still come back to get their fresh fish from here.
What’s for lunch?
I miss La Brocca and their pizzas! Otherwise, sometimes I pop up to the Alice House (it is one of the local restaurants he supplies, La Petit Corée is another).
Describe West Hampstead in three words?
Very busy and changing.