“Would you like to enjoy an oyster while you browse?” De la Mer co-owner David Owen asks a tot-toting Roncesvalles mom, while his partner, Blake Edwards, tends to the queue of customers that stretches to the end of the narrow shop shortly after opening. De la Mer is the second outpost of the duo’s Leaside location. The fishmonger has become a fast favourite in the quickly gentrifying neighbourhood, due in large part to the highly knowledgeable staff, who are more than happy to offer tips on cooking their wares. The complimentary perks, such as free citrus, fresh horseradish and dill, don’t hurt either.
Like Kirstin and Dan Donovan of Hooked, both Owen and Edwards come from culinary backgrounds. Owen spent time cooking at the King Edward and is a co-owner of The Feathers Pub, while Edwards honed his skills at venerable institutions such as George. Both trained at George Brown, but they didn’t meet until years later, thanks to serendipitous adjacent parking spots. Edwards was managing the Leaside De la Mer, which happened to be located just behind Owen’s house. When the business went up for sale, the two decided to try their hands at fishmongering, and never looked back.
The bright shop, with its bubbling window display, hosts a fish counter that runs the length of the store, complete with a rainbow of fresh fillets, including halibut, black cod, red snapper, yellow perch, swordfish, grouper and steelhead trout (although there’s a sustainable and ethical bent, De la Mer is not as strict as, say, Hooked). There’s a healthy selection of oysters (five varieties on our visit), and should you order a dozen, you get a bonus cockle on the house. Also on display are house-made goodies such as ready-to-bake panko-crusted crab cakes ($4 each), prosciutto-wrapped tilapia ($13 a pound) perfect for the grill, and crab- and scallop-stuffed salmon roulade ($20 a pound). There’s also a selection of sustainably caught frozen fish for those who prefer to stock up. On the opposite wall, running parallel to the fish counter, is a shelf of fish marinades, sauces, dips and other accoutrements. Perhaps the most sought-after item: the never-frozen Gulf Coast shrimp from the Florida Panhandle, which arrives on Fridays and sells out in a flash.