Patty and I met on the Mezzanine level of Selfridges ahead of meeting up with a mate whom we owed a favour. As he was joining us at 7 o’clock, like two of the three little pigs who show up early to avoid the wolf, we ordered six Native rock oysters. We gobbled them down in record time and I feel we really didn’t do them justice. They were delicious although we were harshly reminded that the warm waters season is kicking in. Patty got a creamy one and was not impressed. Get that drink down, take the empty plate away, order the champagne! We sat demurely sipping water with no evidence of the’ trolley dash’ eating we had just undertaken. I can be honest, I am jealous and also happy, that Patty’s next oyster stop is none other than David Jones Oyster Bar in Sydney. Oh how I wish I could be there with her. Patty, you are in for a treat like no other. Oysters mornay – the only time I eat anything but raw – are just so wonderful my eyes are welling right now. And the other fab thing about the place(and I hope they still do this) if you order half a dozen you get seven, a dozen, make it a baker’s and if eighteen, which I can happily do in a sitting there, you get nineteen. I look forward to your report from the Antipodes.
I loved The Cow, er, I mean The Cow, as in, the name of the pub Shirley and I inspected the other evening. And thank you, Shirley, my beautiful friend, for such an open update. I admire your honesty and intelligence. I’m also sorry that I look a little oblivious to your plight in the photo! Ah, well, we make a great team, no?
There is one thing I’d like to mention about The Cow - the pub - that I feel we should have tried. One of the highlighted choices from the menu was “12 oysters and a Guinness”. There was also a neon sign above the door saying ‘Guinness and Oysters’. You could choose a glass of house wine instead of Guinness, which is what we did, but now in the light of day, a Guinness accompanying a plate of oysters sounds rather nice! That’s my ‘something else’. So we’ll save it for the next time we’re both in West London.
Our next outing could be as soon as this Wednesday at our good old favourite: Selfridges.
Patty and I agreed to meet up at The Cow, a well established pub in West London. I rang to ensure they had oysters. They said they had them 364 days a year so I hoped that Easter Saturday was not their one day off. I gave Patty concise directions to the pub and we decided on a five o’clock start.
I wandered down Harrow Road, took a detour off the main road to the backstreets to the pub. I have driven past it so many times and there is always a crowd in the front, so I approached with some trepidation in case of a repeat performance of the eardrum-shattering Well and Bucket. Something was wrong. This was not The Cow but the Westbourne pub. Remember when you have sung a song for years only to find out when you finally read the lyrics, you had a vital element or word wrong? Rhymney (Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams & John Lloyd). I didn’t panic as I knew it was the correct street. A text from Patty confirmed despite my wonky directions she had found the place and was sitting inside waiting for me. It was diagonally across the street and I cannot recall ever having seen it before. It has a small facade and is very low key.
I find Patty slightly jittery about an email trail she was trying to unravel, so I sidle up to the bar and grab a drink. The Cow is cute. It is small. Patty described it as rustic. Pictures of cows from 1948 adorn the walls and date appropriate ads and furniture made it feel more like a time warp. It is cosy and it is comfortable. We made our choice of a mixed plate of west Mersea, Fines de Claires and Loch Ryan natives. We ordered bread. The oysters were lovely, but we both agreed that although tasty they had not been cut loose from the shell so there was a slight battle of small fork versus the mother of pearl to winch these babies from their moorings. I had to spit one out as the texture just hinted of something not quite right and I did not want to see any of these things again in a few hours. There is a stat somewhere (not sure how accurate it is these days), that one in a hundred oysters will be off. I think I may have found one and no way am I giving this the benefit of the doubt. No sirree.
And so to therapy. I have been shuffling around increasingly like a crone and am now being weaned off mirtazapine. The aches in my joints, the double whammy of excessive hunger (they feed this stuff to anorexic cats, go figure) and constipation (nice combo), I feel now the side effects outweigh the benefits. As the picture I posted attests, coming off meds needn’t affect you at all! The best analogy of depression I can think of is that of an unwelcome person you meet at a party that hangs around wanting to be your friend and you have to keep finding polite ways to ignore the unwelcome advances. Ironic then, later in the evening, Patty and I found ourselves in just that situation in a cocktail bar to which we had retired. I found myself telling some hapless chap he really needed to go away. He told me I was giving off negative vibes. Astute! Patty and I suddenly both suffer a West Wittering (ibid.). Years ago I would have put up with this nonsense. So it is comforting to know, with age comes some wisdom. And a fitting comparison for today’s topic that I can use in my continuing emotional healing.
Happy Easter to us all.
The Cow, Westbourne Park Road, Easter Saturday
I lost my way getting to our agreed meeting place. I asked two East End guys where the Well and Bucket was and they jokingly asked if I had brought my ID and then pointed the pub out. It was across the street. Gotta love geezers. Oh boy indeed Patty. I found a spare seat amongst the heaving Friday night crew. The music was blaring and I knew instinctively this was not my type of place. However I enquired as to the oysters that were available and was told there were none. So, despite having rung ahead to check, the evening was now starting a slow meltdown. Patty arrived and we looked at each other in greeting with a slight mutual eye roll. Two water signs; fish out of their waters. Patty went to the bar and inexplicably came back with a drink she didn’t want. Still not sure how her order for white wine was turned into red wine but I put it down to the eye wateringly high volume of music, slightly drunk people speaking loudly, melee. We sipped our drinks quietly, unable to converse and got out our phones to execute Plan B. Having said that, for a lively pub Friday, the Well and Bucket is actually a cool place. Just not on our agenda.
Patty found some other joint that professed oysters, so we squeezed out and left the decibel driven pub and breathed deeply the relatively fresh, if not highly publicised currently polluted, London air and started walking. She rang Berner’s Tavern and notwithstanding having landed themselves a prize slot under ‘The best ten oyster bars in London’ informed her that they didn’t have any oysters. Mystified we looked up and down the street, talking in increasingly breathless tones, with the slight hint of desperation creeping in. It was Friday night, we are in a part of the city we do not recognise and we want oysters! We remember that we are pretty close to Spitalfields so we decide a visit to Wright Brothers’ new establishment would be the best choice. Patty phoned again to make a reservation. There followed another slight moment of minor peril when she started shaking her head but then a smile and a firm thank you confirmed we had secured our place. Just one more thing before the review. We had to manoeuvre our way down Brick Lane, which is a wonderfully cute and evocative place, but is teeming with touts from all the Indian restaurants, of which there are many. We hobbled down the cobbles and were bombarded with offers of the best Indian food and free wine. There came a point when we almost gave in. We love Indian food and it smelt delicious and we were both getting hangry. We remained resolute and finally hit Whitechapel Road. Another doom laden moment passed when we realised we had overshot our turn off by about fifteen minutes’ walk. All the while we talked, about perhaps being flexible with the parameters of this blog, as in, if we can’t always find oysters, can the therapy side of it kick in a bit more. We spoke with a homeless man and found he had hit bad times when his father died and the repro furniture business he had left his son, died along with him. We hailed a cab. Five minutes later we finally reached our destination. Wright Brothers’ Spitalfields branch. It opened last December and I had been planning to attend the opening but for whatever reason, didn’t make it. We had been told to expect to be seated with a barrel as our table, which had still sounded like a good option. But on arrival we were greeted by the very friendly Brenda who said there was room at the bar. Deep exhale. The restaurant backs onto the end of the market and has neon signs denoting live oysters, lobster, crab. The place is full but not overpowering in any way. We perch ourselves like two little birds on the high stools and smile. Our previous experience with Wright Brothers was their Soho branch and it was a highlight of last summer for us. We were introduced to Hugo, the oyster specialist, who did a rundown of the varities on offer and we settled on a mixed plate of six different types, two of each; five rock oysters, list to follow, and one farmed variety. We ordered a drink and watched with delight as this dedicated and diligent man opened the oysters in front of us. He was so impressively adept he wasn’t wearing protective gloves. What is striking about this company is the exemplary standard of staff they employ. The enthusiasm for their work and their fare is infectious. We took photos, we took notes - that ended up smudging when the paper was covered in oyster liquor and lemon juice. This is the list as best as I can decipher my scrawl; jersey royale, lindisfarne, galway, guillardeau, fines de claire speciale, frenchman street. Dear God, they were sublime. Each and every one different and delicious. We had been given the lowdown before we jumped in and Hugo’s descriptions were spot on. Although he said the Jersey’s had the aftertaste of cucumber, I have always thought it was celery, but we were in agreement of their utter tastiness. All too soon there was an empty platter in front of us. With very little prompting, we went in for round two and shared a brown crab. It was simply served with lemon and a little bit of mayonnaise on the side and some scrumptious bread that seemed to be in endless supply as we had taken quite a liking to it. Next thing we were invited to this restaurant’s hidden treasure. Downstairs they have a holding room for as many as seven thousand oysters. It reminded me of an industrial strength water feature, with sprays, trickles, bubbles, pipes and gauges and in amongst that, nestled to keep them clean and fresh, sat 6000 of our favourite morsels. It is Hugo’s job to keep the temperature steady and the salination at the right level. Not only is this guy a master of oysters, he is also now a chemist, engineer and nursemaid. We spoke with the manager Marcin. We complimented him on the staff, the ambience and the total package that is Wright Brothers. Patty and I have promised ourselves another treat at their Borough Market place soon. They offer excellent value for money and the produce is superior to many other places we have been. This company simply has got it all Wright!
We’re heading east tonight to the Well and Bucket. The reviews are wonderful, if you’re going for a craft beer. One of the reviewers wrote ‘what’s not to like, unless you’ve come for oysters’. Oh boy. Let’s brace ourselves, Shirley, and see if they can come up with a clean, crisp and cold glass of something grape-like and wet to go with our oysters. There’s more to come…
It was the first time Patty and I have been together for over a month so Patty chose Newman Street Tavern. The downstairs is a lovely pub and upstairs a fairly reasonable gastropub. The staff were very friendly and I arrived ahead of Patty and was given a very good seat with a commanding view of the restaurant. It was a funky and fun décor with enviable tableware. Patty and I both were very taken with the bread plates. On the menu for this evening: West Merseas, Sizes 2 and 3. Hmmmm….we asked and the number 3s are the smaller of the two. We ordered half a dozen of each. They arrived promptly. They were very pretty and beautifully opened. Very tidy and clean. The number 2s (childish snigger) were indeed about twice the size than the number 3s and they both looked inviting. I started with the smaller ones. They were my type of oyster. An instant salty hit followed by a long, slightly metallic aftertaste. I had a sip of wine and chewed on some bread before proceeding. The larger ones were completely different. Although the same species, and apart from the size, they looked identical, but the flavour was distinctly different. These were subtle, soft and with no discernable follow through. I preferred the more flavoursome smaller variety while Patty enjoyed the bigger ones. Oyster enjoyment is very subjective. Anyway, we demolished the lot and chattered about our adventures - mine in Portugal and hers in the US – and again were bemused how our lives seem parallel and more often than not, certain areas are mirrored images. We compared notes and commiserated and congratulated each other in equal measure. Our current life wish lists are almost identical. Life, what a crazy ride it is sometimes. Patty regaled me with one particular tale that cannot be shared here but sister, you have my admiration at your audacity. I realise we are already a quarter of the way through the year. Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen!
Bahia Beach Bar in Lagos. I turned up at lunchtime and enquire if my oyster order has arrived? I am assured it has. And crab? No they sold out yesterday. I sit outside, the sun beating down for the first day since I arrived in Portugal. I watch the waves crashing onto the shore and wonder at how all the ocean stays where it is - well, mostly - and then think I should know the physics relating to this and what a dumb thing to even think about. Then I decide the ocean is like a big swimming pool and the waves are just the overspill when someone jumps in. Or something like that. I settle in with my Winnie the Pooh style ignorance and a green wine. The wind is steady and strong but I am protected by glass windows, so I am in the elements but not being overly tormented by them. My face, just as a sunflower, turns instinctively towards the warm, yellow orb and I close my eyes and feel totally peaceful. In due course my dozen oysters are served. They are local, they look luscious and I look lovingly at them in anticipation. I take one of the lemon quarters from the plate and squeeze it onto the first oyster. I watched as it cringed with the acidity. I use this a measure of its freshness; being alive they will contract. And that is a good thing, right? Jump cut. Over the past few months I have attended several courses on meditation ; specifically Buddhist. As with all religions, terms and conditions apply. According to my recent dabblings, each of these single beings has an intrinsic value. For a fleeting moment I felt bad and sad and recalled the day long course on Karma. What do I do? Of course, I ate them all. And of course, they were delicious, tasty, utterly fulfilling and satisfy a deep need I feel when I crave them. They are packed with nutrients and zinc. They, by their very thriving, attest to the freshness of water in which they live, and thereby have contributed to the success of human evolution. Ah, now as I write this, I have the perfect foil. Did Jesus not offer the thousands on the mountain bread and fish? And He turned water into wine. I resolve with renewed strength not to buy into the guilt of any religion.