And much like Lord Percy in Blackadder we too discovered more ‘green’ yesterday but this time in the form of our oyster nuggets. We sat down on a hot English summer afternoon at the Coach Makers pub in Marylebone. This pub was not heaving like many others in the area and it was pleasant. We ordered six of the Scottish rocks and on their arrival Patty and I looked at each other and sighed. Having been assured in the past that this is ok, normal, there is something distinctly off putting about oysters with a green hue. They are not in the least bit inviting but they were there and they had to go somewhere. I put one in my mouth and then spat it out into the paper napkin. I chewed my way around another couple that were less colourful but ended up making a dish worthy of my early years (see earlier posts that relate to my bizarre eating habits). Patty didn’t even feel strong enough to try. We informed the waiter we didn’t like them very much and with that he took away the massacre on the plate and then returned…..well, I will post what he returned with and see if you can spot the error. Although not green I was not convinced. I bravely again chewed and spat. All in all not quite what we had in mind. However, we are slowly feeling the waters and I now announce that we intend to hold an ‘OysterTherapy’ evening, here in London, either in late September or early December. We are working on the details now. This is short and sweet today, like me!
PS There are two forks yet only one oyster!
and I also attach the green clip for amusement
and in reverence for the late Rik Mayall, what a loss
And here it is, a most delightul rundown of last week’s meet up. Thank you both again. Ted you have done well. Maybe your next project should be as a restaurant critic!
It was a dark and stormy night, somewhere in the world, but in London it was a beautiful summer evening. The sun had been shining and office workers had been sunning themselves in Green Park when we arrived at our lodgings in Piccadilly that afternoon, and now we were with Shirley la Bella at the Lansdowne Club, which was founded in 1935 in the former home of Harry Gordon Selfridge, whose main London store features a world famous oyster bar (well we know about it and we live on the other side of the world). But that’s not where we were heading tonight. Instead, we were heading to Wright Brothers Soho Oyster Bar, perhaps opened by distant cousins of the famous aviation pioneers of Dayton Ohio, also the birthplace of the well known chef, Alexander (we know him well even if you don’t). But I digress, so let’s get back on track and talk about oysters.
After brief consideration of the six oysters on offer at Wright Brothers that night, we unanimously agreed to try all six. To my undiscerning palate, all six oysters were excellent so my tasting notes merely report my subjective opinion on degrees of excellence.
We started with the Beausoleil from New Brunswick in Canada, which was tiny, sweet and delicious, easily my favourite so far.
Next was the Cumbrae from Cumbrae in Scotland which contrasted nicely with the Beausoleil, being larger and somewhat salty with a strong distinctive oyster taste.
The Gillardeau Spéciales from Oléron in France took us back to the more delicate end of the flavour spectrum, with a full but gentle flavour which would probably be a good introductory oyster for sombody unsure about consuming these slippery grey morsels.
The Spéciales de Claire, also from Oléron France, was another gentle, smooth tasting oyster, very nice, but not quite in the same league as the Beausoleil and Gillardeau.
The Jersey Royale from the Channel Islands was much closer to the Cumbrae than the French oysters, but very salty, almost overpowering the heavenly oyster flavour we were seeking.
Our set of six finished with a Colchester Rock oyster from West Mersea in the UK. The menu described this oyster as “buttery” but Shirley considered hers to be “creamy”. I won’t quibble over which dairy adjective was more accurate, but I quite liked this oyster and would have quite happily consumed Shirley’s if she decided not to eat hers, but alas, I missed out.
Having now savoured all six oysters I formed my prevously stated opinion that they were all excellent, although I agree with Shirley that the Colchester was the least excellent of the six. While the French oysters were delightful to share with two pretty girls while sipping a gently blushing rosé, I expect that the more robustly flavoured Cumbrae would go down a treat with a good porter or dark ale. The Jerseys would also go well with a beer I suspect, and if I had alternative oysters available I would leave the Colchesters to those who like their oysters a bit yoghurty.
While we would have enjoyed another round of oysters, none of us have had a big lotteries win (yet) so we settled on some chilli prawns and a superb salmon carpaccio, followed by a cheese platter and chilled port to round out the best meal I’ve had in London for at least nine years.
As we left Wright Brothers we were blessed with a gentle and refreshing sprinkle of summer rain, and we bade Shirley a fond farewell half way back to our overnight lodgings.
I was up early pounding the local streets as I completed Week 4 of my Couch to 5k programme. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never jogged before. It goes at an easy(ish) pace and it offers thirty minutes of thinking time to face the day ahead. It is a cinch to download onto a smart phone. I set off after doing my mindfulness meditation. Another recommendation for our increasingly busy and stressful developed world. ‘Mindfulness - a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world ‘. Written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, it is a cutting edge programme based on sound scientific fact. I am using both these practices as part of my ongoing self care and it certainly has been beneficial.
While gently running around, the London summer returned to a more familiar one; that is to say, it was overcast and raining lightly. I took time to look at the trees that line the streets, smell the various flowers that I passed and to enjoy the stillness and quietness of a Saturday morning before the markets are set up and the people throng down the local high street and further afield to Portobello Road.
What has this to do with oysters? Not a lot, it is more the therapy side. However while on my delightful oyster outing last night, one of my visitors brought to my attention the importance of smelling oysters before eating them. Isn’t it strange how you can miss such obvious things? I sniff wine, I sniff other food, I sniff perfume, I sniff people, but in my small oyster world, never gave it a thought. So, Robyn having been given the job of selecting and indeed smelling the wine - a perfect choice of a dry Rose which was such a delicate shade as to appear blushing and nothing more - then went on to giving the oysters her nose. It makes perfect sense of course. My olfaction has been developed. Ah how I love Australians. I didn’t appreciate how much we as a nation almost universally adore our fine little shell treasures. On the menu were six different choices. What to do, of course we will taste them all!
Where did we go? Having given serious thought to the location, I settled on Wright Brothers Oyster Bar in Soho. This was only my second visit to this branch and it is just ideal; funky, efficient and crowded, yet never overwhelming. We also agreed it was a fitting place given Ted’s career of choice has been the Air Force. These are, however, not the same Wright Brothers of aviation history.
So along with the precious and delicious wine we had each of the following oysters, two of which I had not tried before and a surprising taste sensation.
We had Beau Soleil from Canada. Cumbrean from Scotland. Gillardeau (swoon) from France. Speciales again from our neighbours across the Channel. Jersey Royales and finally Colchesters. The Colchesters were big and creamy. I had several attempts to get mine down, but kept baulking at it. When threatened with it being taken away, I mustered my courage and swallowed. Despite the creaminess and slightly too large feel, it was indeed gorgeous. I suspect that as we get deeper into Summer and the waters warm, this creaminess will only increase, so will keep them at arm’s length for the next few months. However on this occasion, it was more than satisfactory.
I will leave the task of more detailed tasting notes to my visitors if you would be so kind.
Robyn and Ted, as discussed, if the hustle and bustle and harsh lights and craziness of Civic ever gets too much next time I visit the nation’s capital, I now have the delights of that gem Jerrabomberra in which to unwind. It was such a pleasure seeing you again. I treasure my ongoing friendships with so many High Commission refugees. I await your report which will be posted up here in tumblr world on its arrival in my inbox. Travel safely. Shirley xxx
I have been housebound so Patty decides on a home visit. I wandered down Golbourne Road to the local fishmonger and picked up a dozen cornish oysters which weighed so much I could hardly carry them home. I also bought a dressed crab so our carpet picnic would feel complete somehow.
Well, I blame the new knife. While not the cheapest in the shop where I purchased it, it was certainly not high end. I tried resolutely to shuck these oysters and they were not budging. So I had to resort to an old screwdriver. Patty watched with increasing interest and dismay in equal measure and when I had finally managed to open one of these big boys, she didn’t seem enthusiastic. I squeezed some lemon and went straight in. They were tasty. However the experience didn’t seem to evoke the exotic, the enjoyable or the exciting. We settled down with the peripheries and Cava and discussed on its first anniversary, OysterTherapy, phase two. Work in progress.
I am planning to meet up with some Aussie friends from badlands Queanbeyan later this week and they want a proper London oyster experience, so I have to think about what to do.
Sorry Patty and if you want to post the pix of my feeble attempts, please feel free. Practice makes perfect.
Oyster Therapy turned 1 today!
not a fan of TC at all and they are sitting exactly where we sat on our visit. what is West London coming to?
This week’s review written by my two gorgeous nieces, one who works in, and one who is visiting Singapore. Raise the roof and give it up (I really have been watching too much US tv) for Isobel and Amy. Thank you and I am only sorry I was not there with you both. Have fun and lots of love from your Aunty Shirley xxx
In the midst of a shopping spree in the annual Great Singapore Sale we were flustered by the crowds competing with us in Robinsons Department Store (newly opened on Orchard Rd). Upon looking at the store directory, something unexpected caught our eyes…Oyster Bar. It was so well hidden that it took serious effort to get directed to Luke’s Oyster Bar on level 3. Unsurprisingly, given how difficult it was to uncover, we felt proud to be the only customers! Our first decision was bar or table….bar, obviously! The host chose for us the perfect seats, where the afternoon sun would not move in our path. At 3pm, the staff seemed to be in a chill post-lunch, pre-dinner mode and were quite friendly and attentive to us.
The setting was art deco and the oyster varieties of the day were displayed on a cinema-like signboard. Today’s specials; Rip Tide, Wellfleet and Onset. All the oysters were from East Coast USA or Canada. The pricing was reflective of the distance the oysters had travelled so we were made to deliberate whether a half-dozen each would be more reasonable a splurge. Happily at this moment, the waiter informed us of a dozen of the “chef’s choice” for the price of a half! We said we’d go for that…then had to clarify we meant one dozen each not sharing a dozen!
As our champagne was poured, we were given a tasty warm corn bread scone served with butter, sprinkled with cayenne pepper…quite a nice touch. We enjoyed watching the oysters being shucked and they were presented to us on a lovely round, deep silver platter, filled inch-high with shaved ice. A lovely champagne vinaigrette accompanied. The oysters were large, meaty and very tasty- definitely less sweet than Sydney Rock. We took our time in the oasis, savouring the morsels and were reinvigorated to continue our shopping mission.
All in all, a lovely experience, only recommendation…adopt the baker’s dozen policy!
Patty and I haven’t seen each other in a month and had agreed to meet at Selfridges. Time, 6pm. For the first time in ages, the bus was quick to arrive and Edgware Road was clear, so I found myself outside the store just after 5pm. A quick phone call from my son confirmed he had completed his final university exam and was relieved and happy. I am not sure if it is by design, but my phone does not work in Selfridges. Being a good hour early, I chose to head downstairs to the relative darkness of Harry Gordon’s Bar. As a scorpio, I hate glare, lights and exposure. My comfort zone is very much that of a dimly lit environment. Perhaps not quite as dark as the old Midnight World at London Zoo, but definitely leaning that way. I glance around the room and see that there is a free stool at the bar. I order a drink and smile to myself about my son’s achievement and bask by proxy in his glory.
Two seats beside me are now vacated and a couple of men walk up and take a seat. I heard the words ‘Wonder Bar’ and instantly have to join the conversation. It is not a getting older thing; I have always butted into conversations and will talk to most anyone. We discuss the demise of the said bar upstairs and recalled how it was a hidden gem in the otherwise frenetic store that Selfridges can be sometimes. We agreed that it was a haven for locals and not a tourist trap. That probably explains why it was closed and now when you pass by where the door was, there is a wall panel that would never give a hint of what was there before. [ It reminded me of a creepy French movie I saw as a child when a brother and sister go on holiday and stay in a hotel and after the first night’s stay, when the girl goes to join her brother for breakfast next morning, finds his room has disappeared and all the staff indicate that the girl had arrived alone and was slightly mad. it was a frightening movie but it transpired it was a plot to cover up the fact that the brother in the night, had contracted some virulent disease and all traces had to be covered for fear of setting panic off in the hotel and the more pressing issue of the disease spreading. Well, it made sense at the time.] The movie was called ‘So long at the fair’.
Anyway we got talking and we passed an hour in polite and interesting conversation. Thank you Jay Jay and Matt. I hope the rest of your outing went according to plan as I last saw you making your way through to the cigar department. They were celebrating, I was celebrating and it was fun to share our combined good fortunes. I checked the time and realised that I was now running late, so I raced upstairs and grabbed two stools at the Oyster Bar ahead of Patty’s arrival. Again, as the phone didn’t work I was unable to check on Patty’s progress. I ordered a drink and waited. Minutes past and the phone rang at the bar. The waiter called over “hey, are you Shirley?” I responded in the positive and he said my two friends were downstairs waiting for me. I was slightly quizzical as I naturally assumed he meant the two guys I had just left. However as I was alone, I thought nothing of returning to the dark bar to wait for my friend. That phone call reminded me of a time I was in Sydney as a teenager and I had gone to our local department store (David Jones, place of fine oysters and also typical department store things) with my brother. This was the days before mobiles and as we wandered around, suddenly a shop assistant came up behind me and said “hey, are you Shirley?” I was summoned to the phone and my mother was on the other end. It was curious and to this day I cannot remember what was so important she felt compelled to chase me down while I was shopping for perhaps only an hour.
With that thought in my head I asked the guy to keep my drink and wandered downstairs again. I had toyed with thought of taking my drink with me, but that seemed a decadent step too far. Back in the basement, I return to my starting point and there is Patty and another friend! Ah, those two friends. My real friends. We cross checked and discovered that we had both arrived at the same time and had both been in this bar. My back had been to Patty and she simply had not seen me at the bar or me leaving. We laughed at the silliness of it all and I had to remind them I had my drink sitting upstairs waiting for me. I had spoken to the staff about them bringing it to me but was assured that, while they couldn’t do that, it was safe and sound upstairs.
We finally got back to the Oyster Bar and were given a Canadian rock oyster to try. It was tasty and having never tasted one before, it was a treat. A bit salty for even me so I settled on the lesser but still quite saline, good ole reliable Jerseys. They never disappoint. The evening progressed and owing to circumstances we never did really have a chance to talk about Sydney and Patty’s experience but that can wait. Here endeth the first lesson. Ciao amigos.
I am such a demanding little diva. I have wish lists and longings and I nag at God. Nag! At God! How dare I? There are starving sick people in this world and I have the audacity to stamp my feet and shake my fist at the sky and tell God how it all should be for me.
However this week I had my reasons for my various requests. I didn’t pout my lips and get sulky, I simply asked for validation and a miracle and a surprise.
After what has to be one of the most challenging weeks ever in my working career, I was waiting impatiently for the weekend to roll around. I woke up on Saturday morning to a slightly overcast day - London, get with the programme, it is meant to be warm and sunny now - and looked out the window. Then a miracle occurred. I know this is oyster therapy but it belongs to myself and Patty, and I am not at liberty to divulge the exact nature of what happened. But trust me my lovely reader, it was nothing short of a miracle. My heart soared and I bounced out of my flat to go shopping down our local high street. Lately there has been an influx of new traders and the quality of produce and service is just so thrilling. I race to my favourite store, grab some chillies, lemons and various other bits. I was returning home still buoyant from the earlier news and was walking across the Piazza. Now, let me explain how funny that is. Several years ago, the area now called the Piazza was known locally as ‘crack corner’. Doesn’t evoke the same slightly Continental charm as Piazza does, does it? Anyway, fast forward a few years and the police have moved the pimps and the pros and the poor drug community out of sight and we are left with a middle class concourse that increasingly has seen a more interesting and exciting development of independent traders selling their wares. I noticed a new high end florist, a bread artisan and then at the end of the line of tents, I saw oysters! Less than two minutes walk from my front door. They were displayed on what looked like a cupcake stand, and there was a broiler to the side, where large, luscious, lovely oysters were gently steaming. The smell was so inviting. I strode straight up and within seconds had a realisation. This was not just an ordinary oyster stall. This was run by none other than the Oyster Lady herself, Katy Davidson. I introduced myself formally as we had exchanged emails some months back, after I had been given her name whilst perched on a high stool in Selfridges next to a stranger who knew her (see Selfridges review of December). The stall was doing great business. I was encouraged to see so many people lining up to just grab one or two of these delights. I tried one each of the steamed ones, that were lightly poached in their liquor along with garlic, herbs and then Katy’s special nod to the Caribbean with a hot sauce flavour. She was certainly in the right place as I live in a heavily Caribbean populated part of town, which has always been fantastic for promoting exotic and flavoursome foods. I don’t usually like cooked oysters but this experience turned my opinion on its head. They were meaty, slightly salty and complete. I heard Katy tell a customer she considered them a roast lamb dinner in a shell and I had to agree. The combination of rosemary and garlic did indeed bring to mind the gorgeousness of a Sunday dinner of years gone by. [But I have to point out, not any roast dinners I ever had served by my mother. She had that special knack that so many wartime brides had, of managing to take a simple food and render it inedible. I still have issues with eating after being told to sit at the kitchen table until I had finished the food on my plate. So I usually spent what seemed like every Sunday afternoon there, pushing dried up bits of chewed meat around the plate that were never going to go down my thoat. I am gagging now at the thought.] Excuse that huge digression, but such was the experience the polar opposite, I had to exorcise that memory. I opened my purse and poured out all the cash I had left and said ‘I want as many raw oysters as my money will buy please’ which was half a dozen. Then there was the issue of how to transport them back to my place without losing all the precious juices. I was given my first shucking lesson there at the stall and with Katy’s kindness and generosity, she lent me her shucking knife and I took my treasures home to open them in privacy. I managed quite well and was planning on returning the knife and then coming back to savour them. This did not happen. As I opened each shell, the pure joy and beauty of each oyster enticed me beyond temptation. I removed the lid, I squeezed on a little lemon juice and they were gone. Food porn. They tasted simply divine, soft, gentle, flavoursome. They are sourced in Cornwall. My mouth is now watering again as I relive that moment yesterday morning. It is not often I have downed oysters before the clock had even reached midday.
I washed the knife and returned to the Piazza and handed it over to Katy’s colleague while she did a demonstration. Katy, I told you I would do a favourable write up, so I hope this suffices. For my friends in UK she travels the country and is an expert, a real expert. She has determination and flair and her driving force is to promote the finest locally sourced foods. And Oysters. Keep up the good work and it was so fantastic to meet you. The entire hour was such a surprise. See! I got my miracle and I got my surprise. So the lesson? Maybe the fist shaking and feet stamping works.