There is a reason that I will review the Lisbon restaurant ahead of the much acclaimed Bahia Beach Bar so bear with me. I took a bus from Lagos to Lisbon to spend 24 hours in one of the continent’s most beautiful cities. I met up with an ex work colleague. Well, to be more precise, he was my boss in Africa and we have remained good friends despite the decimation of the company where we were working. I cannot recall walking up and down as many steps as I did in those few precious hours but I was delighted to see all this city of vibes has to offer. It has a slight feel of Paris about it. No surprise then when I am confronted with a small folly of an elevator that was a practice shot of the Eiffel Tower. I may have the details of that incorrect so I will amend when I get the story straight. But for now, it stays. It is a lovely city; indeed Portugal is a gorgeous country. After an afternoon of wandering we have to find a place to eat. I explain to Bill my hesitation in seeking out an oyster place but for the sake of this blog, we continue. I am, and always have been, an early eater. Lisbon, like many capitals, likes to eat late. So our choice is narrowed and we find ourselves outside a joint that looks interesting and is open and serves oysters. We are shown to a table which is set next to a church pulpit - the place is packed with religious references - and we peruse the menu. There are oysters and also a seafood platter which looks promising and includes crab, so we decide on that. Well, the plate arrived with a lovely number of healthy looking shrimp, a crab shell filled with mashed up crab meat and I am guessing mayonnaise of some sort. That exceeded our expectations, as it was billed simply as crab shell, but I suspect that is more to do with translation. And. Two. Oysters. Two. Count them. One looked juicy and succulent, the other looked like the remains of one that had been left, half-eaten, on someone else’s plate. I simply had to pull rank and go for the juicy good looking one, while leaving poor Bill with the remnants of a stranger’s lunch. I called the waitress over and pointed at the sad little shell and the international sign of dissatisfaction crossed my face. The waitress scurried away, as so many of them seem to do when we do reviews and start getting picky, and returned, free of charge, with another more decent oyster. Bill enjoyed it finally and we decided that they were delicious. The hallmarks of healthy oysters; ocean taste, meaty, salt. I began to speak of my epiphany in Lagos but more of that later. Therapy for us was the chance to discuss our antics in Africa and the near future plans for us both in our respective lives. We paid the bill and left. Not a mind blowing oyster experience but a fine night out in a wonderful location. Thank you strange and touristy Cervejaria Trindade Chiado.
So I am in Lagos, a pretty little town in the Algarve, Portugal. It is out of season and still quite cool but nevertheless I take my chances for a morning stroll to the beach. The wind gets stronger and it is getting colder but I make it to the seaside. I retreat immediately as sand is now in my silly shoes and I am cold. On the way back I notice a long boardwalk and a sign. Welcome to Bahia Beach Bar. My eyes scan the board menu and there it is! Ostras! Oysters! I dash down the winding walkway and am greeted by a friendly woman. I ask if there are any oysters and she replies no…..but she can order them in for tomorrow. So I have 24 hours to look forward to oysters followed by crab which is always fresh and tasty I am assured. Review to come. I gave up my planned trip to a winery for this!
And so it came to pass that I was indeed late for our meeting but only by minutes. I was shown to our booth and Patty was there waiting for me. I squeezed into my seat. I am, at a mere 163 cms in height, not a tall person. Neither am I overweight, however, it took a bit of pushing and shoving to get myself, my coat and my excesses of bags into position. I mentioned to Patty how ever so claustrophobic it all was but, after a bit of tangling and untangling of our legs, we were comfortable. The waiting staff were very attentive and very polite. We asked and were given a rundown of the oysters available and we settled on two Galways and three each of Loch Ryan and West Mersea. I ordered a glass of champagne and relaxed into the beginning of the weekend. Bread was already on the table and I tucked in. Prompt and lovely efficient service followed. The Galways were new to us and they were an absolute treat. They were meaty, flavoursome and went very quickly up to top of the ladder. An unexpected delight. For the next round, I went for the West Mersea. They bear the hallmarks of a typical rock oyster, in both shell size and shape and for one moment I was transported (no pun intended) back to Australia and the Sydney rocks. However this didn’t deliver. Then onto the Loch Ryan. Another new taste for us both and it was very very good as well. Patty was not sure at all about the Merseas so I made that my last choice while she had the third Loch Ryan. My second foray was more pleasant than the first and I think I may have done the oysters a disservice by greedily chowing down without giving each of them the time they required. You really need to give the palate some time to enjoy the first taste before popping in another one. However it was Friday night, after work and I was hungry. Therapy was talk of possible upcoming trips to various parts of the world - aren’t we lucky - and whether our trips would coordinate. It is always very exciting thinking of hopping on a plane and escaping the day to day. Suitably buoyed up by the holiday fantasies and realities, we decided to make it an early night. We summoned the waiter for the bill. It was a whopper! However at the bottom that dear precious disclaimer that a discretionary service charge had been added. We wondered if it was wrong to have the discretion removed and cheeky or not, we asked for a revised bill. I want to make it clear, I am not a cheapskate; I am a thoroughly disgraceful self styled spendthrift but it simply was waaay too expensive, even for London. Again there was the hushed staff scrum over by the till and then a surly, burly gentleman came over with our new bill. We paid it, thanked them and gathered our belongings and swept the curtain aside that prevents that sudden rush of biting cold London winter wind into the room. Patty and I wandered down to Regent Street and could see the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and hopped on our various buses homeward bound. It was a good experience but costly. Maybe we need to branch out, certainly out of London, for much more reasonably priced oysters. Remember, Bentley’s, we are talking about peasant food here. How things change. Give the humble and delicious oyster back to the people. Sutton and Sons remain an excellent comparison. I appreciate we were paying Mayfair prices but really, it is a nonsense. Here endeth my rant.
So Mercury is retrograde again this time in Pisces, the sign of the Fish. And it’s also very near Neptune, the planet ruling the seas. Is this a good omen for this evening? Perhaps Shirley will be late! That’s usually what happens when I’m early. And when the trickster planet Mercury is retrograde, this is what happens: communications, meetings, timing goes awry. Predictable, really. Let’s see what happens. I’m relaxed and the seas are calm.
Tonight we have agreed to meet at the famous Bentley’s in Swallow Street. I like it here. It feels old but new. The decor is crisp and neat, but the lights are low, with lamps on the table and plenty of pictures of sea crustaceans and fish. The ambience is 1930s. Very Mercury retrograde in Pisces.
As well, I have my usual libation - white wine, a Muscadet - and I wait.
The youthful staff are all well-turned out so far and I get a genuine feeling of being welcomed and I am made to feel at ease.
I love the bread! There’s a small silver dish of white, brown and seeded slices, and…OH! Here comes Shirley, only a little late. Oyster update to come..
I start with a quote from My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle is off to buy a gown. Join me at the end of the script.
MRS. PEARCE. But, Mr Higgins, it’s early in the morning.
HIGGINS. What better time to work than early in the morning? [He
leaves the study with Pickering] Where does one buy a lady’s gown?
PICKERING. Whiteley’s, of course.
HIGGINS [stopping, puzzled] How do you know that?
PICKERING. Common knowledge.
HIGGINS [starting up the stairs] Let’s not buy her anything too
flowery: I despise those gowns with, sort of, [gesticulating in the
air] weeds here, and weeds there. I want to buy something so it’s
simple, modest, and elegant’s what’s called for. [Describing on
Pickering’s person what is in his mind’s eye] Perhaps with a with a
bow. [Analysing his imagined creation] Yes, I think that’s just
right. [Pickering chuckles as they leave up the stairs].
Patty and I meet for oysters at Le Cafe Anglais on the 2nd floor of Whiteley’s. We spent a lot of time here in the early nineties. We brought our children here a myriad of times for kid’s parties. McDonald’s has been replaced by this place. Give thanks. The decor is simply sumptuous, evoking old times but with new times service. It is good. When I called to make a reservation the response was one of welcome and expectation. It is mid week, I am tired and Patty has had to travel to get here. We settle down with our drinks and peruse the menu. My top three faves are headlining so we go for four of each; Carlingfords, Fines de Claires and Gillardeau Speciales. We are sitting comfortably American diner style. Then the oysters arrive and we dive straight in. I hate to admit it but I am still lingering with some crazy English winter bug so my tastebuds are on a holding pattern. I really cannot taste much and I know I am doing these little shellies a disservice. But I instinctively know they are good. The texture differs, the look of each is obvious and I can just taste them all. The Carlingfords were, according to my notes; big, juicy, sexy! Fines de Claires subtle and salty. Gillardeau I know are good, but my tastebuds let me down. Nevertheless, we down these gems of the sea and are more than satisfied. Again, being midweek and we both have livings to make, we ask for the bill. I don’t usually take much notice of the bills. Patty is more the numbers girl but for some reason I don my glasses and make sure all is correct and accounted for. The bill is wrong. Very wrong. Patty and I look at each other and call the waitress over. We say that the bill is incorrect. Some furtive glances and slight unease ensues. The manager arrives at our table. Gordana (I hope I have your name spelt correctly) appears table side and asks why we think we have been overcharged. We exclaim that in fact we have been undercharged and want to make amends. OK, what happens next is rare and is good and all restaurants please take note. She agrees we have been undercharged and it is their fault. Mea culpa indeed. We settle our bill at the reduced cost and feel that we all came out in a good position. We flagged the mistake, they took it and made it right. Le Cafe Anglais, you are a credit to yourself. Managed by a local who really cares. It showed and we appreciated it. Plus points. Therapy? Patty was kind enough to drive me home instead of me catching the bus. Luxury.
Strange light at Le Cafe Anglais, but beautifully served oysters
I drove right across town just to meet my mate Shirley at Le Café Anglais last night. As always, it’s a happy and heartening experience getting together to hatch our two pennies-worth for the sake of oyster love. Was it worth it this time? You bet!
We started by talking about the latest in love and life. We griped and guffawed over recent events as we ordered glasses of bubbles. It was wonderful to catch up and even better to be in a place where we felt unhurried and very much at ease not only with one another but also in the sumptuous surrounds of such an elegant establishment.
Having said that, I’m not sure I would come here again for the ultimate oyster experience. The ambience seems to lack that certain oyster savvy that you sense at some of the other more popular oyster bars. And this isn’t one of the ones with a whole heap of beach cred either, like Sutton and Sons. However we did enjoy several salty mouthfuls of our favourite sea-candy and there was nothing blaringly offensive about the place. It’s situated on the upper level of Whiteley’s in Bayswater. And like everywhere in Whiteley’s, there’s a strange ethereal atmosphere of a mall-gone-wrong that seeps through the walls of this otherwise spacious and stylish restaurant.
In truth, we had some gorgeous oysters. The Carlingfords were just right – not too creamy, not too salty. They were big, fresh and tasty as ever. The Fine de Claires were beautiful to look at but a little too salty for my liking. My favourites are the Gillardeau: snappy, sweet and succulent, like the perfect kiss. I would go back just for a few more of these!
So another tick off the list. We’ve already started reviewing for this year’s oyster award winners. Watch this space, wait and see. We’ve got a few more surprises in store!
Runners up: Pescatori
First Prize: Selfridges Champagne & Oyster Bar
Yesterday Patty and I worked on our wording and printed out our annual awards for best in show. As you already know the winners I will make this brief. We turned up at Pescatori a little after 5pm on a very cold London night, armed with our framed presentation. We met with the Manager, Dominique, who looked slightly bemused as we started our spiel. Halfway through, when we mentioned our reluctance at downing the green oysters, he exclaimed, “Ah, it was you!” He remembered the incident and had even read the review. I admitted that perhaps my review was slightly comedic, but we truly were delighted with the way we were treated that night and so they remain solid runners-up. We had our photograph taken and then walked quickly down the back streets towards Selfridges. It was a busy sales Saturday and the oyster bar was packed. We found our way to one of the managers who, after we had given him the lowdown, sought out the Food Manager. Simeon appeared and again, a slightly quizzical look crossed his face but we got our photograph taken and he got the award. I thank them both for their generosity of spirit and professionalism, as Patty and I were reflecting on our actions and how we would be received. Job done, what else could we do but to celebrate and hit our first review for the new year. We were shown two stools at the end of the bar and off we went again! A glass of the house champagne was presented and after much discussion with Paco, a previous runner up in the world shucking competiton, we settled on six Jerseys. They were some of the tastiest we have had. Not too large, tasty, salty, surf’s up hit, followed by a mellow aftertaste. We then were given two Loch Fyne Scottish natives to try. Having been reassured these guys were the real deal and the best time to eat them is between September and April, we went back. These notoriously for me, have remained at the bottom of the pack. I now stand corrected. They were succulent, meaty, gentle, no saltiness. Patty ordered some more while I chilled along with my drink. Sometimes things just fall into place and that was one of those times. The entire experience was sublime, which confirms we chose the most worthy of winners. We also look forward to revisiting Pescatori, and would recommend you go there when in London. They are not an exclusive oyster bar but as the name implies, a fine fish place, with kind and attentive staff. It was all lovely. I look forward to our next outing and now the benchmark is so high, there is going to be some tough competition. I also hope this goes some way to raise OysterTherapy’s profile as serious consumers, who want to promote the oyster industry, here and globally. Nuff said?