My two best friends are in town for a few days and said they were staying in St Martin’s Lane, near Trafalgar Square. I rock up to their apartment and they are jet lagged. It could be midday or midnight. We decide no matter what the time, we could all enjoy an oyster or two. I recalled that J. Sheekey was nearby and I got my trusty phone out and did a search. I was peering at the small print for the address and trying to get my bearings as I knew it was local to where we were. One of my friends looked out the window and exclaimed that St Martin’s Court was across the street. That means we are less than a minute away from the delightful J. Sheekey. The app stated we were 5 calories’ walk – I put it at 2 – for all three of us. We were shown to a lovely round table and it was quiet for the moment. We ordered Gillardeau and Porthilly, a dozen of each. Ah, the French ones were soft, subtle, like a soft hand crossing my cheek and the Porthilly were like a gentle salty slap. We had been told they were salty like Jersey Royals but had a longer aftertaste. I agree with that description. They were simply luscious. We didn’t stop there but managed to work out way through scallops, seviche and prawns. It was a seafood banquet. Good friends, fine conversation, food and drink to enjoy made this one of the most pleasant Sundays I have had this year. Thank you again J. Sheekey for providing the backdrop for a perfect get together.
Friday 08 November 2013
The Wolseley, Piccadilly
To kick off my birthday week celebrations I was indulged in a champagne and oyster treat at The Wolseley on Piccadilly. I arrived early evening at around 530pm and sat myself down in the bar waiting for my friend to show up. I had a prosecco and soaked in the atmosphere. It was a lovely rainy London evening and already there is the hint of Christmas in the air. The place was packed with customers enjoying late afternoon teas. The Wolseley is a lovely place. Traditional London and very opulent. My friend appeared and we were shown to our table. We shared two dozen delicious oysters washed down with some lovely champagne. Tonight it was back to those two favourites of mine; Gillardeau and Jersey Royals. The combination was just about perfect, moving from the salty edge of the Jerseys to the soft touch of the Gillardeaus. They were gone in minutes. The service was great; they are used to pre-theatre groups so it is a slick operation with enough attention that you don’t feel rushed. My companion and I discussed poetry and oysters – they seem such a good match – and it was relaxing and fun. The only strange thing was the bread that was served. It looked like a bread stick, but had the texture of ciabatta. It was as thick as a large Cuban cigar. It was awkward to figure out how to put on the butter that was supplied alongside. With the oyster tray there was a huge plate of buttered bread triangles. The entire experience was exceptional. I don’t know why I have never been there before and I am glad I made the effort to explore it. Thank you for a most wonderful evening. It was the perfect opportunity to show an out of towner the best London has to offer.
Are we at the mercy of the stars? Are we guided by fate or are we steering our own ship to a chosen destiny? Isn’t this an all or nothing matter? I doubt we’ll have the answer to these questions any time soon. After all, these questions have been asked since year dot. It’s that age-old philosophical debate: Fate or Free Will. Personally, I think the two are the same thing.
I’ll try not to look too deeply into why I am now picking up the oyster thread once again. Why not last weekend? My return does happen to coincide with the forward movement of the celestial trickster Mercury, ruler of writing and communication. Maybe it’s simply because I simply feel like it. Or maybe the muses have forced my attention this way. Perhaps my usual star-writing fairy is taking a break and has assigned her wayward seafaring cousin to the task of guiding me today. What about my deadlines? They’ll find me soon enough. So I merrily add my two-cents worth. And by the way, I noticed Amazon sells oysters. Do we dare get a mail-order version of our favourite fishy treat?
So I agree with Shirley about Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar. It was over-priced. But hey, with such a posh address you’d expect to pay extra. You’d also expect better everything! But it was all glitz and glam, no substance, no real heart. And that’s what you really want when you go out, isn’t it? A hearty meal. Not just a plate full of boxes ticked. In the seemingly simple process of going out for oysters, we are putting our faith into a chosen establishment. At the very least, you hope for a standard of service and product. There’s an exchange that takes place, and generally, the more you pay, the more you expect, no? In this case, the price far outweighed the quality of experience. At the outset, I didn’t feel at ease, not when we’re told they need the table back in precisely 1.5 hours. Who wants to clock-watch while spending a precious £14 for a glass of Prosecco? OK, it was a pretty good glass of bubbly, I can still taste the delicate sweet flavour. But I wanted to feel held, safe and a little loved! Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. We left without ordering much more than a standard round of oysters. They were mediocre, at least it seemed that way.
Last night finds your dedicated oyster eater, not out celebrating Guy Fawkes Night but very happily at The Savoy in the recently opened (April 2013) Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill. The décor is simply lovely, Art Deco in style and very tasteful. The bar has lights that I thought were glass smoked fish but on a second look perhaps they were meant to be icicles. It was all very pretty. Photo to follow. I had made a booking and was running a little late. On arrival my guest and I were shown a table which felt like it was placed strategically in the main run from the kitchen to the tables. I asked if we could be moved and after several hushed conversations we were informed they were fully booked and that was our lot. I asked if we could be moved to the bar stools and that was agreed. There was a commanding view over the bar and the rest of the restaurant which did indeed get fully packed.
So, a lovely English rose was served and we chose a modest ‘six pack’ of oysters; two each of Jersey Royals, West Mersea and Natives from Scotland. We started with the Jerseys which again impressed and delighted. Pure surf taste, salty and clear. I followed that with the Native Scottish. Well, do you remember that strange ‘crunchiness’ that cornflour feels like? Well to me, that is how they tasted. They crunched in a similar way. Or like halloumi cheese, squeaky. Very faint flavour and they didn’t excite me at all. I finished – quickly – with the West Mersea. It was a little green, which I know I baulked at back at Pescatori, but these little guys looked tasty and they were all very professionally shucked. They tasted like green grass smells, but not how green grass tastes (which is bitter; don’t ask why I know that). They were lovely, however it was slightly ruined by chowing down on some shell. I spat half of it out and told the waiter, who simply smiled. Having said that, the staff were very accommodating, attentive and efficient. At the prices they are charging there, you would expect the very best. And the very best it all was. Tasty warm bread accompanied the oyster tray. The whole experience was sensational and definitely worth doing at least once. Whilst it sure isn’t the cheapest place in town, for sheer luxury and opulence you won’t get better.
Therapy? Discussing the collection of Hogarth paintings at the John Soane’s Museum. There is a most lovely collection of them in the basement of his house and there are some funny ones, most notably the (in)famous one of the gin swilling mother dropping her baby in the Thames. I reflected on how ratty Londoners must have been when these ragamuffins continued to thrive whilst the general population was being struck dead by drinking the sewer-ridden water before Bazalgette sorted out the sewer systems. Gin saved their lives. It certainly has saved my sanity on some occasions. But for tonight, rose and champagne made very comfortable bed fellows. To sum up the evening: Nautical and nice. Bar and ‘Brill’.
It was my first visit to Stoke Newington last Friday night and it took a long time to get there on the 73 bus route from Victoria. Patty was already there when I arrived. I was flustered and feeling like a fish out of water. However within minutes this fish had found its rightful place again at Sutton & Sons fish restaurant. It had a full Friday night vibe to it and there were people coming and going for takeaways, but this is no ordinary fish shop. It is a rustic, high end, funky place that sources its fine seafood from its own place further down the road. There are long benches and music, tonight Stone Roses seem to be on a loop - which was interesting as I heard them playing again on Saturday morning, just cannot recall where now, perhaps Portobello Road. I digress. Patty has kindly ordered one plate of grilled fish and chips and we decide to share six of the Malden oysters. The half dozen plus a glass of delicious prosecco costs a most reasonable ten pounds. Excellent value for money. The oysters arrived and they looked and smelt ocean fresh. And yes, dear readers, they tasted good. Really good. Cool, clean, salty, which for me makes a fine oyster. Beautifully and skillfully opened. The waiting staff were courteous and efficient. I was sitting, minding my own business when a man behind me was negotiating how to get out of his seat. He landed virtually in my lap and I suggested that this might be convenient as I was now auditioning for a job as Santa. That broke the potentially awkward moment for him having nearly decked a complete stranger! We all laughed and Patty and I continued with our food. The fish and chips were delicious and the crowd and ambience were so welcoming, it felt like home. Sutton & Sons, you get big praise from me. I will be back. And Stoke Newington, what a cool place. Therapy today was mulling over the pressing issue of what colour to have my hair coloured and the weekend ahead. And the impact of daylight saving coming to an end in UK.
Thank you to my wonderful sister for contributing this week. I have also had emails from friends visiting New York who keep tempting me with photos of various oyster joints around the City offering amazing deals. And a photo of them outside the Oyster Restaurant at Grand Central that I took my children to several years ago.
David Jones Oyster Bar – Market Street, Sydney, Oct 13
Oysters. Sydney rock oysters: the best in the world, little and sweet. We tried Natural with Tetsuya dip, Mornay and Kilpatrick. They have gradually crept up in price so that even a second slice of bread costs $1.30. All old timers remember the old Oyster Bar fondly. The only thing served was oysters and the customers were very devoted. One man used to sit in the same seat each day and have a dozen oysters for lunch. Everyone remembers Angela, who could get conversations going right around the counter and amongst the, usually ten, people who were waiting to get a seat. The waiting line was part of the deal and strangers would confide in each other as they waited for their seats and oysters. I have learned about illicit affairs and remember one lady who took out a pair of $700 shoes and asked if we thought they were good value! I remember the ninety year old retired nurse who stamped her feet to keep her blood moving, because she had her blood pressure taken and it read ‘nothing over nothing’. The funniest story I ever heard was from an air hostess who had returned from a trip to find her entire wardrobe had been stolen. Her flatmate, another stewardess, provided great support especially when she decided to reknit her bereft friend a particular jumper that her now dead mother had made for her. Fast forward and the ex flatmate visited with her boyfriend. She went to the bathroom and whilst she was there, the boyfriend showed photos of their recent holiday. The stewardess was transfixed when she saw them. Her ex flatmate – and supposed buddy -was wearing her original ‘stolen’ jumper! The waiting line is sometimes almost as entertaining than eating those little delights. Almost.
Dear oh dear. I booked a table for two online at Massimo, Northumberland Avenue, WC2. This weekend’s travel can only be described as commuting hell, so when Patty and I arrived at this grand, previously government owned building, we were seeking refuge and respite from a hostile world. This had caused us to be twenty minutes late for our 6pm slot. On arrival we were thrown a metaphorical bucket of cold water. The greeting was thus: “We have your booking but please know we need you to vacate by 8pm”. No rush then. We were shown smartly to our beautifully laid table and we sat down. It all seemed so lovely. The grand marble columns, exquisite lighting and general atmosphere appeared congenial. We ordered quickly a calming drink so we could deliberate the menu. Unaware that we had just ordered possibly the most expensive two small glasses of prosecco in London, we looked at the menu. Tonight, Loch Fyne and Irish rock oysters were the fare. We decided on a dozen, six of each. The pre-theatre efficiency of the staff kicked in and along with our modest starters, we were pressed several times about what our next choices might be, not just the main, but in the foreseeable future. We declined and said we were still deciding. We were served some tasty bread ahead of the oysters. They arrived pronto with another pressing on our next course. Here we go. The Irish rocks were delicious. They were big and had we had the obligatory ten pence piece against which to measure, it would have been dwarfed. However these were quietly succulent and tasty. I then had one of the Loch Fynes. Whereas l have previously mentioned a hint of dirt, these baddies tasted like my face had been pushed into mud and held there. We agreed that these were not on our top five list and so awful, we could not even finish them. What a waste. When asked about our enjoyment we told the truth. There followed a professional stony silence. We asked for the bill. In the interim we were wised up to the fact that Sweden produces some of the world’s finest oysters and they could be found somewhere in Paris. Rush, rush, rush. We paid the extortionate bill (including the 14 pounds each for the small fizzy drink) and were on our way less than than thirty minutes after entering the joint. We were handed printed comp slips offering a future cheaper oyster deal which made me wonder whether we were not the first to complain. At this stage I am not even sure I want to cash it in, such was my disappointment. Therapy? How to recover from bad tube trips and hostile waiters. MassiNO!
It has been awhile since I’ve last uploaded an update, but by Jove, Shirley is not alone. This is a photo from an all-you-can-eat place in Minnesota - the famous Mystic Lake Casino buffet.
Truthfully, I went for the crab. I did not eat all that I could, but instead, all that I wanted. Unfortunately my wants did not include the oysters on the half shell, not because the nearest ocean was a couple of thousand miles away, but more because they were not served with the hoped-for flair and care displayed by some of the other oyster joints we have frequented in the recent past. Still, I may have missed my chance to taste something more unusual. The crab was delicious.
Another week rolls around and so another round of oysters. Life is tough for some. But thankfully, not for me and Patty, at least this week. We find ourselves in a cosy and comfortable American style diner booth and we relax after an afternoon of hell that can be Oxford Street, London sometimes. The prospect of oysters is welcome and awaited. We both ordered a prosecco, looked at the menu and relaxed. Order of events. We were served cherry tomatoes on a wooden plate, and they were incredibly tasty and crunchy. We were brought warm bread and tapenade, which also was welcome. We decided on a mixed dozen oysters. We have passed the warmer months here in the Northern Hemisphere so the oysters should not be creamy. What occurred next was a scene that would not have looked out of place in a comedy sketch. Firstly, our waiter scurried over and whisked away the tomatoes before we had finished them. Then they delivered three bowls of ice, on top of which were precariously placed oysters. There were four each of Scottish Natives, Jersey Royals and West Mersea. Patty was sitting closest to the Jerseys and was therefore the first to notice that they had a definite green hue. I craned my neck and sure enough there were our little beauties, my favourites, sitting there on their ice pack resembling a seasick crew, holding on for dear life, heaving over the side of a small boat being swept along in a hurricane. We gasped, I looked away and Patty summoned the waiter. She politely questioned the reason they were green about the gills and the waiter once again, scurried away to seek explanation from Chef. I have to admit that I didn’t make eye contact with any of the staff and there did seem to be a bunch of interchangeable waiting staff. Several moments later one of our overly eager attendants came bearing the news that they were green because they had been sitting in seaweed beds. Really? I quickly googled ‘green oysters’ and could not find a totally satisfactory explanation. Oh what did we do before the internet and smart phones. I love modern technology, even if it sometimes proves to be so pervasive and alienating. Still not comfortable, we turned them away. Chef rose to the challenge and we were then presented with four Fines de Claires. Well, they had not made a mention on the menu. They fell into the ‘what a whopper’ category and Patty took the evidential photograph which I hope she posts. Despite their size, our reticence and the even larger bowl of ice cubes, these looked tasty. And boy did they taste good. Definitely more than a mouthful but they were delicate and delectable. Shame the great outdoors came indoors into my mouth - sad to report there was a lot of shell going on as well. Nonetheless we both wondered why these top quality lovelies had not even made it into the menu or on the lips of the waiters when doing the rundown of daily specials.
The Scottish ones - which is not because they are called Macbeth - simply Scottish, went first. They tasted of a seaside holiday with a very strong followup of heavy metal. Reminded me of licking zippers - where did that come from? The Jerseys didn’t even get a look in, much to my disappointment, but there was no way I was going to go green on this occasion and the West Mersea ones were just ok.
The group noun for the staff would best be described as a six pack of Manuels. Language barriers, over eagerness and a slightly cack handed waiting style added to the experience. It was by no means awful but it certainly lacked any sophistication. I apologise even for having to mention it but to capture the atmosphere it warrants noting. We moved onto main courses and a refreshing white wine and it was pleasant.
All in all, it was a fun night. The antics of the dear young guys serving simply made me smile. Not sure if it deserves another round. Probably not for me, but that remains purely my subjective view.
J. Sheekey, Covent Garden, I love you. It was a good start. Patty and I were out to celebrate doing our oyster review reunion. We had booked a seat in the Oyster bar. Outside we had been falsely wooed into enter the wrong entrance by the most lovely moustached man. We were so drawn to him we felt that surely that was the way in, but no, it wasn’t. We backtracked and went directly to the oyster bar. We were shown to our stools and the atmosphere and decor was so utterly inviting. It is a theatrical haunt and oozed with that special something that comes from authenticity and longevity. I know Kevin Spacey gave a rave review and frankly, if it is good enough for him, fine actor that he is, it is good enough for me. It was bustling and the guys behind the counter were busy and artistic with their preparation. Speedy but not rushed. We were served by a fellow antipodean who was very efficient and friendly. We had a selection of fine oysters, including my favourite from a while back, the french ones (I forget the names right now). Patty and I both were having plate envy and we spotted a couple enjoying tempura oysters which looked absolutely captivating, so we ordered some. I am not entirely sure how it all transpired but next thing I know, we are not happy with the tempura version and are complaining! I am embarrassed to admit this, as it was a perfectly perfect place. Here is the result. The strength of the place took command. There were apologies from the staff, another order of tempura oysters, which were delicious this time, and an attentive and professional hearing of our grievances. I can say that their reaction underlines the confidence of this establishment and why it has been so highly rated for so long. They do not play the obvious card or make you feel as though your opinions are not worthy. J. Sheekey, you are fantastic, fun and fallible. and gracious and generous in your execution. Cannot speak highly enough of them. When you are next in theatreland London, please do yourselves a favour and visit them. You will not be disappointed. We shall return. J. Sheekey, Covent Garden, I love you.