Aw shucks | Where to eat oysters in London


Oysters have had an image problem, says Karen Krizanovich: too establishment, difficult and, worse, too adult. Our intrepid editor-at-large eats her way through the issues

Aw shucks | Where to eat oysters in London

So, are oysters really “too establishment”? London’s whole identity is at least half history, and while grand oyster bars can intimidate, real aristocrats will put you at your ease. You can still dine on raw Colchesters or baked Rockefellers overlooked by Marco Pierre White (mostly his photos) at historic Wheelers. The  gorgeous champagne bar at Kettner’s Townhouse – which Oscar Wilde liked because it was “not so gorgeous in price” – has its oyster days. The city’s oldest restaurant, Rules, with its red velvet and silver tankards, fetches up Dungarvon, Jersey Rocks and Ostra Regals. Swankiest is Scott’s where a dozen Loch Ryan natives and a good bottle are both a party and an overdraft.

one person on reception can be as frosty like Zoolander’s Katinka Ingaborgovinananananana

Another impressive venue (look for the big oyster sign outside) is Bentley’s which, at 102 years old, shucks about 1000 oysters a day raw, garlic baked, Vietnamese, Catalan, Rockefeller and in a croque monsieur in an environment soothing enough to prelude the messier scenes in the Wolf of Wall Street. Then there’s the mellow soufulness of Wilton’s, so old school that they serve oysters only when there’s an ‘r’ in the month. Bob Bob Ricard (visible from Polpo) serves oysters three ways – Jersey Rocks raw, with caviar or Baked Oysters Brezhnev. They serve four champagnes by the glass, including Bollinger Special Cuvee NV and Ayala Rosé Majeur. This is why I watch from Polpo: once inside that pinky golden Orient Express interior I’m an addict. I’ve found one person on reception can be as frosty like Zoolander’s Katinka Ingaborgovinananananana but even that’s amusing, as I remind myself that the famous “push for champagne” button does not spurt sparkling wine from the wall, it only calls the waiter. I await an actual champagne hosepipe.

Oysters at Scott’s

Vegans might be happy killing vegetables, but they can’t quite extend that consciousness bias to oysters

Are oysters “too adult? Oysters are sexy and while sex isn’t for kids, Londoners accept oyster as an aphrodisiac placebo. No one knows how placebos work but they do so … oysters are for courting, which is why we have The Oystermen (pictured top, via Instagram). Unpretentious and up-close, intimate, spare and snug, you can slurp the freshest oysters shucked before you (“Never eat a skinny oyster” – here Rowan Jacobsen’s new rules of oyster eating apply). Started by two oyster “geeks”, they’ve ensured a really happy happy hour. If most restaurants are a padded bra, The Oystermen make you feel naturally uplifted. (Try the crémant too.) For France without Eurostar and the nosebleed, go immediately to the newly refurbished Bibendum in the fabled Michelin Building. There’s an oyster bar with a scorecard and pencils that say you stole them. Leaded glass doors facing onto the street, helpful staff and many oysters on offer – Irish, Cancale, Jersey, Essex, Normandy, Amazing and Tarkaya – add up to a refreshed version of London’s most iconic oyster bar. But because the West End is my home, I have a soft spot for J Sheekey’s Atlantic Bar. Wash in the ladies’ room trough. Enjoy the incredible service because here you can be sleek and sophisticated. But if you see me quaffing a glass and savouring six of their best, don’t say hello.

The oyster cart at Chiltern Firehouse

Are oysters “too difficult?” Only if putting something in your mouth is difficult. Bonnie Gull is your seafood friend in two popular, casual locations. Order Jersey, Poole and Mersea or please balkers with perfectly-cooked tempura oysters, paired with pickled radish and sesame mayo. Randall & Aubin has many other foodstuffs besides their cleverly labelled Irish, English, French, Irish and Natives. Housed in an old Victorian butcher shop, grooved up with a disco ball, the window seats offer an up-close look at Soho – and thankfully the leg tourniquet/wicker chairs are long gone. Newbies who want a large experience should head to the gorilla of oyster bars: Wright Brothers where you cannot go wrong. They supply over 500 restaurants and have five locations of their own. Sensible labelling on their tasting platters mean you learn as you go, serving Jersey Rocks, Royal Bay, Channel Islands, Carlingford, Lindisfarne, Cumbrae, Dungarvan, Morecambe Bay along with raw ones served with cucumber sorbet & black pepper, kizami wasabi, pineapple, chilli & kaffir lime.

My London oyster crawl actually began with the award-winning bar Swift, which serves naked oysters and Vietnamese style – the same combo as Corrigan’s. With American style decor upstairs and a speakeasy vibe below, Swift keeps oysters innovative for the drinking crowd. Also worth a mention: Chiltern Firehouse’s oyster cart and Hix, where a warm welcome, a cold cocktail and a refreshing oyster in jelly with cucumbers go so well together. Boisedale consistently offers delectable Mersea Islands and Jersey Rocks. Brat has snazzy oysters and seaweed; Untitled has damn cute fried oyster “hot dogs” with yuzu kusho mayo. Nola serves oysters during their jazz brunches – a phrase that still makes me laugh – and Tom Brown’s splendid Cornerstone Porthilly oysters are decked in celery, horseradish and dill. The Cow famously serves oysters with Guinness. Well And Bucket and Prawn on the Lawn are absolutely devoted to all things oyster. But there’s more: farmers’ markets such as Marylebone and Chelsea shuck on the spot. There is a London Oysters Week with teams of roving shuckers, those DJs of the sea.

The most important thing about oysters is respect. They are alive, take years to grow and die to feed us. I’m sure vegetables aren’t dead so oysters are not for vegans. Case in point: a family bought some pigs from a crofter friend. They phoned up later asking how to get bacon from the hogs. The crofter said, “You have to kill them.”

The oyster deserves our attention. C