Whilst street food may be taking the capital by storm at the moment, street food stalls are by no means a new phenomenon in London. In fact, oysters were amongst the first street food Londoners enjoyed, back in the Victorian era.
Whether served with a lemon grass cocktail sauce, a muscatel mignonette accented with tarragon or with a kimchee granite, right now oysters are, in a word, hot, hot, hot. The Richmond in Hackney opens on Friday and will feature East London’s first raw bar.
These days you can pick up oysters all over town, but our Executive Chef, Darren Deadman, has chosen his pick of the best oyster joints in town:
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
For a true sea-to-plate philosophy, head to Wright Brothers. The West End seafood destination sources fresh oysters from its own Duchy Farm in Cornwall, as well as from other nearby beds in Britain and France. The casual ground-floor raw bar serves gorgeous seafood specimens, while the restaurant upstairs has five different varietals on offer (from Jersey Royales to Ile d’Oléron).
Our tip? Eat their oysters Japanese style with a dash of wasabi, ginger and soy. oysters are £1 each between 3pm-6pm.
13 Kingly Street and G7/G8 Kingly Court, London, W1B 5PW
BENTLEY’S OYSTER BAR & GRILL
Head to Bentley’s if you’re someone who loves traditional, simple oysters. The place has been open since 1916 after all. Oysters are a religion at this institution, it has spiffing native and rock oysters, best gulped down with shallot vinegar and it’s a great pre or post theatre stop. Perch yourself at the original marble oyster bar and choose from wild natives and rocks. Upstairs in the grill you can also try their ‘hot rocks’, served Rockefeller-style or with garlic or chorizo.
11-15 Swallow St, W1B 4DG
BIBENDUM OYSTER BAR
Built in 1911 as a UK tyre depot for Michelin, Michelin House is today home to Bibendum, one of the capital’s most acclaimed restaurants and oyster bars. Named after Michelin’s distinctive mascot, Bibendum Oyster Bar occupies the ground floor of the historic building, in a continental-tinged space with mosaic flooring and a stylish bar. With a selection of both native and rock oysters (try the Loch Ryan and West Mersea varieties) as well as generous fruits de mer platters and other raw shellfish, Bibendum is one of London’s most reliable places to have a half dozen on the half shell.
Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 6RD
HIX OYSTER AND CHOP HOUSE
Hix Oyster and Chop House celebrates all things oyster. Adjacent to Smithfield market, the restaurant serves several native and rock varieties (Blackwater Wild, Brownsea Island, Maldon Pearls, currently). If you’re feeling especially decadent, order the ground rib steak burger, which goes surf-and-turf with an oyster side. As a bonus, you can wash it all down with Hix Oyster Ale, made by Dorset brewery Palmer’s, which pairs perfectly with the seafood.
Hix Oyster and Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill’s Rents, Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BN
WELL AND BUCKET
The menu at this East End pub is all about the oyster. You can have a mixed platter, and choose your oysters southern-fried or broiled with labasco, absinthe, spinach and cheese sauce. Ask behind the bar for the best porter or beer to go with your oysters. We recommend pairing your oyster with a Bloody Mary oyster shot.
143 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 7DG
RICHARD HAWARD’S OYSTERS
Though its small Borough Market stall might not look like much, Richard Haward’s Oysters serves no-nonsense plates of briny, beautifully fresh bivalves. Sourced from a native oyster bed in Salcott Creek, Essex, the stand’s oysters are harvest by Richard Haward himself, a seventh generation oysterman. The plump, specimens should be dressed with the tiniest bit of lemon or mignonette – we think it’s best to let the oysters’ mineral-rich flavours shine through.
Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 1TL
J. SHEEKEY OYSTER BAR
Right in the heart of the West End, the oyster bar at Sheekey’s is one of London’s most famous. You can even pop in without a reservation. You can also have tempura oysters here, served up with wasabi dressing for £3.75 each. If you come on a Sunday the bar morphs into a speakeasy. You’ll be treated (for a fee) to a cabaret performance while you swig oysters and drink ‘Twinkle’ cocktails.
J. Sheekey Oyster Bar, 28-35 St Martins Court, London WC2N 4AL
Our Guide to Oyster Etiquette
Don’t say “oyster juice,” say “liquor.” – Oyster liquor is the natural juice inside the oyster that keeps it alive once it’s out of the water. It is unacceptable to rinse or dump that juice out of the oyster before consuming it raw. That juice is precious and should taste amazing, and that’s why it’s referred to as liquor. It should be clear not cloudy.
Don’t say “water” say “terroir.” – It’s a French word that you may have heard used with wine. Terroir (pronounced “tehr-wahr”) means the characteristics of a place—its climate, geology, and wildlife, for example—that impact food produced there. Jacobsen says terroir affects the flavor of an oyster just as much, if not more, than it does wine because the effects are less subtle. Other terroir elements that affect flavour include the algae in the water (because oysters eat algae) and the water’s minerality.
Don’t say “salty” say “briny.” – They mean the same thing except briny is “salty the way sea water is salty.”
NEVER say “aphrodisiac.” – Yes, research shows that raw oysters are “rich in rare amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones.” And indeed, there is some legend about a fellow named Casanova – but we think it’s best not to talk about things like that if you want to be a charmingly quirky oyster person!
Other good ways to describe your oysters include:
“Sweet” — When the oyster is kind of mild and sweet instead of so salty
“Creamy” — When the oyster is buttery and not as firm,
“Fresh Biscuit” — Beginners oysters that don’t have a super-strong briny flavour
“Plump” — Usually due to slow growth in nutrient/algae-rich water.
“Springy” — Usually due to cold, deep water like you find on the east coast.
“Copper” — When oysters have a very strong, acidic or rusty flavour.
One last tip. The oyster world seems overwhelming, but there are only five species of oysters in the world, and it’s easy to tell one from another. Here’s how:
1. ATLANTIC – Not hard to get
2. PACIFIC – Not hard to get
3. KUMAMOTO – Not hard to get
4. OLYMPIAS – Harder to get
5. BELONS – Hardest to get