September marks the beginning of our native oyster season; from April to August they’re spawning, which basically means they’re no good to eat. As soon as there’s an R in the month however, it’s time to get slurping from the half shell. UK native oysters are, we think, much better than the more common ‘rocks’, which, although available year round, have a creamier, softer texture which some find a bit challenging. Natives are firmer and have a superior, saline, mineral flavour. That said, they’re all good, and Londoners have been consuming them for decades.
Oysters were once a street food in London, or at least that’s what Roman excavations within the Square Mile tell us — they always turn up lots of shells. Later, the oyster came to be associated with luxury and indulgence, and that’s still the case in some of London’s higher end restaurants. Increasingly though, we’re seeing pop ups, happy hours and seafood stalls flogging them at very reasonable prices, sometimes as little as £1 a pop. No one likes the idea of an oyster being cheap, but good value is a different thing entirely. You’re very unlikely to get ill from an oyster, by the way; just make sure to buy them freshly shucked from one of these reputable sources.
We also maintain that a dozen oysters and a pint is one of the most effective hangover cures of all time. Traditionally, they’d be matched with a dark porter stout, full of roasted, malt and coffee flavours, which are perfect with the naturally sweet flavour and clean salinity of the oysters.
The Best Places to Eat Oysters in London
The man behind Decatur is fully dedicated to carving out “a space for really good Cajun and Creole food in London” after spending a lot of time eating around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The amazingly diverse cuisine of these areas is, he says, “pretty badly represented in London.” They serve fried oyster po’ boys (a sandwich named for the ‘poor boy’ strikers of New Orleans), but their biggest seller is their chargrilled oysters. They’re topped with garlic and pecorino butter, placed on a ripping hot grill and charred using a blow torch. The oyster releases its natural liquor as it cooks, which combines with the bubbling butter to create a sauce. It’s finished with a sprinkle of Cajun spices, Crystal hot sauce and lemon juice, then served with parsley and fresh French bread for dipping.
Decatur London, at Druid St market every Saturday from 10am.
These guys have got oysters covered, with several branches dotted around, and they also have their own oyster farm, which produces over 10 million oysters annually. Their new pop up, Shuck, at Borough Market, serves rock oysters ‘naked, dressed or blown’ — the latter having had a swift blast with a blow torch.
Wright Brothers, see website for locations.
Also from Wright Brothers, Shuck will ‘pop up’ (we can’t wait for that term to pipe down) at Borough Market until the end of the year. The oysters will come ‘naked’ (self-explanatory), ‘dressed’ (served with various toppings such as fiery green salsa) or ‘blown’ (scorched with a torch). The photo of nacho cheese oysters posted to their Twitter stream particularly caught our eye — it’s like Poseidon meets Parton. That’s Dolly Parton. Oh never mind.
The oysters at Shuck also come matched with gin cocktails. Enough said.
Shuck, 7 Stoney Street, Borough Market.
The Well and Bucket
This reliable little East End pub serves consistently sparkling rounds of oysters alongside a great selection of ales. It’s so good in fact we once declared it the best pub in East London. You can eat your oysters raw, Southern fried, or covered in cheese. Much classier than a bag of Cheesy Wotsits.
The Well and Bucket, 143 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 7DG
Don’t let the name put you off — these guys have oysters too. Captain Bob turned his street food stall into a permanent fixture on the Kingsland Road, where he now serves ‘seafood roasts’ on Sundays and lobster specials on Tuesdays. Get your (Irish, English or Scottish) oysters raw, or hot with lardo and a focaccia crumb. Oh and don’t forget to challenge Captain Bob to a thumb war before you leave to go home. He lives for that shit.
Mussel Men, 584 Kingsland Road, E8 4AH
Bentley’s Oyster and Champagne Bar
Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s isn’t cheap (in fact it’s quite the opposite) but it is an institution. Bentley’s have claimed in the past that they shuck more than any other restaurant, which is basically what you want to hear when it comes to oysters. A high turnover is a very good thing. Settle into the low-lit oyster bar, order a cheeky dozen and don’t forget to listen in to the chit-chat at the next table. It’s bound to be as juicy as those bivalves.
Bentley’s Oyster and Champagne Bar, 11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG