The British should be great at seafood. We are, after all, an island – as someone may wish to point out to certain Government ministers – and the coast is never more than 60-odd miles from anywhere in the UK.
While a lot of our fish goes to Europe, at least some people have started clawing back from much of those export stocks. Most notably, Matt Lovell and Rob Hampton – the Oystermen – who, after some successful pop-ups, festival appearances and even Matt’s own wedding catering, took over a tiny site on Henrietta Street in 2017.
A very tiny site, in fact, but one from which they squeezed maximum value with grace, good humour and, more importantly, excellent staff, some quite brilliant cooking and even better sourcing. It’s a rare lunch where you don’t witness a handful of deliveries of day boat catches and oysters farmed earlier that morning.
It was the (tiny) site of probably my favourite meal of 2017 and, after a much needed and perfectly lovely expansion into the property next door, it’s just become the (slightly bigger) site of, probably, my favourite meal of 2019. In addition, thanks to a ridiculously good Happy Hour deal – six oysters, glass of cremant for £10 – it became a regular hang out between the hours of 3pm and 5pm on several days in 2018 too.
That sense of value carries over to the main menu. Snacks – exceptional sourdough, seaweed butter or anchovy toast, confit garlic, lemon – come in at £4 each, fresh oysters are around £2 a pop, and dressed oysters and cooked oysters range between £6 and £8 for two.
It’s this section of the menu that really sells the Oystermen philosophy of sourcing and, indeed, saucing: the fresh are some of the finest in London, the cooked show a sure hand, a grasp of flavour, and a serious knowledge of ingredients. The dressed – at the time of writing – come in champonzu, wasabi and shiso. They’re stunning, sweet, briny, and just as the wasabi threatens to stake squatters’ rights on your sinuses, the fruitiness of the champonzu brings instant brightness and relief. Perhaps even better however are those cooked and wrapped in caramelised lardo…
Starters spin in a different, equally great, direction, particularly cod roe, pickled beetroot, horseradish, crème fraiche, a very generous pile of Portland crab thermidor, with chilli and fennel, and – be still my beating heart (and slavering tongue) – Dorset squid and baby gem in a soul-reviving broth of n’duja and zhoug. The latter – a mere £9 – would make a glorious quick lunch on its own: light but with sufficient spice to warm the cockles (pun not intended) and power you through the most wintery of afternoons.
I could wax lyrical for pages about the mains but, seriously, if the above doesn’t convince you, then rhapsodising over Newlyn hake, harissa bean stew, carrot puree and monk’s beard isn’t going to change your mind. And if the above has already convinced you, rhapsodising over Newlyn hake etc etc., is just going to seem like torture. Go. That’s all there is to it. Go.
32 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8NA
Phone: 020 7240 4417