Four weeks ago when I was happily wandering around Covent Garden early evening before meeting up with my friend Annie at Cinnamon Bazaar, I passed The Oystermen in Henrietta Street. It looked so inviting and just the kind of place I love. I more often eat fish than meat when out and love oysters, so the name appealed. I took a photo of the outside; it seemed a good way of noting the restaurant down. And it became my suggestion to Annie for our next place to meet.
Arriving last night, just after 6.30pm, it was busy and lively. I was shown to a table at the back where Annie was waiting for me. It all looked a little tight with tables close together but in fact it never felt too crowded. Maybe that was partly due to the overall friendly atmosphere. Right from the beginning our waitress was a wonder; that perfect mix of friendly and professional. She was very helpful to Annie who has a few dietary needs, checking things out in the kitchen and never making it seem like it was a problem; she only wanted to help. She made suggestions as we decided on what to eat; recommended what turned out to be an excellent Sauvignon Blanc (£8 for 175ml glass). Combined with the convivial atmosphere around us, we immediately decided we liked The Oystermen.
We liked it even more once the food started coming. There were some lovely Starters to choose from (ranging in price from £8.50-£10.50) but they sounded quite large and we opted to have two ‘Snacks … perfect to share. while you wait … ‘
My Whipped Smoked Cod’s Roe Toast (£5) – taramasalata by another name and definitely without any pink colouring – was a glorious mound of creaminess; a light cloud of fish dip with perfectly crisp, light toasts to eat it with. It was amazing. I could have just sat there eating that until I was full … but luckily I had another fishy gem to come after.
Annie’s ‘snack’ was Sourdough Bread with Seaweed Butter (£4). The seaweed butter came in an oyster shell and was delicious. The bread was to die for … well it was some of the best bread I’ve tasted. I’ve had an addiction to good bread for as long as I can remember and am easily won over by the perfect kind. And this was perfect … and happily Annie was happy to share.
Annie made the bold move of ordering Whole Dorset Undressed Brown Crab, Garlic, Aioli & Lemon. I say bold because I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to dealing with things like whole crabs … but I do love them, and lobsters … It’s priced by weight and this was £25. It was almost enough to share … Annie made a sterling attempt to finish but I got some too once I’d finished my main course and it was superb.
There was a choice of 5 Mains. This is a good sign in a fish restaurant – a sign of really fresh fish that was caught only a few hours ago. I could happily had eaten any of them. I almost went with Oyster Stout Batter Dorset Pollack, Pea Purée, Fennel, Onion & Caper Salad (£19) but made a last-minute change of choice to Newlyn Hake, Scottish Mussels, Wye Valley Asparagus & Asparagus Velouté (£23).
The hake was excellent – a soft, tender fish with a mild, slightly sweet taste. It was perfectly cooked; the skin crispy and good to eat. The mussels were gorgeous too – large, tasty and tender still from skilled cooking. The earthy asparagus and its velouté was a good accompaniment.
Two wonderful-sounding desserts or a good cheese option on the menu were tempting but we were far too full to carry on eating. We settled instead for coffee (for me) and mint tea (for Annie).
Our bill at the end, including wine and service, was just under £88 for two.
Now before I go, I have to tell you about the toilets. Forgive me. But they have to be mentioned. To get to them it was necessary to negotiate one of the steepest and narrowest spiral staircases I’ve known down to the basement. It was a little like being on a boat. Once downstairs a recording the BBC’s Shipping Forecast was playing – ‘The general synopsis at midnight … Low Viking 1002 expected Baltic 1001 by midnight …‘ It was such a fun idea. The sink was shaped like a huge oyster shell. The Oystermen were obviously keen to give you the whole sea experience. And we just loved it … and can’t wait to go back.