By Christian Rose-Day.
Drape a thick cloth in the palm of your hand. Place the shuckee on top of the cloth, bulbous part face down. Grip and shuck from the sharp end. Elbows high. Twist when you feel you’re getting close.
And that’s, more or less, how to shuck.
No, not the instructional theme song for a remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the basic schooling I received earlier this month from Richard Emans, director of Maldon Oysters, on removing the outer casing of an oyster at great speed. I was taking part in a competition at Thai restaurant, Patara, in Soho, where Maldon Oysters are available until the end of November.
Sadly, my adroit partner and I didn’t win the ultimate prize, but we did manage to murder a fair few oysters (who knew they were still alive during the whole experience?!). We did so with impeccable style (as you can see from the picture below), before devouring them gleefully deep fried in non-greasy soda batter (the oysters, not us).
A few days later I attended another event in central London at Suda, the Siamese Rice Bar, in Covent Garden. There, the Thai Ambassador accepted a cheque on behalf of the Thai flood victims from the restaurant’s proprietors. Watching on, I munched on dense fish cake canapes, sipped on refreshingly floral cocktails, and marvelled at the Thai puppetry that was laid on for the event, and I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen some of the gathered party somewhere before. I later discovered that the relatively new Suda is the sister restaurant to Patara, where I had shucked the night away, and the faces I was recognising were staff at both venues.
Despite the two restaurants sharing owners, similar West End territory and a proclivity toward Thai cuisine, these siblings are remarkably different and it’s not immediately obvious that they are related. This got me pondering the idea of brand identity and the amount of restaurants in London that have the same life-force running the show, but yet display almost conflicting personalities.
Here are four that I’ve chosen to highlight. Why four? Because that’s the number of siblings I’m blessed with, obviously.
Patara - Suda
Whilst the cosy, almost clandestine Patara Thai restaurant is all fancy gold and dark autumnal colours, Suda is bright and airy and filled with light. Patara is definitely a destination restaurant, and the service is testament to that. Not that dining at Suda is not a pleasurable experience, but the speed at which the staff work, and the open plan dynamics, lend it more of a ‘Wahaca-at-the-local-Westfield-Mall’ feel, which is probably ideal given its proximity to Covent Garden’s shopping options.
If were you, at Patara I would sample the tenderest slow braised beef in London, with aromatic coconut reduction, fresh lime, lemongrass and chilli accompanied by pak-choy, shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce and fragrant rice. Whilst at Suda you must go with a rice dish, as that is clearly the speciality. I gambled on a stir-fried tofu rice dish with cashew nuts, chestnut and ginko nut, which made me feel virtuous (although the £7.50 price tag felt unscrupulously low).
Polpo/Polpetto - Spuntino/Mishkin’s
We all know how Russell Norman has been flooding the West End over the past couple of years with his laudable brand of casual, walk-in, snack-based restaurants; the Italian-leaning Polpo was the first to arrive in Soho with its Venetian style small cicheti plates and tiny glasses of wine; followed closely by Polpetto (pictured above), which was almost a carbon copy in miniscule form, and bookable. Then Mr Norman turned his gaze west towards New York, and gave London Spuntino, an industrial NY diner serving amazing mac & cheese. But there is yet more eastern seaboard obsessions to come because as of today Mishkin’s has arrived in Covent Garden. Here, we are promised “a Jewish deli with cocktails” so expect to see salt beef on soda or rye bread with martinis.
Giant Robot - Redhook
Clerkenwell neighbours they might be, but this brother-sister duo are dissimilar in a number of ways. On the one hand Giant Robot’s bar-café-deli-diner feel (pictured above) will appease hungry fixie-wheel scruffs looking for spaghetti meatballs and baked Alaska before heading east to a basement bar in Shoreditch that’s so hip and new, it’s not even open yet. Whilst on the other hand, Redhook’s surf and turf decadence (see below) will keep besuited City lads entertained with Canadian lobsters, Norwegian crabs, Australian Wagyu beef and Madagascan giant prawns dancing across their plates. Although an industrial layout can be seen at both, Redhook is more open plan, light filled, and elegant. And closer to the tube. Personally, I still prefer Giant Robot though.
The Hat & Tun - Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
Both of these venues are part of what is known as the ETM Group, which includes favourite of Canary Wharf bankers, The Gun. It was probably using the blueprint of the aforementioned Docklands’ hangout that helped to inspire the thinking behind the newest edition to the group, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms (above). This new restaurant in the City of London is very much geared toward business lunches and afterwork client entertaining. Hence ETM have installed swanky banquettes, afternoon tea and an air sophistication that prompted our critic, Claire Williams, to confess “Delicious food, great service - wanted to stay all night!” You too can have this experience simply by using this handy booking form.
If Chiswell Street Dining Rooms is the over-achieving baby of the family, then The Hat & Tun (below) is the first-born that has grown up, lived a hard life, and now just wants to chill out and settle down privately. Here it’s all peaceful pints of Adnams, steak and ale pies (the specialty at this Farringdon pub) and some quiet time thanks to bad phone reception.