By Alwynne Gwilt.
When I arrived at the posh, tartan-interior Boisdale restaurant near Victoria for an oyster tasting recently, I was glad of one thing: it was November.
"Why,” you may ask, "would I care about that?"
Well, historical legend has it that one should only eat oysters in the months that contain an "r". And, November, most certainly, contains one. It may not be as good as February, with its boastful double-"r" bounty, but I figured I would be safe.
Now, whether this theory was all down to actual, proven evidence that it is indeed unlucky to eat oysters in "r" free months, or just the fact there was the lack of refrigeration a few hundred years ago which is rather pivotal to oyster preservation in those hotter, non-"r" containing months, it's hard to say. But, regardless I took note.
Boisdale was, you see, boasting an oyster extravaganza, having recently created a competition to find the best of the best in Britain. I was there to give them a go. How I was to tell them apart was a wee bit hard to say, given I know very little about these rocky beasts, other than that you eat them raw and that they do their darnedest to stay shut when a rude chef tries to poke them with a shiv-like instrument. Well, you would too right?As five, shiny and large oysters arrived at the table, I thought about just how I was supposed to eat these and still look elegant.
Here are my tips:
1. Even if you're put off by their slimy, gooey texture, if you're given oysters, give them a go. They have, after all, just been unceremoniously wedged open from their sleepy state to satiate your tastebuds! It would be rude not to.
2. When you decide to take the plunge, add sauce. Sauce helps everything. I am known as the mayonnaise queen around my house. And oysters usually come with a nice acidic shallot vinegar, Tabasco sauce and a good hunk of lemon to get your on your saucy way.
3. Oysters should already be loosened from their shells. If they aren't, take the small fork and slowly work it away from its umbilical shell connection. But, I repeat, do so slowly. Too quick and you risk sending it flying across the room, only to have it land in some poor man's toupee, or plopped unceremoniously down a well-bouffanted lady's decolletage. That's sure to get stares from the room.
4. Once loosened and sauced, delicately lift said oyster up and slide it into your mouth. It's nothing if not seductive. Then give it a little chew. People vary about this (some say, let it slide straight down your gullet) but I say a bit of a chew is best for releasing its flavour and stopping you from needing the Heimlich in the restaurant. Also sure to earn you glares.
5. Finally, have a good glass of dry white wine at the ready. This helps to a) mask any flavours you don't like; and, b) bring out the fresh, salty-sea notes of the oyster. And get you drunk enough to continue on your way.
6. If all else fails, smile serenely, and repeat step 2. Or, if you really decide you can't stand them, find a plant pot or large handbag nearby and subtly hide them. If you smile enough, no one will notice.
I was lucky enough to like my oysters, plain or sauced. Though, the top tier oysters weren't my favourite. I preferred the sad sod who came in second, the Maldon Rock oyster from Maldon Oysters. All in all, they were rather delicious. But maybe I wouldn't have been saying the same thing had it been May.
The Boisdale oyster festival has been extended until April. Oysters will be half price from 5-6pm, Monday to Friday. To make a booking, use the form below.