Archive for December, 2011

London Oyster Guide by Colin Pressdee

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment
London Oyster Guide

Go buy the book

‘We’re all going to die!’ screamed the Daily Mail headline warning us of the dangers of eating oysters. Well okay it didn’t quite say that but their general gist was that oysters were very bad for you indeed.

Piffle, balderdash and a fluffy finger up to that, as Stephen Fry might say. Oysters are lovely and oysters from reputable suppliers are as safe as safe can be, having been purified before they get to us.

So forget the scare stories and cuddle up to an oyster or six, it’s one of life’s greatest eating pleasures and an example of how simple can so often be the very best. Lift the lid on a briny bivalve and tip it into your mouth, bite gently to release the flavour and then swallow. No, Stephen Fry did not say that, although he might.

Colin Pressdee is an oyster aficionado as well as a fine foodie. He was born in the town of Oystermouth, an oyster fishing village dating back to the Romans, so it was perhaps inevitable he’d be a mollusc muncher all his life. Indeed he once opened a restaurant called the Oyster Perches.

This book, created together with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, looks at over 150 restaurants, bars, markets, merchants, retailers and producers to be a definitive guide to getting your oyster fix in London. From an intro that explains the difference between Native and Pacific, the seasons for oysters, how to open them (easier than you think) it goes all the way on to how to present them. But why bother when so many restaurants will serve up a glistening plate for you?

Oyster in a man's hand

Shell out

And so Colin is off, exploring all areas of London for the best of the briniest. Clear address details, nearest tube station and brief description of the restaurant make the guide easy to use. Each restaurant entry also carries a price guide and suggestion for wine.

As you eat your oyster, pull the book out of your pocket and mug up on the author’s guide to the different styles and tastes offered by the various UK oyster producers; they are all very unique and terroir shines through. And if you do buy a bag to take home, there are recipes in the book to make the most of them. While any oyster eater will tell you raw is best, simply slipped from the shell, there are cooked oyster recipes in the book that offer unusual and interesting pleasures.

If you are already an oyster eater, then this book sells itself. If you are still, as some people amazingly are, horrified by the thought of oysters then perhaps Colin’s infectious enthusiasm will encourage you to give an oyster a go. Packed with goodness, undoubtedly good for you and very much a UK product to be proud of, oysters open up a whole new world of taste and pleasure.


Copita restaurant, Soho

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

26 D’Arblay St, W1F 8EP

An establishing shot

A veritable armada of new Spanish restaurants has been sailing into London in 2011, their weapons the twin battleships of modern and classic tapas and all aimed straight at our guts. Iberica has opened a new place in the beating heart of Canary Wharf, Jose Pizzaro has occupied Bermondsey without resistance, The Opera Tavern has given Covent Garden a whiff of garlic and Omar Allibhoy has struck camp in Bluewater. I’m assuming the latter must know what he’s doing, and didn’t just sail up the wrong bit of river.

Copita, its name derives from the Spanish for a type of sherry glass, is from the mothership of Barrica in Goodge Street and has berthed further south in D’Arblay Street, Soho. Its sober frontage doesn’t exactly holler for attention but thankfully neither does it go for the faux craphole look which is now getting rather boring.

Inside it’s all about tall stools and high tables with tiles up the walls and along the floor and it’s a nicely judged balance of rough and smooth. Balanced precariously on a stool myself – I can never be truly comfortable on those things, they’re not quite sitting and they’re not quite standing – I’m finding it rather cosy and so is my wingman J. Packed in the evenings, Copita is currently nicely calm at lunch. Read more…

Breakfast at The Arts Club, London

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Arts Club 40 Dover Street London W1S 4NP

Pretty as a picture

I am not an artist, never been one, although the lifestyle certainly appeals; the birds, the booze, the brawls, the South Bank shows and the lovely cottage in the Dordogne, what’s not to like? And if I was an artist I could then become a member of the Arts Club in Mayfair and enjoy a breakfast like this every day.

Founded in 1863 by, amongst others Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope, the Georgian townhouse is unremarkable from the outside, as is right and proper. In fact all you really see is your reflection in the gloss black of the door. Inside is a subtle reception, stylish people man (men?) the desk and the latest iMac, surely not actually needed not just for reception, has its imperious designer back to you. It looks good of course, this is not a place to have a Dell on display after all. What artist ever used a PC? Read more…

Burn baby burn.Hot Headz chilli sauces on test

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Ow, that stings!

‘Bloody hell!’, ‘Jesus Christ!; ‘Aaagh!’ are about the only printable comments we can make after trying the hot sauces we were sent by Hot-Headz the chili specialists.

The ladydeez sensibly wanted nothing to do with our taste test and retreated instead to a safe distance while we chaps bragged about our capacity to withstand any amount of scoville scorching and made vulgar jokes about lavatory paper. This was going to be a pushover.

We didn’t have any food to add to the sauces, and anyway it would have taken away from the pure scientific nature of the product, so instead we laid on some slices of cheap white bread (starch can be an antidote to chili, while water just makes it worse) and decided to dip cocktail sticks in the bottles to ensure minimum on the tongue, after all we had five to choose from.

Scoville (SHA) units are of course the scientific measure of a chili’s heat or capsaicin content, although it is measured by humans not by electronics. What a job that must be eh? The scale runs from 0 to over 200,000 units and presumably above that the tester is either carried out dead or insensible so no reading is ever noted. Read more…

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The Bratwurst, Soho

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

38 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 8RT

Wurst pic ever?

When I was a kid, my dad and I once watched a group of Frenchmen swim out to a rock, pull teaspoons from their scandalously skimpy swim trunks, and proceed to eat sea urchins fresh off the rocks. An elderly German gent watching, the same age as my dad and so also a war veteran, shook his head and turned to him and said  ‘Ve should nevair haff fought!’

If we had one thing in common with the Germans back then it was a suspicion of ‘foreign food’ and a glum delight in our own. Since then we’ve seen a revival of our country’s food fortunes but Germany still languishes under a perception of meat, suet and sauerkraut as the only food available. Read more…