‘Don’t worry about it – they don’t have a brain, they don’t feel anything,’ the oyster expert, Richard Emans, tells me. I’m not even a real vegetarian so I should be able to do this but my rationale for eating seafood seems to be wavering. ‘When you pick a flower, it dies,’ Richard perseveres. Brain or no brain, oysters have certainly evolved with some sense encasing themselves in a rough shell which requires technique to penetrate.
The method of shucking an oyster starts with twisting the knife at the base of the hinge. Not too much pressure is needed, we are told, just ‘annoy it’ until it opens. We then have to turn the knife to a 15 degree angle and run it under the top shell to cut through the muscle. All while keeping the oyster rounded side down to maintain the water, avoiding knife slip injuries and leaving the mollusc whole so it looks appealing to eat.
Blaming my inebriation for my inability to master these fiddly manoeuvres, I hand the knife over to my companion and turn my attention to the surroundings.
I am bathed in a flattering light inside fine dining Thai restaurant, Patara, in Soho. It’s my kind of place. Tastefully decorated with candles adorning the wall, intricate eastern designs and oozing a feeling of quality, Patara has collaborated with Maldon Oysters to celebrate the Oyster festival. For the rest of October and November there are two new oyster dishes on its menu at all four of its London restaurants.
We are presented with a plate of raw oysters and, rather than letting them slide down, encouraged to chew them. I like eating tips and I like the accompaniment of Thai flavours on the side but as usual I am overwhelmed by the taste of sea water. Other diners giggle at the story of a child’s candid description of these molluscs as ‘salty snot’.
We are told that cooking oysters ‘sets the protein in the animal’ and changes the whole texture and taste. Things are looking up. Thoughts of snot disappear as they reappear deep fried in a light bubbly soda batter. With an overzealous dip in the ‘sri raj a’ sauce, this time all I can taste is hotness. But with less of the spicy sauce, they are delicious, lovely and tender with a subtle flavour.
The rest of the menu didn’t disappoint. I was happy just inhaling the hot and sour prawn bisque (£6.95) but was pleased to discover a generous portion of prawns and mushrooms floating around. The most popular choices for the main were grilled tiger prawn in lemon grass and lime dressing (£14.75) and chargrilled marinated free-range chicken, basted with garlic and coriander infused oil (£12.75). A divine oozy chocolate pudding with mango sorbet finished off the meal.
Among my newly acquired oyster knowledge is that you tell if they’re off using the old fashioned method of your nose; they’re best in months ending ‘er’; and their famous aphrodisiac qualities? True, according to the expert but you need to consume 24 for a, um, ‘surge’. Rather you than me.
15 Greek St
Image by cliff1066™ courtesy of Flickr