For London restaurants in recent years, the world may not have been their oyster, but the reverse appears to be true. Oysters, ‘the fish built like a nut,’ are on the move around the city, becoming a regular feature on menus.
A few years ago, older London restaurants such as Scott’s and Bentley’s were rejuvenated by star chefs Mark Hix and Richard Corrigan, who created oyster bars as polished centrepieces.
Others, like the ultra-conservative Green’s, then branched out, to The Runner Bar in the City. J Sheekey, another venerable seafood outlet, bought a next-door shop and turned it into a sumptuous shrine to the mollusc. Wholesale fish suppliers Wright Brothers got cooking in Borough Market with their Oyster & Porter House, and will open an outpost in Soho in November.
Now Rowley Leigh, chef-owner of Le Café Anglais, has joined in, with the installation of a snazzy new red-leather-and-grey-marble 50-seat oyster bar in the restaurant, opening this week. Oysters, he noted approvingly, are no longer restricted to gentlemen’s clubs, but seen as a matter of course, even in neighbourhood restaurants and gastropubs, thanks to increased availability of a wide variety and more adventurous eaters.
His new addition is called the Cafe and Oyster Bar, featuring classic staples: half a dozen choices of oysters, including Kumamotos at £13.50 for six, and Maldon Natives ‘No. 2s’ at £18.50 for six, a variety of other shellfish, as well as smoked salmon, trout, eel, and mackerel in various incarnations, and a densely sumptuous fish pie.
The bar has its own wine list, 13 good-value selections offered by the glass (£3.75-10), carafe (£8-20) and bottle (£16-40). Unsurprisingly, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, and white Burgundy predominate, though a lightly citric Picpoul de Pinet from La Croix Gratiot makes a persuasive alternative, for vibrant flavor and compatibility.
The Café and Oyster Bar is open seven days a week, from noon to 10:30 p.m. Bookings are not required. Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB; telephone: +44 (0)20 7221 1415, web: www.lecafeanglais.co.uk.
Written by Brian St Pierre