The arrival of autumn marks the start of the native oyster harvest in Britain, and London oyster bars are now awash with the beloved bivalves. Though the UK’s beds have been depleted due to over-fishing back in the 19th century, a new breed of oyster slingers are bringing the seafood staple back. The Mothershuckers have helped re-popularise oysters with pop-up seafood bars, classes, and alcohol-pairing sessions, while sustainability-minded chefs are educating diners about our delicious British varieties – Colchester, Loch Ryan, Maldon, and beyond.
To celebrate this year’s oyster harvest, we’re rounding up eight of the best London oyster bars for sampling the sea’s freshest specimens. From traditional, old-fashioned seafood bars to fine dining restaurants with top-notch raw offerings, these venues should be on every oyster-lover’s list.
From its elegant marble bar, Hix Oyster and Chop House celebrates all things oyster. Located adjacent to Smithfield, London’s historic meat market, the restaurant began life as a sausage factory before evolving into a fish restaurant and finally its present incarnation. On the menu are several native and rock varieties (Blackwater Wild, Brownsea Island, Maldon Pearls, currently). If you’re feeling especially decadent, order the ground rib steak burger, which goes surf-and-turf with an oyster side. As a bonus, you can wash it all down with Hix Oyster Ale, made by Dorset brewery Palmer’s and which pairs perfectly with the seafood.
Hix Oyster and Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill’s Rents, Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BN
+44 (0)20 7017 1930, www.hixoysterandchophouse.co.uk
For a true sea-to-plate philosophy, head to Wright Brothers. The West End seafood destination sources achingly fresh oysters from its own Duchy Farm in Cornwall, as well as from other nearby beds in Britain and France. The casual ground-floor raw bar serves gorgeous seafood specimens, while the restaurant upstairs has five different varietals on offer (from Jersey Royales to Ile d’Oléron). You can also have your pick of dressings, from coriander and jalapeño to apple and shallot.
Wright Brothers Soho, 13 Kingly Street and G7/G8 Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW
+44 (0)20 7434 3611, http://thewrightbrothers.co.uk
Bibendum Oyster Bar
Built in 1911 as a UK tyre depot for Michelin, Michelin House is today home to Bibendum, one of the capital’s most acclaimed restaurants and oyster bars. Named after Michelin’s distinctive mascot, Bibendum Oyster Bar occupies the ground floor of the historic building, in a continental-tinged space with mosaic flooring and a stylish bar. With a selection of both native and rock oysters (try the Loch Ryan and West Mersea varieties) as well as generous fruits de mer platters and other raw shellfish, Bibendum is one of London’s most reliable places to have a half dozen on the half shell.
Bibendum Oyster Bar, Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 6RD
+44 (0)20 7589 1480, www.bibendum.co.uk/oyster-bar/index.html
Though the original J. Sheekey dates back over 100 years ago, the restaurant’s attached oyster bar only opened in 2008. Since then, the Covent Garden spot has become one of London’s top destinations for seafood lovers, eager to sample its fish pie, Tandoori spiced prawns, and other dishes. But it’s the oysters that are really worth coming for: available by the whole or half dozen, the varieties on offer include Fines de Claire and West Mersea native oysters, though the selection varies depending on what’s freshest.
J. Sheekey Oyster Bar, 28-35 St Martins Court, London WC2N 4AL
+44 (0)20 7240 2565, www.j-sheekey.co.uk/oyster-bar
From Irish chef Richard Corrigan, Bentley’s ground floor oyster bar is styled just so: done up with marble counters, wood panelling, and traditional paintings, it attracts a steady stream of punters looking to slurp down best-quality bivalves. Two varieties of wild natives and four rock oysters are available during the September through April season, while classic cooked oyster dishes are on offer too – Rockefeller for the traditionalists and chorizo for the experimental.
Bentley’s, 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1B 4DG
+44 (0)20 7734 4756, www.bentleys.org
Though the building occupied by Randall and Aubin was once a butcher shop, the offerings at this address have shifted to the aquatic since the arrival of its newest tenant. The restaurant’s crown jewel is surely its gorgeous seafood bar, which is packed to the brim with fresh shellfish. We love to settle in over a platter of mixed oysters, though guests can also order French, English, Irish, or Scottish rocks, as well as native oysters in season.
Randall and Aubin, 14-16 Brewer Street, London W1F 0SG
+44 (0)20 7278 4447, www.randallandaubin.com
In the newly opened EDITION Hotel, Berners Tavern, helmed by prolific chef Jason Atherton, occupies an ornate, jaw-droppingly beautiful dining room. Though the menu of eclectic, contemporary British fare skips from Scottish beef to grilled quail, it’s the Vietnamese-dressed oysters that have been ecstatically received. Diners can choose from several varieties (West Mersea, Fine de Claire), which are then topped with the fresh, fragrant liquid, good enough to drink on its own. One or two surely won’t be enough.
Though its small Borough Market stall might not look like much, Richard Haward’s Oysters serves no-nonsense plates of briny, beautifully fresh bivalves. Sourced from a native oyster bed in Salcott Creek, Essex, the stand’s oysters are harvest by Richard Haward himself, a seventh generation oysterman. The plump, specimens should be dressed with the merest bit of lemon or mignonette – it’s best to let the oysters’ mineral-rich flavours shine through.
Richard Haward’s Oysters, Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 1TL
+44 (0)20 7407 1002, http://www.richardhawardsoysters.co.uk
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