Saturday, 12 January 2013

Whitstable Oyster Company review - oysters don't get any fresher than this

Whitstable Oyster Company
Whitstable Oyster Company's well lit dining room suggests nothing of the chilly winds outside

Address: Royal Native Oyster Stores,
Horsebridge Road, Whitstable,
Kent CT5 1BU
Tel: 01227 276856
Nearest Train station: Whitstable

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £50 pp
Service charge: 10%
Taste: ***
Service: ****
Ambience: ****
It was one of those gloomy days in London. We could attempt to have a stroll along the Regents Canal and then call it a day when it gets dark and cold. Or we could take a ninety minute train ride to Whitstable to have some oysters. It was a no brainer really.

There are a couple of things that Whitstable is known for. The oysters for one that are in season only during months that have an "r" in them. The seaside town has been renowned for its oysters since the Roman times. The relatively close proximity from London makes it one of the more popular getaway since the Victorians. Its streets aren't lined with bingo halls, nor does it have a tacky outdoor amusement park (there's a bowling alley though) by the sea.

And then there's the Whitstable Oyster Company, which according to its website is the "World renowned seafood restaurant in Kent, offering some of the very finest oysters, fresh fish and crustacea".

Whitstable Oyster Company oyster shells
A souvenir perhaps? 

It's almost impossible to get a table at the restaurant even if you tried calling a week in advance so you can forget about walking in. We got lucky, we managed to get a place two days before but not before a long pause by staff over the phone.

It's hard to match up to expectations when you are the star attraction of a town. Though I would hesitate to say that Whitstable Oyster Company in Whitstable is analogous to Fat Duck in Bray, it comes close. Face it, the beach line at Whitstable isn't exactly pristine, besides a (still) quaint little high street, Whitstable has little to offer other than oysters. And guess who serves the freshest and juiciest oysters in town?

Whitstable Oyster Company Whitstable Native Oyster
Whitstable Native Oysters - fresh, juicy and supple

Like all things, the best doesn't come cheap. At £16.50 for half a dozen, the Whitstable native oyster easily costs more than twice compared those available at Whitstable. Then again, they are served on a huge platter filled with chipped ice, a slice of lemon and a dash of shallot vinaigrette. And you are warmly seated indoors away from the chilly coastal winds. That, I supposed makes all the difference.

We tried to make the oysters last but we wouldn't want them exposed to the air for too long iced or not iced, would we? It was all over in a matter of minutes but suffice to say they are easily the finest oysters we have ever tasted. That probably explains why Romans were desperately holding onto Britannia.

Whitstable Oyster Company deep fried squid
Deep fried squid - the low point of the meal

The deep fried squid (£10.50) was a travesty compared to the oysters. Dull, limp and almost soggy. I'm wondering why I even bother mentioning them. They should be served at one of those tourist traps in central London, not a well regarded seafood institution.

Whitstable Oyster Company roasted sea bream
Roasted sea bream, the garlicky fish

Whole roast sea bream (£19.50) was recommended by the waitress. The roasted garlic's aromo was overwhelming so much so that the sea bream roasted with a sprinkle of rosemary was relegated to the background. There was no doubt of the sea bream's freshness but I thought a light pinch of sea salt over it would have done the trick with much less fuss.

Whitstable Oyster Company fish and chips
Really, the stars are the dips

I couldn't resist having the deep fried cod in beer batter chips (£16.50) - every table seemed to have at least one of that. The cod was nothing to shout about. The chips were a bit better. The prize, however, went to the homemade tartar sauce and the minty cooled mushy peas. I was tempted to ask for a second serving of that. The peas, not cod.

I hate to say this but you should really stick to what Whitstable Oyster Company is known for. A case of overhype? Maybe. Then again, it boils down to doing what one does best. And at Whitstable, there is no doubt about what that is. If they were good enough for the Romans, they'd do for me just fine.

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