Words by Simeen Kadi
The Oyster Shed is perhaps not the best way to describe this fairly new bar restaurant in the City. Outside it is all steel and glittering glass in a fabulous location on the North bank of the river near London Bridge – so not a clapboard shack on some sandy beach. Inside it has been tricked out in that East Coast style that made Martha Stewart millions. But the enormous amounts of plate glass and the large outside deck area make full use of the great river views.
This is Geronimo Inns latest venture. The pub group has over 30 pubs and bars from large and glitzy in Westfield to olde worlde in Chelsea. Their shtick, so they say, is that they are food led, meaning they are inns that serve food with alcoholic beverages – in that order. Er, like a gastro pub, then.
Whatever they want to call themselves, I had a very enjoyable evening at the Oyster Shed and tried some pretty decent food too. Head Chef Mark Donlon wanted to talk to us about the seafood they use at the restaurant and give us a few handy tips along the way. And, of course there was plenty to scoff as well. We started at a large table groaning with oysters, scallops and other seafood.
The oysters were Jersey Rocks, chosen for their flavour and also because they come from the cleanest waters in Europe. There were also scallops from Essex and farmed seabass from Anglesey. Chef Mark is certainly passionate about treating seafood with respect and insists on sustainably sourced, local and seasonal.
Whilst demonstrating the easiest (and safest) way to shuck oysters and scallops Mark talked about seafood, from the madness of EU by-catch and quota regulations to why we must eat much more oily fish (it's the omega 3, stupid.) And, of course, we all know that any fish for sale with sunken eyes and a strong fishy smell should be given a wide berth. Mark also showed us the cleanest way to fillet a fish, although I suspect the key element is having a super-sharp knife – something most domestic kitchens lack.
Mark showed us how to shuck oysters and then let us all have a go at shucking our own and, since this was the only way we would get those juicy bivalves out of their shells and down our gullets, we fell to our task with gusto and the mountain of oysters was soon conquered. Meanwhile Mark quietly slipped away to prepare some scallops for us.
We were also treated to some of the other food served at the Oyster Shed. As well as the fish and chips (very well cooked fish in a good, crisp batter) there was salmon roe and crème fraiche, an excellent chicken liver mousse and perfectly cooked steak. Farmed salmon is cured in-house using beetroot for flavour and colour in their gravad lax. The company also smokes their own fish and the smoked salmon was delicate with much of the sweetness and richness of the fish intact and just a hint of smoke. We also tried some cod and haddock ceviche, cured for only 40 minutes (much longer and it starts to cook and go rubbery, says Mark) in lime and lemon juice as wellas tuna chunks (albacore, so OK on sustainability – for now) in soy and lime juice with cucumber.
Then the scallops reappeared in their new guise, a dish to feature in the restaurant's new Autumn menu. Tender slices of unctious pork belly were interleaved with slices of delicate scallop which had only briefly been shown the pan and so retained their sweetness and silky texture. Set over a cauliflower puree this was a dish both hearty and delicately flavoured – a perfect starter for the season.
Likes: Fabulous setting on the North bank of the Thames with great views – right across from the Shard.
Dislikes: The interior is a bit corporate, rather like an upmarket Slug and Lettuce but the food and the views more than make up for this.
Verdict: In all, I like what the people at Geronimo Inns are doing at the Oyster Shed. The seafood is well sourced and very fresh and the daily blackboard changes to feature the day's haul, so expect langoustines, brown shrimp and of course, oysters. At £1.75 each, the oysters aren't cheap, but this is the City. Wines and beers are very well priced and the wine list is definitely one of the restaurant's strengths
Oyster Shed: www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/theoystershed/
1 Angel Lane, London EC4R 3AB
Telephone – 020 7256 3240
The Oyster Shed is currently only open from Monday to Friday