Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co.

I made a promise.  I promised to treat Miscriant to a lobster and champagne dinner to apologise for neglecting her so much when I was working on developing the new Canterbury Players website.

I recently made good on that promise.
One Saturday, after Steve had come home from cricket, we were both trying to work out what to do for dinner.  It was hot, really, really hot and neither of us fancied slaving over an oven, hob or BBQ for any length of time.  We both were craving seafood as well and didn't have any in the house.

We made the decision to go out for dinner in Whitstable, as, frankly, if you have a hankering for seafood there is really no other place to go.  My treat.
Our first choice was actually The Lobster Shack but we got there to find a wedding going on, the whole place hired out and no access to the resturant for people not involved in the wedding.  How rude!  I toyed with the idea of following in the footsteps of Wilson and Vaughn but then my Englishness kicked in and I just couldn't handle the idea of crashing someone elses wedding, no matter how good the lobster was!  I'm just going to have to go back another time. 'Tis a hard life, but someone must live it.
Instead we headed back to the main high street to see if we could scrounge a table at one of the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company restaurants, the Royal Naval Oyster Store (better known as the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co.).  Located opposite The Pearson's Arms, I was highly doubtful about this plan as we hadn't booked, and the chances of a walk in table being available were about as likely as a review of ouzo appearing on this blog (shudder). 
Apparently I need to start drinking ouzo as we were told that they could seat us, but we would have to take one of two tiny tables right in the middle of the restaurant.  These were the kind of tables that made me hope I didn't slip on my lobster crackers and send a claw flying to land gently in some poor man's toupee.  Elbows in!

Settled happily, Steve ordered a Whitstable Bay Blond whilst I was on the sparkling elderflower (aren't I a good date - driving and everything!) which he enjoyed so much he made us stop off at The Offy (I've mentioned this place before) so we could stock up. 
Then it was time to order food.  I scanned the menu.  I blinked and checked it again.

They didn't have lobster.

Well, not exactly.  They had it as a starter but not as a main.  The problem was, I'm greedy and I didn't want a starter size portion of lobster!  A quick word with the waitress and a check with the chef and I had my lobster lined up for my main.  It was pricey (£30), and I didn't want to ruin it, so I passed on the starter and instead tried one of Steve's Oyster Rockefeller which were really good.  They came with spinach, cheese and breadcrumbs and the flavours were warm and comforting. I don't normally like oysters when they have been cooked, preferring to eat them raw with Tabasco and lemon, or shallot vinegar but these were a bit of a revelation.  I could see the cogs turning in Steve's head as he worked out how to recreate the dish at home.  You need big, fat, meaty oysters for it though, which is why the local Whitstable ones are so perfect!  Problem is, no matter how clever you are with a camera, an Oyster Rockefeller ain't an attractive creature so I will spare you that.  Have a look at the menu instead.  Hmmm, if you don't like seafood, then you probably don't want to eat here.
Now, as you may have guessed from my lobster price, The Whitstable Oyster Company isn't exactly a cheap night out.  Starters are on average £10 each and a main will cost you around £20, whilst desserts are also around the £8 mark.  The food is worth it.  It is of a seriously good quality and there is a reason why I would normally recommend booking well in advance!

I got my lobster, with lemon and garlic butter (simple, perfect and just the way I like it) with a side portion of ridiculously good chips.
Steve had beer battered cod (£16.50) with mushy peas, samphire (sea asparagus), tartar sauce and more of those amazing chips.  The batter was light, crispy, flavourful with only the lightest hint of the beer and cod was cooked to perfection, moist and flaky.  We did recreate this at home shortly afterwards with our own beer batter and it was divine.  For one starter, two mains (one of which was a full lobster), a side of chips, a couple of beers and a couple of sparkling elderflower's the full cost was £80.  
The restaurant itself is utterly relaxed - located right on the beach with views of the company's oyster grounds in an 18C brick warehouse style building, it isn't fancy in the slightest.  Giant green shutters lead out onto a deck that is ram packed at peak hours with diners and the used shells are stacked high outside, ready to be recycled into cultch on the seabed, a nursery for baby oysters (spats) to settle on.
Whitstable are very protective over their oysters and they have a right to be.  Natives reared on the ground owned by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (a tiny area of six square miles known as the Flats) are the only true Royal Whitstable Native Oyster. Rock Oysters, although not native, have also settled into the area and are regularly harvested and the stocks replenished with brood, ware or half-ware (different maturity levels of stocks).  A huge amount of care goes into preserving the quality of the oysters as they rightly enjoy a reputation world wide as being some of the best out there.
Back inside the restaurant, Steve and I chatted for hours before wandering along the shore line to take in the sunset.  Date nights like this are still so important to us, even after 12 years together and I really treasure them.   
By the time we left the sun was very low in the sky.  We headed to The Offy to pick up the beers, drove back to Canterbury and settled on the sofa for a film.

Perfect evening.
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