Thursday, 9 March 2017

Oyster Master Class at Bentley's London

When you get an invitation to an Oyster Master Class, it's pretty rude to decline the offer isn't it? And when it's at the prestigious Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill - 'The Grand Dame of Swallow Street' in London's Piccadilly - it really is impossible to say no.

Having been there since 1916, it's currently under the watchful eye of the Michelin starred Chef Richard Corrigan, and is still famously serving up the best seafood fayre from the British and Irish Isles. Oysters and fizz (obvs), lobsters, langoustines and the freshest fish around. You can go all-out-fancy, sure, but you can also just get some honestly cooked fish and chips. No messin'. I've had a tip off that the Fish Pie is an absolute dream too... I've added it to the list.

Shucking nearly 1000 oysters a day, Bentley’s is somewhat a flagship institution for the best oysters prepared by London’s most knowledgeable teams. So to celebrate this, they run an Oyster Master Class on the third Saturday of every month costing £65 per person. You get to experience different varieties of oyster, learn how to open and prepare them at home (without injury), and ultimately have some fun with a constantly filled glass of Champagne. Perfect if you fancy gaining a niche skill, but it also has excellent date potential *wink*.

Feeling smug as I left work early to go on a jolly to London, the smile soon disappeared when my train ditched its destination, abandoning all passengers in Swindon. Ugh. And then when I finally made it to Paddington an hour and a half later than planned, the bloody Bakerloo Line was closed. Double Ugh.


Fourty minutes late, having missed the start of the class, I was quickly introduced to Master Shucker Helio Garzon and thrust a much needed glass of Champagne and a variety of oysters. Instantly all was fine and my nightmare journey forgotten about. The class takes place at the long bar, so it's pretty relaxed anyway.

Catching up, I soon got up to speed on the difference between Native and Rock, knocking back a fair few of each. Natives are the flatter round shelled ones that are wild, and only harvested in certain months of the year (where the saying comes from that you should only eat shellfish during the months with an R in). Rock oysters are the tear drop shaped ones, which are quicker to grow, and farmed all over the UK.

Simply a squeeze of lemon and a crack of black pepper is how to best compliment the saline creatures. There's Tabasco and shallot vinegar if you really must, but I'm defos in the nearly naked camp; I want to taste the sea!

We then learnt how to shuck our own, with some success and some failure. Helio made it look so easy, but it certainly takes some guns to slide the knife into those shells. I'm pretty sure I was battling with mine for a good five minutes, though I'm assured I'll get quicker with practice. Anyway, with all digits still in tact, and countless oysters down, we then moved onto the different ways you can cook them.

Out came a selection of breads, of which the treacly Irish soda bread was the standout - no surprise with Richard Corrigan being the owner - and the seaweed butter really was the best I've had. We had wine to match too; a refeshing Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc. A classic fishy accompaniment, and with the richness of some of the cooked oysters, the acidity was spot on.

We were instructed to start with the Vietnamese; "cooked" like ceviche in its own spicy lime dressing with crispy shallots and teeny shoots of coriander. Probably a good choice for anyone who hasn't eaten oysters before and wants to try them; the texture's basically the same, but there's a bit hit of flavour to ease you in. Next I went for the one which was deep fried and served with a sizzling slice of chorizo and a squeeze of lime. Salty, smoky and tasty, but frying them is not quite my thing.

All the health benefits of an oyster had well and truly been eliminated with the one baked in garlic butter and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. YUM. And finally the Florentine, accompanied with wilted spinach and a citrusy, buttery hollandaise, was a hit with us all.

Feeling rather boozy and verging on having an oyster overdose, I left Bentley's with a swanky goody bag, which contained a stripy chefs apron, a shucking knife, Richard's recipe for an Oyster Croque Monsieur, and an Oyster Passport so you can make notes and keep tabs on what oysters you prefer. I'm hoping I'll be an expert in no time.

If you like the sound of Bentley's Master Class, then check on their website for dates and availability. It really was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in London, and I've even used my new shucking skills since... Helio would be proud.

‘A slice of old London, lovingly revived by people who really care about such things’ 
Tim Hayward, Financial Times

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