The last couple of months have been really rather self-indulgent for me. The remnants of a particularly glorious and assuaging “lobster” summer, devoted mostly to the pursuit of my favourite crustacean, has latterly given way to an autumnal surfeit of oysters, (if you can ever have such a thing) and one that I’ve relished every appetising mouthful of.
It all started back in September with an invitation to the British Oyster Opening Championships at Mark Hix’s Brewer St restaurant, where I was not only entertained by some of the fastest shuckers the country’s oyster houses can muster, but moreover treated to a temptation of native fish, that were to delight me in an indescribably satisfying way.
Next up came my recent foray to the beguiling and mesmerizingly beautiful Bohuslän coast of West Sweden, where once again I feasted, on an abundance of their own natives, of a virtually unmatchable and ozonous quality.
In between, the occasional half-dozen Pacific rocks have also found their way to my palate and then last week, very unexpectedly, but most agreeably, yet another invitation to Soho found its way to my inbox, in the form of a request for my attendance, once more in Brewer Street, but this time at the much acclaimed and venerated Randall & Aubin.
This well-established and incredibly popular seafood oasis in the middle of Soho’s vibrant dining scene, is the much-loved and oft-patronised brainchild of business partners Jamie Poulton and Ed Baines, who in their respective roles as MD and Chef Director have brought both collective and individual flair to a venue that combines a buzzing and ambient, metropolitan mood with a classy and eclectic, but eminently affordable menu.
Passionate about the environment and the traceable sourcing of their ingredients, the pair have capitalised on their customers’ needs for relaxed informality, but with an accent on quality and sustainability, tenets now firmly engrained in their ethos. With experience, both commercial and culinary on their side, this establishment is a fitting tribute to the their eponymous French predecessors, who traded there for decades, as high-class butchers and purveyors of associated salubrious fare, to their more affluent clients and none more so than Sir Winston Churchill.
Soho is a far cry from its sometime debauched and hedonistic past. However, the vibrancy remains and unfettered at that, exuding a captivatingly cosmopolitan charm and warmly inclusive character, that follows you in to this most welcoming of eateries and sits right down beside you.
The restaurant and bar area retain as much of the original shop features as is practicable, with the historic Gallic overtones pervading everything from the menu to the decor. Centre stage hangs the emblematic disco ball, an ever-present nod to the local, happening and racy, aura that constantly emanates from the pavement outside.
So oysters it was to be once more, as I sat chatting, in turn, to both partners, over an obligatory, accompanying glass of bubbles.
Almost half way through their self-styled Oyster Festival, the previous week had seen the kitchen turn out a tempting and fitting take on Tempura Oysters with a spicy Asian twist, succulent and satisfying with an additional delicate crunch. This week though, Ed had conjured up a true masterpiece. Suitably monikored and adopted by the restaurant as its own, their Oysters Randall deliver a triumph, that any true advocate of this much-adored bivalve, would deem inestimably worthy. The subtle flavour of the Jersey rocks, when blended with a modicum of wilted spinach, freshly peeled pink shrimps and a simple, but delicious, tarragon-infused velouté, becomes all the more pronounced, once dusted with parmesan, flashed under the grill and presented atop and embedded on a plate of rock salt, glistening and inviting and a wholly befitting formula for showcasing this seasonal sensation.
Take time now, to watch this short video of Ed as he prepares them and simply soak up the passion and ardour that this beautiful dish arouses.
Heaven in a shell, there’s simply no other way to describe it, and of course, once you’ve followed Ed’s lead in the above tutorial, comparatively easy to replicate at home. Stun and bid your guests marvel at an ostentatious, but ever so unpretentious, display of culinary flair. A half-dozen of these and your heart’s singing, a dozen down and as Ed, wryly observes “That’s when the fireworks start!”
The remaining two weeks of the R&A Oyster Festival, will have Ed submit his other two offerings that see the month out; the classically spicy, Oysters Kilpatrick, with pancetta and breadcrumbs, gracing the tables next and with a final flourish, the festival concludes with a Vietnamese-inspired finale of fresh oysters topped with salad and crispy fried garlic. An apposite demonstration of unbridled passion for a fish that is not only truly versatile, but captures the imagination and evokes the senses like no other inhabitant of our seas.
I might just go back next week…..