On Wednesday 6th November, Boisdale of Bishopsgate celebrated the history of its premises by hosting the Boisdale & Wright Brothers Oyster Championship 2019, held in association with The City of London Distillery. Formerly Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill (1969-2001) the event saw two varieties of British and French oysters go head-on in a taste-off duel, supplied by seafood experts, Wright Brothers, whose wholesale business supply over 300 prominent restaurants and chefs across the UK with a range of high quality, sustainable oysters, fish and seafood (including their own five London restaurants).
Hosted by renowned bon viveur, writer and chef, Bill Knott, with Wright Brothers owners Ben Wright and Robin Hancock on hand to guide the judges through the tasting, this prestigious event saw the gathering of some of the industry’s most talented chefs, top sommeliers, influential food writers and oyster enthusiasts – I think I just about border on being considered an ‘oyster enthusiast’, although I do hope that my readers out there do find some of my writing and reviews somewhat ‘influential’. It was only about 7 years ago that I became an oyster ‘convert’, during my early days exploring London when I became more adventurous in exposing my palate to a wider range of delicacies. I had my first taste at Partridges Market and didn’t suffer from diarrhoea, which is always a positive start (!).
The invitation indicated to dress ‘for a long lunch’, and I had contemplated strutting my best stretchy trousers, but instead decided on a black slip dress – long enough to look autumn-appropriate, and dark enough to conceal any accidental spillage of oyster liquor.
Shucking off at midday, the blind tasting was divided into two categories: Pacifics (also known as Rock oysters) and Natives, sourced from eight producers. Each of us were handed a clipboard with scoresheets (serious business, this was) and as the tasting commenced, a flurry of hands started diving into each tray accompanied by some rather pensive looks and frantic note-scribbling. There was a selection of condiments on the side, but it’s always best to enjoy them au naturale with their liquor, allowing you to concentrate on their genuine flavours and get a taste of the sea from where they originated. I discreetly scored each oyster based on my personal taste, not yet quite accustomed with the technicalities, but was glad that I shared similar favourites with some of the other judges. What I do know is that swallowing is very much frowned upon (let’s not stray away from the current subject!), and it is advised to chew (once or twice) to truly savour the flavours and textures. I’m glad that I had done some research beforehand on oyster etiquette to avoid looking like a total amateur.
After about an hour of tasting and scoring (and almost 1,000 oysters shucked!) we proceeded downstairs to enjoy a spectacular lunch created by Head Chefs Richard Kirkwood of Wright Brothers and Andy Rose of Boisdale. The seafood-focused menu was perfectly executed by Boisdale of Bishopsgate Head Chef Robert Kavara, and paired with delicious French wines supplied by Berry Bros. & Rudd.
The starters included a sharing selection of moreish Brixham cuttlefish croquettes with an aioli dip, sweet pickled herrings, Devonshire dressed crab, and Native Hebridean smoked salmon accompanied by slices of St. John Bakery sourdough – an appetizing selection paired with a zesty glass of 2017 Chablis, Les Allées du Domaine. The main was an absolutely stunning piece of Brixham John Dory, delicately poached and served on a bed of Scottish chanterelles, leeks, Ayrshire bacon, finished with a creamy vin jaune sauce, and accompanied by a glass of 2017 Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse.
Whilst we enjoyed our long lunch alongside an ample amount of wine (as you would on a Wednesday afternoon) there was obviously some more serious tallying up of scores happening behind-the-scenes, the clink of a glass that reverberated through the speakers signalled the much awaited results announcement.
The winners were as follows:
Native Gold Medal: Belon – Cadoret Brittany – supplied by Les Huitres Cadoret
Rock Gold Medal: Gillardeau Ile d’Oléron – supplied by Maison Gillardeau
Rock Silver Medal: Speciales – Cadoret Riec-sur-Belon – supplied by Les Huitres Cadoret
Rock Bronze Medal: Morecambe Bay Lancashire – supplied by Loch Fyne Oyster
Despite the majority of British supporters and hopefuls in attendance, it was a clean sweep for France! There was also a Lifetime Achievement Award that was awarded to a third generation Jersey oyster farmer Chris Le Masurier (now one of the largest oysters farms in the UK, and the first oyster farm to be accredited by the ASC and has led the way in promoting sustainable oyster farming), whilst chef, restaurateur and journalist Rowley Leigh was crowned Oyster Champion 2019.
You may have read my previous write-up that touched on sustainability, hence continuing on that note, farmed oysters are one the most sustainable sources of protein on the planet and are an incredible keystone species that play a huge role in managing our oceans and coastlines – some of which include filtering seawater to help the ocean stay in balance, and capturing CO2 to reduce the acidity of seawater (too much acid makes it harder for shellfish to grow shells). Just some of the many reasons to celebrate this humble mollusc and an affirmation on why we need more oysters in our lives!
Finishing off on a savoury note with some British cheese (Sheep Rustler, Somerset) and a glass of vibrant red 2018 Beaujolais Villages Les Vignes de Lantignié, the afternoon drew to an end as I knocked back a glass of The City Negroni before sashaying on (in perfectly sober form) to my next rooftop destination for an evening of Austrian Après Ski Bar-inspired shenanigans.
- I was invited as a guest – views and photos are my own.