Before I start a nationwide panic I should say that I am referring to The Loch Fyne Oysters at Cairndow and not the nationwide chain of Loch Fyne Oyster Bars!
After days of snow, ice rain and wind Saturday dawned bright and clear and from my kitchen window I could see Ben Lomond capped with snow in the distance. The highlands were calling!
The roads were dry and the driving was easy as I headed north across the ErskineBridge and on through Dumbarton to the shores of Loch Lomond. From there it was on up to Tarbet and across to Arrochar and onwards along the A83 towards Rest and Be Thankful, though as I approached the climb up to Rest and Be Thankful there was a sanity check with a car lying upside down beside the road, a victim of a patch of ice which had formed where water had being draining across the road and frozen. Driving more carefully I made my way towards the summit, working my way through the road works which seem to be a permanent feature of this road where landslips regularly close this vital link to the west and north of Highland Scotland. At the summit I turned off along the B828 heading for Lochgoilhead and then turning off before reaching Lochgoilhead and heading along the B839 for the Dunoon road before rejoining the A83 for Cairndow and Inverary. Apart from giving a quieter and more scenic route to Loch Fyne my real purpose was to prospect for some new locations for taking photos along the streams and in the oak woods that are so much a feature of this route and while I found some good sites they will have to wait another month or two as the winter sun is still too low to reach into the deep valley bottoms to make photography really worth while. However, while I wasn’t to get any new pictures I was at least assured some oysters once I reached the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. However, as I approached the shop the normally busy car park was almost deserted and the restaurant was clearly empty! Heading into the shop the reason soon became apparent the restaurant was indeed closed while the shop was preparing to close on Sunday in preparation for a two month long refit. The plan is that they will reopen in time for Easter. Luckily I had got there just in time and they still had oysters though I am at a loss as to know what I am going to do for the next two months!
Clearly I will be counting the days not only for my regular supply to be re-established (mail order is still a possibility for the whole Loch Fyne range but at this stage at least ordering half a dozen oysters by mail order would seem a little decadent even for me!). It is also going to be very interesting to se how the remodelling works out. It has always seemed to me that both the shop and the restaurant fail to make the full use of their potential and while there is no doubt the demand for a full formal restaurant (the place is always busy) I think that there is an opportunity for a brasserie style restaurant offering a wide range of small dishes (just as Harvey Nichols does at their Forth Floor restaurant in Edinburgh) backed up by an extended range of products, especially seafood, in the shop. Anyway we will just have to wait and see.
Meanwhile I carried my oysters home and had a very special brunch of oysters au naturale together with a dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon accompanied by a few slices of Ciabatta and a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc.
I tend to find that people either love them or loath them but for me oysters are an all time favourite and a perfect late brunch accompanied by a dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon juice together with some slices of fresh bread (butter optional) and of course a glass or two of crisp white wine; a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is ideal or for a really special occasion a dry champagne! I suspect that oysters are more frequently eaten in restaurants than at home and there are certainly many great seafood bars and restaurants in Britain including Riddle & Finns in Brighton Randall & Aubin in Soho or for somewhere really special try the J Sheekey Oyster Bar in Covent Garden and off course there are the Loch Fyne Restaurants which are now found widely throughout the UK. Alternatively if you are flying there are always the Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bars which provide a tranquil oasis combined with a touch of luxury before you board your budget airline flight! In all of these place oysters perform a star role but they are so easy they should be not only for restaurants after all there is no cooking!
Oysters all too frequently have a bad reputation being associated with food poisoning but if you get them from a reputable supplier who has a high turn over and a reputation for quality and freshness the risks are no greater than for any other uncooked food. In Spain, Portugal and France finding top quality oysters is easy with even the large supermarkets such as Auchan having superb fish counters but in the UK you are best finding a specialist fish monger. The Pacific Rock Oyster is the most widely available oyster in the UK but it is possible to find the native oyster especially in the south of the UK; though I must confess that I actually prefer the rock oyster but my all time favourite are the French Fines de Claire. Whatever sort of oyster you end up getting you are always faced with one seeming “insurmountable problem” i.e. how to open them! There are countless tools and even chain mail gloves that you can buy to protect yourself during the process but the chances are that you already posses the best possible tool; namely a small screwdriver!
OYSTERS AU NATURALE
Prep time 15 minutes Cook time n/a Total time 15 minutes
6 Oysters per person
1 Lemon cut into large wedges
Tabasco sauce (McIlhenny Co.)
Bread – a French stick or Ciabatta loaf is ideal.
Crushed ice (optional)
Oysters are best eaten the day they are bought but they can be kept for up to 24 hours in the fridge. As with mussels if any of the oysters are not tightly closed when you come to use them they should be discarded.
Rinse the oysters under the cold tap and use a stiff brush to remove any loose pieces of shell, grit, etc then place in a colander to drain.
To open the oysters place each oyster in turn on a wooden chopping board with the flat side facing uppermost. Holding the oyster firmly in one hand work the point of the screwdriver into the hinge at the pointed and of the shell and then lever the shell open. Once the shell has opened a little hold it open with your forefinger and thumb and slide the blade of a small sharp knife between the two shells so as to cut the abductor muscle that holds the two shells together.
Remove the flat top shell and place on a serving plate (see photos), this will help stop the lower shells containing the oysters and the liquor from tipping over. Alternatively use crushed ice to form a bed upon which to arrange the oysters.
Then use the tip of the knife to remove any broken flakes of shell which have fallen into the lower shell containing the oyster and arrange on the serving plate.
Add a couple of lemon wedges to the plate, serve with Tabasco sauce, freshly cut bread and butter together with a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc.