Restaurant Review: The Wine & Oyster Bar at The Crystal Palace Market
I had always felt a little ostracised from the world of gourmet having never tried oysters before – despite having a complete infatuation with and anti-discrimination policy against all types of food throughout my life.
Considering I’m an enormous seafood fan, I knew that it was time to tick this one off of my bucket list, by reaching my hand toward the ice-filled bucket once and for all. The new wine and oyster bar at the Crystal Palace Market seemed like a good place for me to start.
The quaint oyster hub is managed by Fabien Joly – owner of the fine cheese company French Comte whom sells produce to the likes of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons and Selfridges. He greets me at the tall, wooden table where I’ve pulled up my bar stool and tells me that I’ve come just in time for September’s oyster season. To understand that I’ve timed this occasion coincidentally with when the best produce is available eases my apprehension about diving into these uncharted, salty waters.
The oyster and wine bar is conveniently located next door to the already established Crystal Palace Market restaurant known already for its quality seafood. The sister eatery previously stood as a butcher and fishmongers and the bar has retained an authentic charm with previous features used such as the tiles and furniture including the oyster bar, butchers block and cheese room still in tact. I’m into it.
We start with a platter of six oysters planted on a plaque of crushed, mountainous ice. Three oysters from Carlingford in Ireland and three from Maldon in Essex. The Irish offerings were considerably larger and appeared jewel encrusted. A stony, surface cratered with the most royal of colours – claret, navy and metallic silver. The outer crust cradled their prized, slippery offspring, like royal babies in their mangers – like something you might’ve seen Disney’s Hercules sleeping in before he plummeted to earth.
I assume the thing that has always put me off trying oysters, having not psycho-analysed myself too deeply, is the fact that they are best served cold. I’m far more accustomed to seafood of the cooked variety.
I chug one. First the Maldon oysters as they are slightly smaller – the training-wheels of oysters – as I am in no mood to regurgitate any sort of food onto a newly refurbished table tonight. I chew a couple of times and swallow virtually whole, as instructed by Fabien. They are salty, rich and moreish, meaty and succulent. I could have eaten 30. Is this what a six-figure salary tastes like? Because if so, I need a pay rise.
The Maldon Oyster Company was first established in 1960 and was originally run as a cooperative between several local fishermen, under the leadership of Clarrie Devall. Maldon Rock Oysters today are grown on their own farms in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex and boast a distinct flavour due the salt marshes where they are grown.
In contrast, the Carlingford oysters are left entirely up to nature to determine the flavour in each oyster. The beastly sizes of these ones are because it takes over three years to grow a Carlingford to market size.
Now, lets talk about the texture of oysters, because I know that’s an aspect of eating oysters that puts a lot of people off. Hear me out. There’s absolutely no denying that oysters are slippery buggers (not to imply connotations to phlegm, of course) and that can be an unnerving thought having to swallow them whole, especially considering the size of the Irish oysters. I believe that oyster-phobia is down to unsympathetic wording – ‘buggers’ being a perfect example. The feeling of eating oysters to me felt silky as opposed to slimy. They were indulgent and meaty, as opposed to chewy. Sure, they are an acquired taste for many, but having begun with such beautiful quality, I’m now very much camp oyster.
The wine and oyster bar also offered a beautiful board of cheeses and cured meats, which I’ve never been known to turn down before and I wasn’t about to start now – especially given Fabien’s cheese credentials.
This is most certainly a highlight to their rightfully minimalistic menu. The board presented a collection of handpicked artisan meats and cheeses served alongside walnuts, pickles, relish and a choice of bread or savoury crackers.
This is an evening of grazing. I slice slithers of Comte and layer onto a cracker with a dressing of sweet chutney. I pinch off a chunk from a cloud of Val de Loue and spread that onto crusty bread. I’m very much enjoying attempting to understand all the different flavours and arguing with myself over which cheese or slice of beef I prefer, and of which best compliments my glass of Pino Grigio.
When I say that oysters have changed my life I don’t say that lightly, because it’s a well-known fact that food is intrinsically linked to my emotional welfare. If you’re searching for the ideal place in London to indulge this oyster season, it would be criminal for you not to visit the Crystal Palace Market’s wine and oyster bar. You owe it to yourself, oyster connoisseurs everywhere and to the state of your emotional welfare to try it out.
The Wine and Oyster bar is open for action on Thursday, 6pm – 11pm; Friday 4pm – midnight; Saturday 12pm – midnight and from 12pm to 10pm on Sundays.