Jake O'Brien Murphy continues his quest to find the perfect bar snack - this time he ruminates on oysters.
In her 1941 book, Consider The Oyster, the American food writer M.F.K Fisher reminisced about the oysters her mother spoke of eating as a girl: “And Yet… Yet, those will always be, in my mental gastronomy, on my spiritual tastebuds the most delicious oysters I never ate.” I love that, it’s such a beautifully constructed little lullaby about the outer limits of human enjoyment. Full of the kind of tummy rumbling longing I often feel when I see a stranger with a Cornetto or when peering into a crowded restaurant window.
Anyway, M.F K Fisher knows her oysters, or she did, she’s dead now. Which is probably a good thing otherwise she’d be 114 and considering how many bivalves she seemed to gullet on any given day, she’d smell like a backed-up storm drain.
Oysters are odd little things, odd in the sense that something so inconsequential can be as divisive as a vote of no confidence. People either adore oysters with the doe-eyed enthusiasm of the clinically thick or regard them with face-puckering vitriol of the kind of unimaginative people who have sex with the lights off.
Growing up in a land-locked Northern town, I treated oysters with suspicion. As far as I was concerned they were the principal food of wealthy people with more surnames than chromosomes. My early suspicions still feel reasonable, after all, how could a rational person not be sceptical about slurping living snot out of a maritime toenail?
In its unadorned glory, the ritual of consumption relies on three simple things; oysters, a knife and the kind of hunger which makes a person take chances. After that, the various accoutrements - Tabasco, lemon wedges and various vinaigrettes are basically tinsel, pleasant but not essential.
Oysters are little self-contained reminders that the experience of eating can be vital, complex and vigorous. The perfect bar snack for certain moments. A few oysters taken in quick succession is my ultimate hangover cure. It won’t bring you back from the brink of death, but it’ll remind you why life is worth living. They are the gossamer spume of the wild ocean in digestible form, served with relative ease alongside a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and a pint of stout. The sheer, barefaced decadence of it; it feels like mastery over the elements themselves; like flicking Poseidon the Vs, the fishy, trident-waving bastard.
So imagine my delight when I heard A Bar With Shapes for A Name, or as I like to call it Shapey McShapeface, served oysters. While I was there I decided to reacquaint myself with the Pastel, CLASS Bar Awards Drink of the Year 2022. I’ve read a lot about this drink recently and having had it for the first time during lockdown I was immediately reminded of its mass appeal. Obviously, it’s clever but more importantly, it’s tasty, fizzy and cotton candy pink.
I’ve had enough terrible, clever, terrible drinks that I would genuinely surrender one of my few GCSEs just to scrub them from my memory. It’d be simple. Pop. There goes that C in Geography and metamorphic rock as well as that sonic-homogenised sotol milk punch which tasted like Brasso and sweaty grief. Where the Pastel is concerned however I don’t pretend to understand what recomposed lime is, nor does it matter, they could milk cats for all I care as long as the drink were to remain as tasty as it is. Flavour-wise, it’s ethereal and clean, in a way that’s best described as turbo-sherbet.
The Fine de Claire oysters were spiked with the recomposed lime, adding a prickle of that same hypothetical acidity as the Pastel. Not quite a flavour sensation I have ever experienced outside of the walls of Shapes. Here though it lends a high, discordant sharpness that sends the familiar off on an unexpected tangent like somebody blowing piercingly into a flute right in the middle of a Tom Petty song. On reflection, the recomposed lime was a perfect understudy for the classic mignonette, uplifting elements that would otherwise be muted, especially with these fruity little French baddies. The oysters, not the staff.
Each was served with pellets of diced cucumber, which add a satisfying crunch and lend a little textural counterpoint to the slippery, silver globs. I ate four, quicker than was probably polite. Then I sat and watched the geometric ice cubes melt in my glass and internally acknowledged that this article is a pretty flimsy excuse for me to stomp about being a pompous tit.