Oysters – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. They're like the marmite of seafood, dividing the crowd massively. Some people simply adore the way the morsel-sized blobs, nestled in their rough shells, literally taste like the sea when you swallow them whole. Dress them with a few drops of tabasco or perhaps some sharp and acidic pickled onion or a squeeze of lemon, and they're even better.
Others cannot stand oysters, claiming their slimy consistency and wobbly appearance are too much to handle. We assume you’re not one of these guys though, seeing that you’re reading this article, and we also assume you’re on the hunt for some good-quality variants, so read on to find out what restaurants to track down for the very best oysters London has to offer.
The old saying goes that you should only eat oysters in the months whose name contains an ‘r’. While that might be true for native oysters, which spawn over the summer months and are at their best when the water is at its coldest, you can eat rock oysters all year round – yay! So whether you’re a native aficionado in search of the best bivalves to knock back raw, or you’re dipping your toe in the water with a cooked rock oyster, here’s our guide to the pearls of London’s oyster scene.
Pearl of wisdom: Not only do you have a bird’s eye view of Old Billingsgate Market on the other side of the Thames from the 31st floor of The Shard, you can follow the river all the way down to the fish market’s current location at Canary Wharf. Toast the occasion with Aqua Shard’s Colchester rock oyster gratin with mousseline sauce, parsley crumb and foraged sea herbs.
Where: Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY
Pearl of wisdom: Oysters are expertly shucked by long-serving staff who have a genuine passion for what they’re serving at this 103-year-old Richard Corrigan restaurant. Expect to see the likes of expertly sourced Galway natives alongside rock oysters baked with garlic at Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill. Try two native oysters, two rock oysters and a glass of Champagne for £18.
Where: 11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG
Pearl of wisdom: The courtyard at Chiltern Firehouse (fondly nicknamed Chiltz) is the easiest way to score a walk-in table at the celebrity mecca and the presence of an oyster cart, manned by oyster expert Bobby Groves, only adds to the breezy appeal. Groves intends always to have three native oysters available until the end of the season in April.
Where: 1 Chiltern Street, W1U 7PA
Pearl of wisdom: Eating oysters in Mayfair needn’t mean taking out a second mortgage. At the Swallow Street outpost of this fishmonger-cum-seafood restaurant, oysters go for £3 a pop, or you can get six for £16 or 12 for £32. Wash it all down with a glass of Champagne for £12. Choose between Jersey, Carlingford or fine de claire prestige oysters from Morecambe Bay.
Where: 7-9 Swallow Street, W1B 4DE
Pearl of wisdom: As a Dorset native himself, it’s not surprising that British food champion Mark Hix is a fan of British oysters. Partner your bivalve with a bottle of Hix Oyster Ale for the full experience. Once a year, Hix Oyster & Chop House holds its annual oyster celebration, with guest chefs and oyster experts on hand for a series of talks and tastings and oysters from £1 a pop.
Where: 36-37 Greenhill Rents, EC1M 6BN
Pearl of wisdom: Arguably London’s most famed fish restaurant, J Sheekey is a reliable spot to see London’s most famous faces from the West End stage. A plate of mixed oysters with spicy sausage makes a good introduction to oysters. And who says oysters need to be expensive? Here you can have six Jersey pearls with a glass of Champagne for £19.75.
Where: 33-34 St Martin’s Court, WC2N 4AL
Pearl of wisdom: This tiny oyster and seafood specialist has proved such a hit that it is doubling in size by expanding into the premises next door. Delicious trios of cooked oysters makes The Oystermen a great place to try the molluscs without having to eat them raw, while bargain hunters should try the oyster happy hour: six rock oysters and a glass of sparkling wine for an amazing £10, 3-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Where: 32 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8NA
Pearl of wisdom: Established in 1996, Brewer Street’s seafood mainstay, Randall & Aubin, is classic Soho: cool, relaxed, a tad cramped and buzzing with life. Seafood fans will appreciate the overflowing displays of shellfish on ice, while a dedicated oyster menu is supported by Randall & Aubin Champagne by the glass priced at £12.50.
Where: 16 Brewer Street, W1F 0SQ
Pearl of wisdom: Oysters are served as part of the jazz lunch at the Rex Whistler restaurant at Tate Britain. Every Saturday until 28 September, a live band will play jazz and blues on the gallery’s terrace lawn while diners tuck into rock oysters, eggs benedict, Yorkshire lamb and lemon meringue.
Where: Tate Britain, Millbank, SW1P 4RG
Pearl of wisdom: A sparkling crustacea bar glistening with fresh produce forms the seafood altar at the centre of celebrity hangout Scott’s. Choose between either six or a dozen oysters starting from £14.75 for six Jersey Pearls or up to £52 for a dozen of the French-coast Gillardeau ones. Feeling adventurous? How about a tempura fried oyster with yuzu avocado cream and shiso salsa?
Where: 20 Mount Street, W1K 2HE
Pearl of wisdom: Wilton’s received its first royal warrant to supply Queen Victoria with oysters in 1868 – and if it’s good enough for the royal family, it’s good enough for us. Learn all about oysters with an oyster masterclass on the first Monday of the month, starting from September when oyster season begins.
Where: 55 Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6LX
Pearl of wisdom: With its striking marble oyster bar at the centre, this Wright Brothers branch (there are various others across London, too) sets expectations swimmingly high. The native oysters are top-notch, but our favourite thing to eat here is the smoked Carlingford Lough rock oyster, served with crackers and horseradish cream.
Where: 8a Lamb Street, E1 6EA
Pearl of wisdom: Headed up by seafood king and Cornwall champion Nathan Outlaw, it’s no wonder Siren dishes up some of London’s best seafood, including oysters. Outlaw has put Dooncastle oysters on the menu, and six of them are yours for £24. You can also get your oyster fix in the form of crispy oysters with cabbage and an oyster salad cream.
Where: The Goring, 15 Beeston Place, SW1W 0JW
Pearl of wisdom: Touting itself as an oyster bar (among other things), Darby’s wife and husband Sarah and Robin Gill founders have made oysters into a focus at their new Nine Elms restaurant. The central bar, filled to the brim with either Black Water Wild or Dooncastle oysters, is a prime example of it – so is the weekday happy hour of a pint of Guinness and six oysters for £10, between 5pm and 7pm.
Where: 3 Viaduct Gardens Road, Embassy Gardens, SW11 7AY
Pearl of wisdom: Not just another Soho cocktail bar, Swift has some serious pedigree. It’s ‘bar snack’ of oysters is nothing new, but a recently introduced Oyster Hour (between 3pm and 6pm) sees punters getting a Martini and two oysters for £12 – all served with lemon, tabasco and shallot and chilli vinegars. Outside of this, oysters go for £3.50 a pop or six for £18 and 12 for £32.
Where: 12 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TQ
Pearl of wisdom: This old-school Mayfair restaurant hides behind a pub façade, but within is a place where black waistcoat-clad waiters serve you on tables with white tablecloths. There are pubby features at The Guinea Grill, though, such as pints of Guinness served with native and rock oysters, served daily for more than 50 years.
Where: 30 Bruton Place, W1J 6NL
Pearl of wisdom: Bibendum (named after the Michelin tyre company’s mascot) is a prime spot for oysters, especially in its ground-floor seafood and champagne bar, where Dungarven, Morecambe Bay, Jersey, Oyster Regal and Gillardeau oysters are up for grabs. Wash them all down with heaps of Champagne for a truly lavish experience.
Where: Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD
Pearl of wisdom: Not just a fish & chips shop, Sutton & Sons still operates as a fishmonger, so you can expect the freshest oysters here. Seeing that they’re coming straight from the source, too, they’re not badly priced, with six Maldon oysters going for under £9.
Where: 356 Essex Road, N1 3PD
Pearl of wisdom: This might be an old-time east-end boozer, but with oysters as bar snacks, you know Well and Bucket fits in well with the cool Shoreditch crowd. A platter of Morecambe Bay rock oysters comes prettily assembled with shallot vinegar – choose between six for £14 or a dozen for £28. Traditionally enjoyed with stouts and beers, wash your oysters down with one of the pub’s many draughts.
Where: 143 Bethnal Green Road, E2 7DG
Still feeling fishy? Swim on over to our list of the best fish restaurants in London (sorry).