We’ve been big fans of The Oystermen ever since it opened in 2017 and now that the dining room has doubled in size we’re happy to spread the word even wider. Expansion, though, hasn’t dimmed the cosy charm of the brick-walled, bistro vibe, while the addition of a raw bar and counter is good news for solo diners – though you’ll need your sea legs to navigate the spiral staircase that winds down to the basement loos.
Owners Rob Hampton and Matt Lovell used to host oyster stands at markets and festivals and bivalves remain the duo’s passion, whether served up as an au naturel native or cooked in a tempura batter with Champagne aioli and smoked herring caviar.
But there’s more to The Oystermen than oysters. Dumpling-sized gnocchi come in a ragu enriched with brown crab meat and spiked with chilli. Smoky folds of Severn & Wye salmon, meanwhile, are draped over crème fraiche and blobbed with caviar – proof that when it comes to fish, simplicity is always a virtue.
To follow, a hefty tranche of stone bass adorned with Poole Bay cockles, charred sweetcorn and sea herbs is a colourful jumble of well-sourced ingredients, while a broth of mussels, chermoula and pak choy displays the confidence to cast the net beyond the British Isles when it comes to flavour.
Oysters aside, we reckon that the best thing to eat here are the seafoody snacks that can ordered instead of a starter: very smoky cod’s roe to smear all over crisp toast, or another piece of toast topped with a deliriously intense pile of salty anchovies and confit garlic.
Profiteroles, chocolate ganache and a plate of British cheese make up the trio of sweet and savoury puddings, while the Euro-leaning, white-leading wine list has been put together with an eye for the unusual and includes a notable selection of international sparkling wines, with 10 served by the glass.
Prices are reasonable given the central location and the fact that fresh fish is never going to be the cheapest of ingredients, while Hampton and Lovell are charming hosts and the rest of the staff are just as lovely. We wouldn’t bet against The Oystermen growing bigger still.