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Menuwatch: Oystermen, London

03 November 2017 by
Menuwatch: Oystermen, London

A menu that focuses solely on fish and seafood transports this Covent Garden site to the coast, says Russell Brown

Covent Garden's Henrietta Street could be described as a curated collection of shops and restaurants, where international fashion brands dominate on the retail front and the restaurants are both eclectic and prolific.

It's a high-profile location just off the main market area, with well-known names such as Flat Iron, Frenchie and the Ivy Market Grill. The Covent Garden website states that: "The vision for Henrietta Street marries fashion with exciting new dining experiences", and newcomer to the street Oystermen is certainly adding to that excitement.

Matt Lovell and Rob Hampton (photo by Greg Funnell)
Matt Lovell and Rob Hampton (photo by Greg Funnell)

d chef at the 26-cover restaurant is Alex Povall, who joined the team for the opening from Angela Hartnett's Merchants Tavern. Povall began his career in his home town of Weymouth, where he worked at Moonfleet Manor, combining this with a day release course at Bournemouth and Poole College.

A two-year spell at then-Michelin-starred Sienna in Dorchester followed, before a move to Limewood in the New Forest. After a short period of agency work, Povall started at the Merchants Tavern and spent the next two and a half years with Hartnett's company, including working on the opening of Cafe Murano in Covent Garden.

Oysters are an important part of the offer, as you would expect, and the oyster bar is open all day, but the menu also features a wide range of seafood. This is Povall's first role in a wholly seafood-based restaurant, but having grown up on the coast, it is something he has always had a leaning towards. "Most of my cookbooks are fish or seafood based - I hadn't really realised that until recently," he says. "I've always enjoyed cooking seafood and this role has pushed me to widen my repertoire."

The open kitchen is tiny and the restaurant has been busy from day one, with the kitchen operating with a staff of four: Povall, sous chef Joel Ryan and two trainees. Another chef is due to join the team in the new year, which will free up a little more time for menu development.

Povall says: "It is hard to get new dishes on the menu, but we are really keen to keep the momentum going, and we do manage to change one or two items each week."

A current bestseller is Poole Bay skate wings, grilled on the plancha with beurre noisette, a warm salad of pickled treviso, hazelnuts and lardo, dressed with lemon, a little raw garlic and lardo fat. Tempura oysters are also selling well with their accompanying Champagne aÁ¯oli and caviar. Povall says: "The cooked oysters are popular. People order two to try and then order another one or two portions. That's exciting to see." The blackboard lists the sizes of the whole crabs that can be ordered, alongside the main courses, such as whole grilled plaice with samphire, capers and lemon.

Scorched Scottish mackerel
Scorched Scottish mackerel

e drinks list is fittingly small, but offers wines and beers that have been carefully selected to accompany the food. Three Champagnes, including a Croix Montjoie Crémant de Bourgogne, and 20 still wines are all available by the glass. Lovell and Hampton have also created an imperial oyster stout, Into the Deep, in collaboration with the Canopy Beer Co.

Hampton says: "When Matt and I were putting together the drinks list, we really wanted a focus on value and quality. For a long time we've been interested in 'grower' Champagnes, where it's all about innovations and variation but, almost always, backed up with quality, too. These wines continually impress us against the more uniform flavours of the grand marques, and provide our staff with a drinks offering that they really enjoy selling."

Excellent reviews from Giles Coren and Tom Parker-Bowles have been a boon, but the quality of the cooking, reasonable pricing and conducive atmosphere are no doubt the ingredients turning first-time visitors into regulars.

From the menu

Oysters

•Hot buffalo oysters (two) £6.50

•Oysters lardo (two); caramelised lardo, parsley, garlic, black pepper £7

Snacks

•Crispy cayenne Cornish mussels £4

•Smoked cods' roe, lavash £4

•Devon crab claw meat beignet, lemon £4

Starters

•Seared Penzance squid, smoked paprika, almonds, green olives £10

•Dressed Devon crab salad; charred Baby Gem, marie-rose sauce £11.50

Mains

•The Oystermen stout-battered coley bap, tartare sauce, pickles, Old Bay chips £13

•Cornish hake, grilled polenta, tomato and pepper salsa, hazelnuts £16

Oystermen, 32 Henrietta Street,

London WC2E 8NA

http://oystermen.co.uk

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