It's a month without an "R", and in the Northern Hemisphere, it's traditionally a good time to eat oysters. As a child, my parents attempted to feed me oysters, and I tried chewing away with little result other than to put me off eating them for years. It was only a few years ago that I tried oysters again, extremely good oysters... and I've been hooked ever since. So when I heard that Le Cafe Anglais was holding an oyster shucking lesson, I asked my fellow foodie, Aussie Foodie, to join me.
Wright Bros Oyster and Porter House provided both the oysters and the expertise. There were oysters from England, Ireland, Scotland and France. I've watched a friend struggle to shuck oysters before, but having an expert show me how to hold the oyster in a tea towel protecting my hand, then apply pressure at the mouth of the oyster with a wiggling-twisting motion, I found it surprisingly easy to open my first oyster.
Platters were set out for those who would rather sit back and enjoy the action from a distance (Aussie Foodie!), with traditional dressings of shallots in red wine vinegar, lemon wedges and green and red Tabasco. I tried all the toppings, but lemon with red Tabasco is still my favourite. You could really tell a difference in the regionality of the oysters, with a variety of textures, sizes and meatiness - I think the French were my favourites this time around, but I'm looking forward to a trip to Colchester soon for the local variety.
Our plan to have the set menu of mussels, salad, chips and dessert was unsuccessful - after gorging on at least 8 oysters each, the last thing we wanted was more shellfish! I insisted Aussie Foodie try the delicious Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toast, which I raved about in a previous blog post from my visit last year - and it didn't disappoint, with the savory creaminess being perfectly balanced by the salty soldiers.
We sipped away on an amazing cocktail - a vodka martini that had been infused with Earl Grey tea, added depth was provided by an orange liqueur... and it was absolutely knock-your-socks off brilliant. Possibly the best ever martini I've ever tasted... and I'll be trying to recreate this at home.
Rowley Leigh, head chef and proprietor, had suggested we try the Pike Boudin with Fines Herbes for our starter. I'm so glad he did, as this was my favourite dish of the day. (We shared courses in deference to both our wallets and our waist-lines). A mousse-like sausage in a hollondaise-esq sauce that had a subtle bite. I incorrectly thought the piquancy was from mustard, but it turned out to be from Tabasco. The crumbed top added a crunchy contrast to the texture of the sausage, which really finished it off nicely. And there was not a drop of sauce left on the plate when we finished!
Le Cafe Anglais has a range of wines offered by glass, small carafe and large carafe that are priced at the relevant percentage of the bottle (i.e. without further mark-ups), as it makes it easier to match wines with the courses.
Time for dessert. Le Cafe Anglais does great dessert. I'd hoped the chocolate souffle with pouring chocolate that I'd envied from across the room on my last visit was still on the menu, but as more of a wintery dish, I'll just have to return again. We went for the Queen of Puddings instead. A lemon curd and sponge with a thin layer of raspberry topped with delightful meringue... one of the better meringues I've had in a long time. Utter deliciousness! Had to be matched with the stickyness of a Monbazillac (2006 Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure) of course.
I've not been blown away by the mains at Le Cafe Anglais - possibly from poor choice on my behalf. But perhaps when I next return, and I will, I'll stick to the hors d'oeuvres, starters and desserts - there's certainly enough deliciousness and choice amongst them to keep me well fed.
PS. Will you forgive me for the pun in the title? I couldn't resist!