Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Company Shed, West Mersea

Company Shed sign

We arrived at The Company Shed in West Mersea at 11.30am on a bright but cloudy Saturday, having managed to navigate our way across the tidal pass. We were immediately struck by the “other-worldly” feel of the island – every other house seemed to be either having a yard sale or was a boat that had got lost and decided it preferred a less nautical life.

We put our names down on the list and waited with an assortment of grannies and fellow piscine tourists. We waited for an hour and a half as elderly women pushed past us and hyperactive tourists tried to queue jump. I couldn’t stand the tense atmosphere so left Cowie to stand firm as I went snooping around the back where they boil the lobsters and crab. My chat with the crab boiler was quite revealing.

Crab boiler

I had, naively, assumed that all the seafood was fiercely local. So when I heard that the razor clams and scallops are from Scotland, the mussels are from New Zealand, the prawns are from India and Madagascar, the crabs are from Devon and the lobsters are often from Canada I was, to put it mildly, surprised. The fish is all local, as are the oysters. I was given a guided tour of their lobster tanks and marvelled at the iridescent blue coat of the English lobsters which made the Canadian imposters seem very drab in their brown jackets.

Lots of crabs

 Lobster 2

Crab shell close

Crab claw close

Another half an hour past before Cowie led the charge. Tired of seeing groups of four pushing past us we commandeered our table and watched the group who tried to leapfrog us weasel off with their tales between your legs. We did the honourable thing and ordered as much seafood as our formica covered table could hold. It required us to jettison the water, wine and salad to the floor in order to make space for the good stuff.

Our seafood platter for four was sensational. Whelks, prawns with their shells on and off, langoustine, crab and green lipped mussels adorned our table.


Shell on prawns


Crab claw

The crab was particularly good. Sweet, meaty and full of depth – it was majestic. And only let down by the mayonnaise which, whilst not being bad, didn’t cut the mustard. We longed for the rich, yellow gunge that the savvy table next door had brought along - our fault for not being prepared.

A plate of gigas rock oysters from Richard Haward’s oyster beds caused a stir. Anna had only ever had one oyster before and Edwin has a passionate hatred of them, for no other reason than he has never eaten them before. Anna devoured her second ever oyster with enough gusto to convince Edwin to have a crack too. But judging by the look of shock and disgust on his face, he is unlikely to come back for more. Which is good news for the rest of us! They were creamy and tasted unmistakably of the sea. Natives, rather than rocks, are served when the orbs are aligned.


We shared half of an English lobster which was so amazing it almost made me stand up and shout “Bravo! Encore!” Thank God I didn’t. Not only would it have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it would have also added £14 to our bill! But seafood this good has narcotic powers.


Tangerine, orange smoked salmon and less garish smoked mackerel were decent, but not in the same league as their shelled cousins.

Smoked fish

A bowl of poor man’s asparagus was sensational. It added texture, seasoning and colour to our mixture of browns, beige and pink. On our pre-lunch, time killing seaside walk, we had spotted well grazed samphire plants sitting in pools of salty mud. It was a joy to tuck into something so local.


We loved our lunch – even more so because it only cost us £60. The atmosphere was fun and informal. And the seafood was deliciously un-messed around. Malden sea salt was at home in it's natural hunting ground, but, sadly, powdered black pepper and bland mayonnaise didn’t do the fish justice.

I arrived thinking that all the fish and seafood was going to be from local waters but the fact that it isn’t seems odd. I can't help feeling that seaside seafood sheds should be serving the stuff they've just caught, rather than flying it in from far flung corners of the world. Maybe this is very naive on my part. It's not going to stop us returning, armed with our own pepper mill, some fresh mayonnaise and a jar of shallot vinegar.

Fresh fish

129 Coast Road
West Mersea
Tel 01206 382700


goodshoeday said...

I didn't realise loads of the seafood there wasn't local - puts me of wanting to go.

You are going to be in heaven when you are on Suffolk trip as lobsters and crab at sheds are definitely local. Remember to take the mayonnaise - may favourite ready made jar is Stokes (made in suffolk)

Browners said...

Thanks for the advice. I am looking forward to Suffolk enormously. It's going to be a great trip.

Tom Haward said...

Hi there. We try to get as much locally sourced produce as possible, but unfortunately some of the local produce simply isn't good enough or seasonal. Local crabs are not very good and local lobsters are only in season during the summer.

Prawns are scarce in English waters with many attempts (by friends) to fish for prawns and shrimps, but failing for lack of stock in local waters.

English mussels aren't in season until October, so we get NZ ones.

We get what we can from local source and if we can't then we buy in the best quality we can find.

Unfortunately many places can 'imply' their stuff is local when it isn't. Seafood's a funny thing, with shellfish particularly erratic in quality and abundance throughout England. Our oysters will always be of the highest quality, as will the fish from local boats. It's an ongoing challenge for us though, to find other shellfish locally. We get the best of what can find from other places.

Thought I'd comment as I'm very proud of what we do supply and want our customers to know we try very hard to supply as much locally sourced seafood as we can.

Kind regards,

Tom. (Son of The Company Shed's owner.)

Browners said...

Hi Tom - Thanks very much for commenting. We had a wonderful time and all I wanted to do was mention that it is a shame that some of the seafood had to be sourced from such a long way away.

I appreciate that fish stocks vary with the seasons. But I guess my expecations were that all the fish was going to be local (or at least from the UK). This is as much a factor of my having high hopes, the location and informal set up. I was relatively naive. And travelled all that way in order to be in the setting where all the sea food came from.

As I said, we're looking forward to returning (if you'll have us). When's the best time of year to come for local seafood?



Tom Haward said...

Glad you enjoyed it Jonathan. I guess the best time to come for local produce (and less queues!) would be October - November. Colchester Native oysrters are in season (I can't wait...) and English mussels will be available too, so you can have a nice big bowl of hot ones.

We'll also be opening in the evenings too, supplying much more cooked, local fish from the local boats.

Of course we'll have you back! It's good to see people chatting about us on the blogsphere! I'll introduce myself next time you come in.

Enjoy Suffolk.


Browners said...

Thanks Tom - we'll try to pop in sometime during the October-November season. Cheers


Jenny said...

This has to be my favourite place to eat. We've been going there for years, since we moved to essex really in 1997. Although back as a young teenager i lacked the passion for seafood and simply ate the prawns and smoked salmon, where as these days i'll eat the lot with the exception of raw oysters, don't mind them cooked though.

I've never found a place that is such good value and with such an atmosphere, even the place at southwold harbour couldn't beat it in my view. I remember when we first went there none of the plates & cutlery matched, let alone the just the glasses, as it is these days. It just all adds to that rustic atmosphere - if you like that sort of thing. Just remember to listen out for the cries of "Traffic Warden!" if you're parked on the roadside during the summer!

Browners said...

@Jenny - You are very lucky to have the Company Shed as a local. We really enjoyed it too. We almost got done by the traffic warden but managed to escape just in time.

Jenny said...

depends if you count an hour and a half drive as local...... don't get there anywhere near as often as i'd like but it makes it all the more enjoyable when we do go i guess. I certainly make sure its an annual event at least!


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