Saturday, 20 June 2009
The Company Shed, West Mersea
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
129 Coast Road
Tel 01206 382700