They say you should sing the first verse of the national anthem in your head after an oyster has been shucked to make sure you are not eating something still alive. That’s how long it takes the nervous system to expire. I didn’t need to do that as chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko is opening the oysters for me. It looks dangerous. If you want to DIY make sure you bring some plasters.
We are at Sheffield’s newest oyster bar, a couple of wooden counters underneath a mounted stag’s head in a corner of J H Mann, fishmongers, in Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield. Christian and his brother Danny haven’t made a song and dance about their new venture – wet fish is still the focus of the shop – but oysters are available Saturdays and on high days and holidays. They sold 300 at the last Sharrowvale Market.
If, as they say, oysters are an aphrodisiac (it’s all that zinc for men’s hydraulic systems) then it must have been quite an amorous Sunday afternoon after the market.
“We’ve been thinking about an oyster bar for some time,” says Christian, opening an oyster. It’s an art: the customer doesn’t want any shell and the juices should not be spilled. These are Colchester No 1 oysters, plump, juicy with just a touch of briny. We eat them with shallot vinegar. You need to chew not swallow to savour the taste.
You might also savour the price, just £1 an oyster. It’s £2.25 at Loch Fyne and while the surroundings are more comfortable (it’s a stand up job at Mann’s) they are less exotic. From where I am standing a hake is baring its teeth at me. I take its head home for stock.
“I don’t want to charge more than the normal price for oysters,” says Christian. It is early days and the bar has still to be finessed. If you order half a dozen you might well want some lemon and Tobasco. And a tipple. There will be an arrangement with local wine shop Starmore Boss a few doors away to purchase a glass of Chablis or whatever with your oysters.
The oysters are first class, really tasty, a good size. “This is the best time of year for them when the water is cold,” Danny points out.
It is not Sheffield’s first oyster bar. The Lyceum theatre had one, which also served champagne, in the Nineties but it was ahead of its time. They were still the drab days of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Now there’s not a better time to have one or a better site, just off Ecclesall Road with its trendy restaurant, shops and bars.
*Oysters are also usually available at the West 10 wine bar, Ranmoor.