Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out and drinks
The Oyster club’s finest, served bloody-mary style
Tom discovers a seafood heaven hideaway – in Birmingham
The Oyster Club, a merry stroll from Birmingham’s New Street station, doesn’t exactly shout about its wares. The entrance is small and discreet, seeming more a back door to The Ivy upstairs rather than a restaurant in its own right. Inside, things are equally muted, albeit expensively so: five-star hotel beige with the odd splash of sombre blue.
But chairs are comfortable, tables marble-topped and the food rather more thrilling than the décor. Rigorous Covid precautions are very much in place, although plastic face visors do little to detract from the charm of the service. And the joy of being back in Brum.
Maybe I’m lucky, but I don’t think I’ve had a bad bite in Birmingham. The sublime Carters of Moseley. The ever-excellent Purnell’s. The inspired Opheem and the magnificent Shababs. Sure, it helps to have the advice of Balti legend Andy Munro. Plus the ever-reliable Meat And One Veg blog, Simon Carlo’s gloriously opinionated guide to local eating. Choose wisely and this city never lets you down.
The Oyster Club is the second restaurant from chef Adam Stokes, another local hero who also runs the Michelin-starred Adam’s a couple of streets away. Oysters, as you might expect, play a starring role, and we slurp and guzzle Jersey Rocks and Cornish Porthilly, half a dozen of each, pert, cool and blessedly bracing. Crab salad is clean and joyously fresh, with brittle shards of chicken skin scattered among all that snowy white flesh. A few specks of grapefruit add further zing. They know their way around the deep-fat fryer, too. Rings of Scottish squid wear a light, crisp, lime-scented batter jacket. And while king prawns are not strictly tempura (the batter is not quite diaphanous), they’re fat and sweet and lovely. Fish pie is generous and proper, all fat chunks of good salmon in lusciously creamy sauce.
Dover sole is as good as you’d find at Scott’s or Wiltons, but considerably cheaper. That’s not to say The Oyster Club is a bargain basement. You always have to pay for the finest fish, but with cooking this good, you don’t begrudge the cost. This is the piscine temple that Birmingham deserves. It’s the Bentley’s of Birmingham and about time, too.
About £40 per head, 43 Temple Street, Birmingham; the-oyster-club.co.uk
Drinks: Olly’s supermarket picks
It’s the season of tasting when I scour the supermarket shelves in the hope of offering wine fans the chance to wade into deliciousness. While reds suit autumn evenings, it pays to pick wines for what’s in season. With butternut squash in abundance, a brilliant Viognier pairs a charm. Italian whites are on song for refreshment but for a red fit for a roast, my wine of the week is a French blend that punches above its price.
Exquisite Collection South Australia Shiraz 2018 (14%), £5.79, Aldi. Great with beef, this hearty spicy red is powerful as well as a steal.
Taste the Difference Viognier 2019 (13%), £8, Sainsbury’s. If you love peaches and apricots, this is perfection – pair with butternut squash recipes.
Masseria Pietrosa Verdeca 2019 (12.5%), £8.25, Morrisons. Cascading refreshment and mellow texture – incredible with pasta and roasted veggies.
Finest Greco di Tufo 2019 (13.5%), £9, Tesco. Pink grapefruit meets pineapple in this bright Italian beauty. A good match for shellfish.
Wine of the week: Les Breloques Rouge 2018 (13%), £8, Co-op. Plush, soft and lush, this rich red is a world of comfort and class. Outstanding.