(Terry Dactyl & The Dinosaurs)
It was our wedding anniversary, I was not working, so decided to take my lovely lady out for a special lunch. We’re both fond of seafood and she enjoys fish, so I decided to try somewhere different. We headed out to West Mersea in Essex, about an hour’s drive from us, and while it’s not quite the back of beyond, you can almost see it from there!
A word of caution about Mersea Island- it’s accessible by a causeway that floods at high tide, okay, not by much or for long, but you need to factor tide times into your schedule.
The tide was just lapping over the causeway as we drove on to the island, a little early for our reservation, but as I said, you need to factor these things in.
The West Mersea Oyster Bar (hereafter WMOB) is probably the best kept secret about Mersea Island, the worst kept secret is the other seafood shack, about half a mile further east, that regularly gets mentioned in foodie columns in the newspapers. However THAT seafood shack doesn’t accept reservations, you have to write your name on a blackboard and wait your turn.
Well in October, and with the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo blowing around I wasn’t going to risk it, so I phoned the WMOB and reserved a table for two.
The WMOB is situated, as you might expect, on the seafront. Don’t go expecting a promenade or beach huts, this is adjacent to a working boat yard so, far from glamorous, do you want glamour or do you want good seafood? There’s parking for maybe twenty cars and a dedicated disabled drop off point close to the door (with ramp).
Inside it’s spartan, with pine furniture, maybe twenty tables, with some additional seating at the window overlooking the boatyard. The cooking area is clearly visible behind the pass, and there’s a chiller cabinet containing take away sea food platters and fresh oysters.
The menu is short and sweet, oysters, seafood and fish, supported by a few daily specials on a blackboard. It’s what those TV chefs keep harping on about, fresh, local produce, simply prepared.
For starters Val had a small portion of Smoked Salmon, three slices, on a plate, no garnish. A slice of buttered Hovis wouldn’t have been too much to ask. WMOB’s menu does include chunks of bread, but these are probably better suited to mopping up (the delicious looking) chowder.
I enjoyed half a dozen oysters, three local, three rock oysters. They were delicious, served with a simple shallot and vinegar dressing.
For her main course, Val ordered Lemon Sole from the daily specials board, this was prepared with a garlic and shrimp butter, the shrimps piled high on the Sole, accompanied by new potatoes and mixed veg. She declared it to be delicious, couldn’t get close to eating the vegetables.
I ordered the battered Skate wing, served with chips and home made tartare sauce. The downside to battering Skate is that the tips of the wings get crispy and unless you eat the ‘bones’ (I have an aunt that would do just that) there is some wastage. That said it was a generous and really tasty portion, with home made ‘double fried’ chips and a subtle tartare sauce.
There’s a small wine list and a few bottled/canned beers on offer, Val enjoyed a glass of the house Sauvignon Blanc, while I settled for a diet coke – I had an hour’s drive home through country lanes ahead of me – although we did call in to the Prince of Wales when we were nearly home.
There was a healthy turnover of customers while we enjoyed our lunch, at no time was the restaurant more than half full, but never less than a quarter full.
All in all a most enjoyable lunch, something a little different and well worth making a special journey for.
And we couldn’t resist the lure of the seafood platters, we bought one to take-away. That was the next day’s lunch sorted!