Theatreland’s most alluring oyster bar

28-32 St Martin's Court, WC2N 4AL
Tel: 020 7240 2565,
Cost per person without wine: £35

OK, I admit it. We’ve got a bit of a Caprice Holdings love-in today – a review of the J Sheekey Oyster Bar and an interview with the Ivy’s director, below.

Far be it from us to lavish unwarranted praise, but the Caprice group’s restaurants – which also include Le Caprice, Daphne’s and Scott’s – have a wondrous ability to draw devotion from punters and celebrities alike. Even Marcus Wareing, with his Michelin stars and perfect reviews, claims they’re his most-admired in London. So it was high time we reviewed Sheekey’s Oyster Bar, which opened in 2008, somewhat quietly, in a room off the side of the cosy Sheekey’s.

Like the Ivy (also doused in the romance of theatreland), J Sheekey is always full to bursting with punters and glitterati (and literati – I saw Zadie Smith in there the other day) eating the likes of whole sea bass, lemon sole and crab. Meanwhile, at the Oyster Bar, theatregoers can grab a Fine de Claire or three and a glass of champagne and stroll next door for curtain up.

Or you can spend four hours there, as we did on Saturday night, sipping fizz from saucers, trying a few wines by the glass as you follow your tastebuds and your nose (all wines are available by glass and carafe which is pretty rare). Time rushes into a vortex of pleasure and animation in the dusky light of the bar.

Neither my guest nor I were big oyster lovers – and I am terrified of being sick – but we were clearly in very safe hands. Guided by the unobtrusively attentive man behind the bar (people like him are the key to all the restaurants’ raging popularity) we went for some Irish Strangford Lough rocks and some fines de Claire – a cleansing wash of oceanic protein made piquant with shallots and Tabasco. Some Gruner Veltliner, forcibly recommended, went well.

Next was a whole cock crab (yes, we were amused by the name too) – served high on a platter in all its shell-bound enormity, but with the carapace thoughtfully loosened enough to make for easy retrieval of flesh. I got stuck into creamy brown meat and soon felt fuller than I thought possible from crab. Some time later, octopus with chorizo arrived (we’d been tantalised by the odour of its preparation) – tender, fragrant little white wheels surrounded by garlicky meat and broth. Razor clams were also meatier than usual, with a welcome heft and alpha punch. The evening tapered off with brown shrimps with shredded cabbage and rapeseed oil. Pungent and cleansing.

There are catches of the day if you want fish and a nice dessert selection – chocolate torte, steamed sponge pudding and the Caprice classic – berries with white chocolate sauce.

The rise of bar eating in London is welcome – high quality food served informally while you watch it being cooked is chic and fun. The only downside is that at Sheekey’s the stools are very close together, so if you’re having a particularly interesting conversation, expect to be shamelessly ogled. If you can get over this, there’s nowhere nicer to stop by for a taste of the British coast.