I’m in love.
Nestled down a side alley on the less glamorous end of JBR is a brand spanking new oyster joint. So new, in fact, it’s been open for less than a month, and so far only Time Out and Food Diva seem to know about it.
The restaurant describes itself as a “a seaside brasserie devoid of any pretension or gimmickry”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Owner Joey Ghazal, who hails from Canada, is enjoying its current undiscovered status, telling us “I like the fact that right now this is the place no-one has heard about and people are enjoying being the first to tell their friends and bring them here”. For a restaurant that so far has relied on word of mouth alone, it certainly wasn’t empty.
Before we’d even stepped foot in the door we loved it – you enter the restaurant from the street. (The street!). Just as you would anywhere else in the world that isn’t Dubai, and what a greeting you get!
The restaurant is absolutely beautiful – classy, comfortable and understated, it’s the kind of place you want to spend a lot of time in sipping cocktails and sampling the oyster menu while you make your next dish-based decision. It felt like a mix of Ed’s Chowder House in NYC and The Riding House Cafe in London, if you’ve been to either (this is niche, I know…).
Upon walking in, our lovely waiter, who is from Marseille, showed us to our seats and we took in the vista. Crisp white ceramic tiles, checkered floor, oyster chandelier, Christmas garlands draped stylishly around the room, while oysters are displayed by the bar nestled on top of ice.
First things first, a drink. We ordered a Bloody Classic and a Bloody Shell. The Bloody Shell was an outstanding meal in a glass – a mix of Stoli Gold Vodka and Clamato Juice, garnished with a poached prawn and fresh oyster. Clamato is made of tomato juice, flavoured with spices and clam broth, in case you were wondering. It was honestly the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had, and complimented our starters of Fish Tacos and Octopus perfectly.
While finishing off our Bloody Marys we reviewed the wine list, which contained a non-conformative selection of whites, reds and champagnes that clearly someone has spent a lot of time and effort sourcing (I suspect a man called Adrian had something to do with it).
We selected the Baby Doll, a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, and the waiter suggested pairing it with the Haward Oysters and Princesses de Kermancy Oysters – not being an oyster connoisseur, the stark difference between the two was both a genuine surprise and a delight.
The Haward was a meaty morsel with a full straight-from-the-sea flavour, while the Princesses de Kermancy was succulent and creamy.
Oysters have been eaten since Roman times, becoming de rigueur in London during the Victorian era, where they were largely consumed by the poor. In 1900s London a penny could get you three of them and over 120 million were sold each year. Sadly, us humans have an awful habit of ruining a good thing, and so a mixture of pollution, over fishing, and the introduction of oyster predators, have successfully ensured the rapid decline of the British mollusc over the last 150 years.
That being said, the oysters at The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill seem to come with ethical credentials that would make your heart a little bit warmer and fuzzier.
The Haward oysters originate from the River Blackwater in Mersea Island, Essex, by seventh generation oysterman, Richard Haward. His family have been cultivating the shellfish since the 1700s, and they attribute their unique flavour to the way they raise them. The oysters are dredged from the river before being laid on beds where the tide helps to fatten them up by providing nutrients from the rich marshland. The family work in harmony with nature saying:
“The sea is not a thing to be exploited but a power to be respected. We work with nature and, as a partnership, cultivate magnificent molluscs”
Meanwhile our second oyster of choice, the Princesses de Kermancy are grown in Quiberon Bay in Brittany, France by Oyster Farmer, Michael Tanguy. These are Pacific Oysters and their unique flavour comes from their location in their beds on the River Crac’h. They are either caught or grown in nurseries and Michael is working hard to preserve oyster farming for the community, which has seen a decline since the 1970s due to a number of environmental factors. He says:
“Nous vivons avec la nature, je souhaite respecter le cycle naturel de l’huître / We live with nature, I want to respect the natural cycle of the oyster”
The main courses, or the “Maines” as they call it, are delivered as we continue to sip the crisp and perfectly cold Babydoll – honestly, a glass of this and a plate of Princesses de Kermancys would be an after-work delight. The Maines are superb – Moules Marinere laced with garlic, wine and cream, and the Cedar Salmon Plank with smoked wood infused deliciousness.
We decide to skip the desserts in favour of a couple of digestifs on the terrace. The restaurant is tucked to the side of the Double Tree Hilton, and so the view of the pool under the moonlight, coupled with a spicy Ginger Mule and a fruity Sloe Gin Fizz helped us round off a perfect evening, perfectly.
As far as I’m concerned I could happily spend a day at The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill sipping Bloody Shells while eating the delicious octopus and working my way through the oyster menu, and it would most certainly be a day well spent.
Five out of Five Sahtain! Points from #ConcernedOfTheMarina.