A few weeks ago, I was invited out to lunch by some friends at the Oyster Bar at Circular Quay. It is a smashing place for lunch. As you can see by this photo, we were still there at dinner time. It was the best lunch I have had in ages - the weather was beautiful, the view was smashing and the wine flowed on and on and on, as did the stories and the bullshit. The only let down was the oysters.
Many years ago, I decided that I should emulate those great mean of the 18th century and have a dinner consisting mainly of many, many oysters. If you read the diaries of Samuel Pepys, which I have not - but I have flicked through them - then you'll find that he mentions many meals that seem to consist of oysters, wine and port - hundreds of oysters each, as well as many bottles of wine.
The location was Meads, a well thought of seafood restaurant in Perth. Thankfully, Meads has what I call "pensioner night" on Monday and Tuesday, where a dozen oysters only sets you back $8. I set to with another trencherman, and we set a target of 100 oysters each.
We learnt a few things.
Thames oysters must be tiny little creatures compared to the Sydney rock oyster and other Australian varieties, because it was ludicrously hard to eat more than 6 dozen. Ok, we goofed by eating bread that came on the side, and we might have been tempted by a salad as well, but 6 dozen was a lot of oysters. Of course we didn't stop at a measly 6 dozen - I managed to stuff a bit over 7 dozen down, but was knocked over by my partner in slime who sloshed down nearly 8 dozen.
Now I've seen cartoons of 18th century English gentlemen, and they all look as round and portly as a bowling ball. Clearly, they were masters at putting away their food. They make modern efforts at Supersize Me look tame by comparison. How any could eat over 100 oysters and drink say 4 or 5 bottles of plonk is beyond me.
Unless they were masters of the long lunch.
I think my next oyster eating frenzy will have to be a lunchtime affair, preferably one that starts about noon and stretches on past dusk. It should be possible to down at least 9 or 10 dozen over that kind of stretch. Trying to stuff down 7 dozen over dinner is a big ask, since dinner usually only lasts say 90 minutes in most restaurants.
The other thing is that oysters are salty little suckers. Funny that. You don't really notice it after a dozen, but after 4 or 5 dozen, the salt build up really starts to tell. As tragic as it sounds, the only thing that combats the salt is Coke. Wine and beer just won't cut through that salty rime feeling on your tongue. I think I drank 4 litres of water after my oyster frenzy, which meant I was up and down all night having a squirt at regular intervals.
As much as I like an oyster in its natural state with just a bit of lemon, it starts to wear thin after 2 dozen. Thankfully, Meads had a good selection of ways to do oysters - various asian dipping sauces, plus the old favourites like kilpatrick. Having a bit of everything helps to prevent a thick layer of oyster snot from building up on your tongue.
That being said, I attacked a few plates of oysters at the Oyster Bar. I had no hope of getting near 7 dozen, let alone 3.
For starters, a dozen oysters was about $30 a go. Ouch. Talk about gouging. The next hurdle was ordering the damned things - the waiters spent more time yacking to each other than oberserving the customers to see if anyone wanted to stuff in some more seafood. Then to cap it off, I didn't think that they cooked or served their oysters that well. The sauces that went with them just didn't do it for me. They were adequate, but not spectacular, and the $30 price tag certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
Except that my lovely friends picked up the tab and I didn't have to pay for anything. Thank goodness.
So, to recap. Find a place that has a pensioner night. Order every variety of oyster that they have. Spread the gorging out over a number of hours - preferably an entire afternoon. Take lots of friends, so you can sit around telling stories all afternoon. Avoid all bread, salad and other condiments and side dishes. Just go for gloop.