Occasion: our 5th wedding anniversary. Where better to celebrate than an oyster bar. They may have been as plentiful and cheap as Big Macs in the 18th and 19th centuries, but present times have placed oysters firmly at the top end of gustatory pursuits.
J. Sheekey oyster bar, sitting alongside the 100-year-old Sheekey restaurant on a winding backstreet in the heart of Theatreland, was smaller than I expected, though pleasingly lit and furnished. They've squeezed in a couple of tables, but the place to sit is up at the bar, where you can watch the action, and eye-up your fellow clientelle: a mix of solitary diners, amorous couples, and the odd old-school toff. Black and white photographs of venerable thespians fill the walls, framed in sober black, and it oozes history, charm, elegance, and conviviality. Frosted windows shelter familiar faces from the limelight they've just basked in on stage, and give it a distinct gentleman's club feel.
After a fair amount of eavesdropping, we turned our attentions back on each other, and our appetites, and ordered a dozen West Mersea natives with champagne. Slippery, creamy, singing of the sea, and guzzled with the industrious sound of molluscs being cracked in the background, they were the best oysters we've eaten in London.
The bar menu sticks to simple classics, much as the other London stalwart, the Ivy, does. The seafood is left to speak for itself. 'Bar' is the operative word: only a fifth of the menu lists food. Naturally, we wanted to continue with the fizz, so chose a more affordable Col Vetoraz Prosecco to go with my lobster and chips, and J's tender and full-flavoured sautéed octopus. Both were small for main courses, but couldn't be faulted. The side orders of chips and spinach were standard fare.
The petite starter and mains, though rich, left us still peckish. Moving on to desserts, there are plenty of French classics such as creme brulée, cheeseboard, and almond tart, and fruit gets a look-in too. I couldn't quite stomach J's rich brulée, so tried Scandinavian iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce (poured over the berries at the table by a friendly chef from the kitchen). A tooth-killer, but an intriguing and pleasing combination.
An hour later, having unwittingly managed to consume £45 of wonderful Makers Mark Bourbon propped up on bar stools, we headed home invigorated, enthused and, safe to say, rather drunk.
If you go easy on the champagne and oysters, you can easily depart satiated and content for £20 per person. Whether you've got your eye on a blow-out, or post-theatre comfort food, the oyster bar is an indulgent homage to the bivalve that must not be missed.