Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Wright Brothers, Soho
If you're a fan of oysters - and I can't think of any good reason why you wouldn't be, because they're great - then you've never been short of places to indulge yourself in London. Pretty much every gastropub or mid-range restaurant worth its seasalt has at least some Rocks on the menu, and a good few go even better than that, with some zingy Natives on offer (at least, in season).
But for the discerning bivalve botherer, there's a company that, when it comes to oyster knowledge and sourcing, stands head and shoulders above the nearest competition. In some of London's fanciest seafood places you'll be lucky to see more than two or three different types of oyster on the menu, and you'll pay through the nose for those. At Wright Bros, not only are (the entry-level Rocks at least) pretty keenly priced, but there's a very impressive choice as well. On a recent trip to the Borough Market Wright Bros I spotted no less than 10 different species (is species the right word?), sourced from France, Ireland and Scotland as well as their own Duchy oyster farm in Cornwall. Yes, there's that part of the world again - there are very few exciting things happening food-wise in London that don't somehow involve Cornwall.
So for many years Wright Bros have been my default go-to mini-chain when I fancied half a dozen and a glass of fizz. The bars, particularly in Borough Market and Soho, are a perfect informal-yet-glamorous spot for if you're early for dinner somewhere else (which I always am) or just in the mood for oysters and champagne (which I always am) and it's always fun to see what weird and wonderful types they have available on any given day. What I hadn't ever done, though, is ever stick around for a full meal - that is until a pescatarian friend wanted somewhere "nice but not too flashy" in Soho and I thought, well, if they're this good at oysters, perhaps they're good at the rest of it too?
Grilled Madagascan tiger prawn is one of those things that sounds like it could be great fun until you're presented with the reality of a single, vast prawn with only some of its waste pipe cleaned and a weirdly unpleasant flavour. Perhaps I'm too used to the sweet, fresh flavour of lobster that seems to be an obligatory feature of every London restaurant menu at the moment, but this was still not a particularly enjoyable way of spending £26. I'm sure those more knowledgable than me about seafood will be able to explain why the flesh tasted soily and pappy - some side-effect of farming, presumably - but all I know is I didn't much like it. Chips had a decent flavour but at the bottom were literally sitting in a good 0.5cm of oil.
Cod was probably the better of the two mains but needed extra tabletop seasoning to bring out the best of it, and even its best wasn't great. The flesh of the fish had nice defined flakes but somehow still tasted rather sandy and thin, and though the wild mushroom sauce it sat in was good, the clumps of pea shoots they'd dumped on top, you may be able to tell even from my terrible photo, were desperately sad and wilted and should never have been used.
All of which would be enough to put me off Wright Bros for life were it not for the fact that these two disappointing large dishes were preceded by three Jersey rocks for £8.50 that were lean, fresh and minerally, full of flavour and life and completely lovely in every way. And they paired so well with a glass of petit chablis that despite everything that came after, I will be going back to Wright Bros just like I always have, for a plate of oysters and a glass of wine and to relax in one of London's most attractive seafood bars. For this, and this alone, Wright Bros is worth the effort.