A visit to The Oyster Shack in Bigbury, Devon, immediately transports you to a sunnier place. The plastic seating, the orange awning, the wax tablecloths, the reggae music and a load of fabulously eclectic sea-themed decorations, all give off a relaxed, holiday vibe. So, as we arrive on a sunny Monday afternoon, we leave all thoughts of work behind and settle into the infectious atmosphere of the place.
The Oyster Shack has been going for 30 years, and has proper roots too. Originally an oyster farm, people would rock up to buy molluscs, shucking them there and then, washing them down with a glass of wine. Soon a café was set up, with a rustic indoor restaurant for winter and outdoor seating for summer. It’s still got an authentic, rough and ready vibe. Happily, there’s no stuffy formality here.
We’re here to sample the limited edition ‘Shack’ taster menu, which has been launched to celebrate the 30th anniversary. For just £55 per head, you’re treated to 18-courses of oceanic delights, with a few veggies and desserts thrown in for good measure.
The menu is divided into three sections and each begins, naturally, with an oyster, a refreshing hit of salinity to prepare the palate for the next round of dishes. A starter of smoked salmon arrives Heston-style in a glass jar, with smoke wafting out of it to reveal lollipops of extremely smoky salmon. This is followed shortly after by a crab bisque, which is rich, velvety and divine. Other highlights include plump, juicy Lyme Bay scallops with celeriac purée, bacon and micro herbs; and juicy Fowey mussels served in a classic marniere. Special mention also to the three fillets of fish: a delicate turbot with a herb crust; a meaty piece of hake; and my favourite, a light, succulent piece of gurnard, simply dressed with lemon and greens. The showstopper is a half lobster, drenched in chilli and lime butter. Delish.
Our desserts begin with an oyster served in rosewater, with a raspberry sorbet. It sounds so wrong; indeed, they tell us it’s the marmite of the menu. It’s certainly surreal – the saltiness of the oyster giving way to the delicate sweetness of the rosewater – but I rather love it. Next, a pleasingly light sticky toffee pud, followed by affogato – the coffee much needed to keep us awake.
Not every dish is a triumph: delicate shrimp fritters are overpowered by heavy gram flour, and a veg hummus with crispbreads is a bit of a random distraction. Also, the lobster comes served with spice potatoes, tasty but heavy after so many other dishes. But who are we to complain? After three and a half hour of eating, we are completely satisfied. It’s a truly memorable gastro experience, and lots of fun. Props to all the chefs who came out and explained each dish – and to the lovely front of house team, who had a great sense of humour.
As we drive home, we feel rather sad we’re not staying the night in Bigbury. The Oyster Shack does that to you; it makes you feel like you’re on holiday. Relaxed, no-frills dining, with simply stunning seafood – what more could you want?
The Oyster Shack, Milburn Orchard Farm, Stakes Hill, Bigbury, Devon, TQ7 4BE