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Best Of Manchester...Oyster Restaurants

Jonathan Schofield for the love of the bivalve mollusc

Published on July 24th 2012.

Best Of Manchester...Oyster Restaurants

OYSTERS: there's nothing else like them. 

They are a unique dining experience being the only uncooked, living beast of sea, land or air, we chuck down our gullets.

And finally here's a perfect tongue-twister for you: 'What noise annoys an oyster? A noisy noise annoys an oyster most.' You can have hours of fun perfecting that. 

Oysters divide the population too.

People are never ambivalent about the bivalve, they love them or hate them. Some religions think they are filter feeding filth whilst others make them the favourites of saints and cover their shrines in their shells. 

Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels, wasn't a fan and said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster". I, personally adore them, and bizarrely by noon every Friday I begin to yearn for them. I become overly oyster anxious, honest. 

I'd like to say this was down to the fact that oysters are superb for zinc, iron, calcium, selenium and Vitamin A and B12. Or even that they're good for keeping trim: a dozen oysters contain around 110 kilocalories. 

But that's nothing to do with it.

I like them because there's something so vital, basic and a bit filthy about sliding them into your mouth. This is food that's primal, prehistoric and all the better for that. Indeed as far as I'm concerned you can forget lemon, tabasco and whatnot accompaniments for oysters, I love them as they come, as nature intended. 

Time was when you only ate seafood in months with an 'r' in the title, but modern farming methods and supply techniques have removed the need for the telling of that cautionary tale. 

In Manchester, in order, my favourite three oyster catchers are Livebait, Grill on the Alley and San Carlo, with Livebait slightly ahead now David Spanner has taken over as chef. So I've start with those three and then it's alphabetical. Aside from the weird Sinclair's Oyster Bar.

And finally here's a perfect tongue-twister for you: 'What noise annoys an oyster? A noisy noise annoys an oyster most.'

You can have hours of fun perfecting that. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Six for £9.50
This, the only fish specialist restaurant in the city, is soon to be re-branded and given its own identity reflecting the top notch cooking of Aussie chef Dave Spanner. The oysters are from Colchester and sometimes the Sound of Cumbrae in Scotland, depending on availability. There's a deal here too, six oysters and two glasses of Prosecco for £15. 
22 Lloyd Street, City, M2 5WA. 0161 817 4110. 

Grill on the Alley
Six for £9.35
The ultimate venue for consistent cooking with a ship-shape interior and a back counter filled with oceanic delights. Chef Stephen White can always be trusted to source well, usually from the Sound of Cumbrae in Scotland but also Colchester when it comes to oysters. Confidential has never once had a badly shucked mollusc in this successful British grill.
5 Ridgefield, City, M2 6EG. 0161 833 3465.  Web

San Carlo
Six for £8.35
Italian restaurant San Carlo divides opinion as much as oysters but this is generally down to people who resent astounding success. What Jason Annette, head chef, at San Carlo delivers is one of the great fish selections of the North West and oysters are part of that. In the theatre of movement and energy that is San Carlo a plate of six lovely oysters adds to the drama.
42 King Street West  Manchester, M3 2WY. 0161 834 6226. Web

Six for £10  
Australasia is the best lit basement venue around, the light always tinged with a limpid southern hemisphere quality.  Phil Whitehead, the chef, has been getting his oysters from the Colchester beds recently but sourcing can vary. Amid the fine Pacific rim dining of Australasia the refined oyster lends simplicity to the clever handiwork evident elsewhere.
1 The Ave, Spinningfields, City, M3 3AP. 0161 831 0288. Web 

Six for £9.60
Cicchetti is the prettier sister of San Carlo over the road, tidying Italian food into a series of delightful morsels that should, at the very least, be eaten in threes. The oysters come from various suppliers and Francesco Guarracino and John Thompson are in confident and creative charge of the kitchen. 
House of Fraser  98-116 Deansgate, City, M3 2QG. 0161 839 2233. Web

Grill on New Street
Six for £9.35
From the same staple as Grill on the Alley and bringing the same consistency to the cooking but over at the Piccadilly end of town. Damien Barlow is the man in charge of the kitchen and mixes and matches his oysters with those from the Sound of Cumbrae and those from the South East. 
New York Street, Piccadilly, City, M1 4BD. 0161 237 9890.  Web

£2.25 per oyster (thus six for £13.50)
Paul Riley is the chef in this recent restaurant that crowns the National Football Museum - in the former fifth and sixth floor site of The Modern and Le Mont. His British fine dining menu contains ‘English native oysters from Colchester’. He’s made a promising start high up which means you get your bivalves accompanied by a view.
Kaleido is at 5th and 6th Floor, Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, City, M4 3BG. 0161 871 8160. Web

Smoak at Malmaison
£3.25 per oyster (thus six for £19.50)
The only hotel in the city to regularly provide oysters so well done to Malmaison - possibly the reason for the premium rate pricing. As usual sourcing depends on availability with a mix of English and Scottish oysters. Smoak has a zany 'gas-station' Americana diner theme and provides hearty food from chef Kevin Whiteford.
Smoak Bar and Grill is at The Malmaison Hotel, Piccadilly, City, M1 1LZ, 0161 278 1000. Web 

And then there’s.....Sinclairs Oyster Bar, with six oysters for £8. This should be high on the list given the value, but the bomb re-located 1730s property has a landlord who wouldn’t give Confidential the name of the chef, where he sourced oysters, or the time of day, because “I don’t give out details like that. I’m not interested in any of this.” Shame as Sinclairs has been an oyster bar since the nineteenth century and provides a living link to a time when oysters were a staple food of the working class. It was a strange attitude from the landlord when pubs are dying everywhere. Landlords are like oysters, when you get a bad one...
2 Cathedral Gates, City, M3 1SW. 0161 834 0430.

Oysters With Legs In The Walrus And The CarpenterCute Oysters With Legs The best poem to feature oysters is one of the best nonsense poems in the English language and comes from Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Dodgson, who hailed from twenty miles south west of Manchester, in the Cheshire village of Daresbury. This is it in full. I would have done exactly what the Walrus and the Carpenter did.


The Walrus and the Carpenter
"The sun was shining on the sea,
      Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
      The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
      The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
      Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
      After the day was done —
"It's very rude of him," she said,
      "To come and spoil the fun."

The sea was wet as wet could be,
      The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
      No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
      There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
      Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,'
      They said, it would be grand!'

If seven maids with seven mops
      Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,' the Walrus said,
      That they could get it clear?'
I doubt it,' said the Carpenter,
      And shed a bitter tear.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!'
      The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
      Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
      To give a hand to each.'

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
      But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
      And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
      To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
      All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
      Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
      They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
      And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
      And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
      And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
      Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
      And waited in a row.

The time has come,' the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.'

But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,
      Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
      And all of us are fat!'
No hurry!' said the Carpenter.
      They thanked him much for that.

A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
      Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
      Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
      We can begin to feed.'

But not on us!' the Oysters cried,
      Turning a little blue.
After such kindness, that would be
      A dismal thing to do!'
The night is fine,' the Walrus said.
      Do you admire the view?

It was so kind of you to come!
      And you are very nice!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
      Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
      I've had to ask you twice!'

It seems a shame,' the Walrus said,
      To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
      And made them trot so quick!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
      The butter's spread too thick!'

I weep for you,' the Walrus said:
      I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
      Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
      Before his streaming eyes.

O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
      You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They'd eaten every one."

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Jonathan Schofield -editorJuly 24th 2012.

I think I want to set up a monthly oyster club, call it something like..er.. the Manchester Oyster Club. People will come along enjoy oysters, champagne, prosecco or Albarino and debate issues of the day. And have a laugh too. Anybody in?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Barry WilliamsJuly 24th 2012.

Shucks, that's a fine idea. I'm in.

MaggieJuly 27th 2012.

Can we have the oysters flashed under the grill with butter, herbs and garlic.........

RevaulxJuly 24th 2012.

Sounds like a plan...

Daniel DeJuly 24th 2012.

Hell yes

Blue Oyster BarJuly 24th 2012.


But we MUST start at Sinclairs. That landlord's grumpy attitude makes me want to go there for sure. But just once.

DavidJuly 24th 2012.

So what if the landlord does not give you the time of day.That does not make him grumpy,it just makes him not interested in you and Manchester Confidential.Since you have chosen to make that private conversation public and rubbish him,what does that make you?.Another bad one..

pollolocoJuly 25th 2012.

You've missed the obvious one David.....he clearly doesn't give a f*** about the business he's managing.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
DavidJuly 25th 2012.

Not giving a f**k about Mr Schofield is not the same as not giving a f**k about his paying customers.

AnonymousJuly 27th 2012.

Duh, am I missing something? Is Jonathon mascarading as 'Blue Oyster Club' or is David just being a grumpyf**k for no reason???

AnonymousJuly 26th 2012.

Like a scene from blackadder the 3rd when outing the scarlet pimpernal...

David are you the........ "landlord of sinclairs?" da da da da

dottiedogJuly 27th 2012.

Definately up for the Oyster club. Keep us posted Jonathan!
Also agree with Jonathan that au naturelle is the best way to enjoy this wonderful seafood.

pollolocoMarch 18th 2013.

"Italian restaurant San Carlo divides opinion as much as oysters but this is generally down to people who resent astounding success.".....what a twattish statement...big advertiser for MC though.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
GordoMarch 20th 2013.

Pollo, you are so predictable. *yawn*

pollolocoMarch 22nd 2013.

so are you pal...when not kissing San carlo ass...your tongue is firmly up solita's :)

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