©2019 Cate Devine.
I’m very pleased to learn that a new style of oyster grown by a crofter off the remote Outer Hebrides and aimed at the female market is set for stardom after being put on the menu of one of the UK’s top seafood restaurants.
Roy Brett, chef-patron of Ondine in Edinburgh, is selling northwards of 300 Isle of Barra cocktail oysters each week alongside specimens from the rest of the UK, Isle of Man, Ireland and France. He put them on his menu immediately upon first tasting them, and described them as “unique and something brand new that is going to go far”.
The Hebridean mollusc is small and chalk-white with a deep cup, and has just gone to market after a four-year gestation. Slow-grown in the deep, cold Atlantic waters off the Isle of Barra - the most westerly inhabited island off Scotland’s west coast – chef Brett enthuses that they are “delicate and feminine with a wonderful flavour”.
“These little Isle of Barra oysters are so small and clean and pretty, yet full of flavour. It’s quite unusual to get that firm texture and salty creaminess all in one little shell. I like that they challenge your perceptions,” said the chef, right, who worked with Rick Stein in Cornwall and Mark Hix at Le Caprice and the Savoy Grill in London before opening Ondine ten years ago. Among other awards, Ondine was recently named Scotland’s best restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards.
The restaurant names the provenance of the new oysters on its menu - another first. (Continues…)
The move marks a major breakthrough for the Outer Hebridean enterprise Traigh Mhor Oysters, founded in 2012 by Barra-born crofter Gerard Macdonald who studied Zoology at Glasgow University, has a Masters in Agri-business management and is a former farm manager at Marine Harvest. He has been patiently growing the Pacific molluscs in the ice-cold Atlantic waters for several years, and attracted significant support of almost £500,000 in funding from AP Jess of Paisley in 2016. I've had the privilege of following progress for much of that time.
Uniquely, Macdonald uses a FLUPSY upweller nursery system, which allows the tiny baby seed oysters from Guernsey room to grow and to feed freely off naturally occurring Hebridean plankton. They are then transferred to a bespoke vertical growing system similar to that used for growing mussels. The seawater never goes above 14degC, so the oysters are slower-growing which helps enhance their flavour.
The unusual “cocktail” shape has been achieved by tumbling the juvenile oysters to help train them to grow a deeper cup and a smaller lip. This makes them are easier to handle than many other varieties, and their white shells are extremely visually appealing.
With industry research from the US indicating that the oyster market is moving towards a smaller shell, Macdonald is thrilled to be ahead of the curve. “I’m ecstatic about Ondine taking our cocktail oysters,” he said. “There’s a bit of an obsession in the UK with size, with the view that bigger is better and a resistance to the idea that small is beautiful. With just a small percentage of shellfish consumers eating oysters, we hope that a whole new generation will want to try ours at Ondine.”
Chef Brett added: “I’m always happy to champion quality Scottish produce and I will be shouting about Isle of Barra cocktail oysters to all my chef pals in London and beyond."
So I guess you could say the world is now Isle of Barra's oyster.
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