The annual Whitstable Oyster Festival in Kent is definitely one way of finding out. Jumping on a train from London down to the Kentish coast of Whitstable, it was a gloriously sunny day. One of the hotspots in the UK for prime oysters, it is a week-long extravaganza to celebrate the harvest of these silky, grey and treasured mollusks, which is perfectly described as a kiss from the sea.
The festival kicks off with the Landing of the Oysters, where a boat comes into shore, nets of oysters carried by local fishermen on a traditional yoke. The oysters are blessed and presented to Whitstable by the local clergy to the Lord Mayor. A small portion then gets presented to restaurants and eateries in the town via the Oyster Parade.
Crowds come from near and far to witness the official start of the festival on the pretty pebbly beach
They arrive! Fanfare and applause follow the landing
And then it's festivities galore! There are oysters left, right, centre and you will never have seen as many a person shucking oysters non-stop than ever before. It's a fabulous buzz of energy and celebration as visitors are lapping up this oysterlicious wonderment!
However, to those clued up and informed folk, there is the saying where one should only eat oysters if there is a "R" in the month. Whitstable's oyster season only comes into full force in September/October, the festival is held at this time simply out of tradition. The juicy and plump natives are in circulation but in small supply, what is in obscene abundance are the smaller, though still enjoyable, rock oysters.
And where there are oysters, there lies other tasty crustacean delicacies. Explore the stalls and you will find great quality whelks, cockles, crab, lobster, scallops and clams! Walking through from the beach to the harbour is the heart of the festival. Stalls selling a myriad of local concoctions, such as preserves, snacks, handicrafts and non-seafood (the venison burger was ace!). Whitstable Brewery's bar by Long Beach also stages live music to coincide with the activities.
Now should you have finished the eat-a-thon, had a lager out on the beach, dozed, woken up and still felt the need to gorge, one recommendation would be to make a booking at the Whitstable Oyster Company restaurant. Situated past the harbour on the coast, it faces a wonderful broad beach.
And if only I did have another stomach, I would have eaten alot more than this:-
Razor Clams: What's not to love about this dramatic elongated version of the succulent clam? These came with a finger-lickin' good garlic butter.
Seared Scallops: served with their coral, these were so meaty and enlivened by a squirt of lemon and balsamic vinegar reduction.
Roasted Seabass: this was a thing of beauty. Soft fleshy white meat, roasted with garlic cloves and rosemary, this is what I call a festive dish!
Lobster and Crab: Does it get any better?! If I had to choose, the crab's sweet meat had the edge over the lobster, but both were supremely fresh and au natural aside from a lick of garlic mayo.
Apparently it does get better, when you order the homemade honeycomb ice cream. There were 3 other desserts, but this was my clear favourite. Great ice cream for me is slightly grainy, slightly glossy and I can't resist anything which has catchments of crunchy comb finding it's way to your tongue. Tick, tick, tick!
Just 1.5 hours out of London on the train, this is a noteworthy day out on the foodie calendar. Flock with the locals, and immerse yourself in the town's charming offerings. I guarantee you'll be making a booking to return in October when the native oysters are in all their glory!
Half a dozen native oysters in the festival were £4.50, or £6.50 for a dozen rock oysters. 4 starters, 3 mains, 4 desserts and 2 bottles of bubbly were £40 amongst 6 at the Whitstable Oyster Company.