Edinburgh is located on the Firth of the Forth, which is the estuary of the River Forth that ultimately leads to the North Sea. This close location to frigid waters is important because I’m totally obsessed with oysters, so eating some Scottish oysters was high on my list of things to do when we were in Edinburgh.
Supposedly oysters were once so abundant in the Firth that they were one of the most eaten foods in the city! Oysters also played an important role in the scientific and cultural life of Edinburgh during the end of the 18th century. The Oyster Club was founded by economist Adam Smith, philosopher David Hume, the father of geology James Hutton, and chemist Joseph Black, and included many other esteemed members during its existence like visiting thinker Benjamin Franklin. The Oyster Club met each week in a various taverns throughout the Old Town to discuss their thoughts on art, architecture, philosophy, politics, science, and economics while slurping down plentiful oysters and ale. It delights me to no end to imagine how this decadent pursuit of intellectual camaraderie impacted each of the participating thinkers in pushing their own research and inquiry forward!
My first stop in channeling a 21st century Oyster Club was Cafe Royal, just off the eastern end of Princes Street in the New Town. An Edinburgh landmark, Cafe Royal has been in existence since 1826 and has been in its “new” location since 1863. Both a bar and a restaurant, Carlo and I went to the bar just after it opened on Christmas Eve ready for some oysters and a pint of beer. My over enthusiasm to get a table since the bar is often packed meant that Carlo and I were the only people in the bar at 11:15!
We ordered a dozen oysters and while they looked and tasted good, whoever had shucked the oysters had not done the best or neatest job. Each slurp of briny goodness was followed by us spitting out a chip of oyster shell which is never pleasant. Maybe it was because we got there so early and the B-list oyster shucker was on duty? I’m not sure, but my recommendation is to skip the oysters and grab a beer at the bar with some of their game pate and enjoy the beautiful Victorian architecture and design instead at Cafe Royal.
In my quest to finally eat good oysters and to fulfill my insatiable desire for seafood, Carlo and I had a date a couple of days later at The Ship on the Shore on the docks in Leith. Purely found by a Google search and chosen by me because they had a Fruits de Mer platter (damn, those just might be the sexiest French words ever), this restaurant was amazing! Basically a cozy little pub with a very strategic use of mirrors, this restaurant knows its local seafood and doesn’t mess around. We ordered the regular Fruits de Mer platter for two (sans the bottle of Dom Perignon) and it was huge in the most awesome way ever: half a Scottish lobster, razor clams, brown crab salad, langoustines, clams, smoked salmon two ways, scallops, oysters, smokes mackerel, mussels, and then a Scottish flourish of some delicious fat chips (fries for people who only speak American).
I ate a lot of really good food on my 2 week trip to the UK, but this was perhaps my favourite dinner. Terroir is something bandied about in wine conversations, but I could taste the frigid terroir in this local seafood that captured the essence of Scotland from the biting wind we faced every day to the ever present threat of rain. It wasn’t a pretentious meal despite the French nomenclature of the dish and the £60 price tag, but just a celebration of Edinburgh’s local bounty and preparing them in the most simple of ways. Always a win-win situation for me and there were no bits of oyster shells to pick out of my teeth either! So The Ship on the Shore is going to be my go to place to eat oysters on all subsequent visits to see my parents in Edinburgh and I can’t wait.