I have just returned from a weekend in Essex. I had a lovely time, it really is true that every county in our great country has it's beauty. Yesterday, having some time to kill I decided to go and explore Mersea Island. I knew nothing of the place particularly apart from the fact I have seen West Mersea native oysters on the menu at some great restaurants.
I suspected we might get lucky with lunch so I delved in to the world wide web and came up with what looked like a cracker of a lunch venue, The Company Shed, a shellfish/wet fish shop with ten tables or so where you can eat in. It is owned by the Haward family who have been producing some of the best oysters the UK has to offer since 1792.
You cross to the island via a road/causeway that during high spring tides is liable to flood so one has to watch that. I headed straight for West Mersea where The Company shed is located, as we wound our way down the coast road I was amazed how pretty the buildings and the place looked. The Mersea yacht club had a junior regatta running, the lawn in front of the clubhouse a perfect picture of an English coastal summer; adults enjoying jugs of Pimms on the deep green lawn, kids playing around on the shore and in the water in little Lazer dinghy's.
Driving right to the northern end of Coast road I could see in the distance a black slat board shack with a queue outside, this had to be the Company shed.
It is exactly that, a slightly ramshackle shed by the sea. I went in and enquired how long a table for two would be(there are no bookings), an hour they said. Our name was chalked up on the board and we wondered down the road for a pint in the sunshine to pass the time. NB I tried two superb local ales yesterday, Captain Bob's from Maldon and Island Yo boy from the Mersea Island Brewery.
Returning in an hour the polite and efficient staff informed us they were just clearing our table, this doesn't take long in the Company shed, vinyl table clothes are simply washed down and in we went.
The place was packed, each brightly coloured table equipped with a big roll of kitchen paper, sea salt, pepper, tabasco and malt vinegar. It was an exciting, very social scene that oozed 'bon ami'. Friends/families, couples with their own bottles of wine and bread(you are encouraged to byo here) getting stuck into fantastic seafood.
You order at the bar, we went for a seafood platter, native lobster, grilled salted garlic prawns and half a dozen Gigas rock oysters. The highlights of the platter were the native crab and lobster, both kept in tanks at the back of the shack so super fresh. There were also prawns, large and small, fantastic green shelled mussels. The Gigas rocks were really very good, the best rock oyster I have eaten actually. Sadly we were out of season and missed the house speciality, West Mersea natives oysters.
Everything was delicious.
I went to the counter to pay our bill and nearly collapsed when all I was required to hand over was £23, the Gigas rock oysters an incredible 75 pence each. What amazing value. At this point I decided to take away some more oysters, mussels and prawns. We sat for the rest of the afternoon on a wall by the sea watching the boats go by grazing on the briney seafood delights, sipping cider. It was bliss.
If you are a shellfish fan, an Oyster fan in particular then this is a must visit place. There is a very deep rooted Oyster culture in West Mersea and from this has sprung The Company Shed. It is earthy, eccentric, hugely charming and amazing value.
I cannot wait to go back after September 1st, take a bottle or two of sancerre and fill up on west Mersea natives.
four out of five stars
The Company Shed
29 Coast Road,