Published: 14:16, 11 October 2019
| Updated: 17:17, 11 October 2019
Visiting Whitstable and not trying the native oysters is like travelling to Italy and not having pasta. The town’s famous molluscs have been harvested and hurled down gullets here since the Roman times, with oyster shells discovered in the Coliseum even identified as being from the town. Thousands flock each year for summer festival favourites such as the oyster-eating competition, which sees contestants attempt to swallow half-a-dozen and a half-pint of beer in the fastest time.
But for those looking to spend a day indulging in the meaty and earthy flavours of the humble oyster throughout the year – look no further. Reporter Brad Harper has mapped an "oyster crawl", so you can truly appreciate Whitstable’s most-celebrated delicacy while exploring the sights and sounds of the town...
WHEELERS OYSTER BAR
Sandwiched between an estate agents and a hairdressers along the high street is the dazzling salmon and baby blue-painted Wheelers Oyster Bar, which is impossible to miss despite its small size.
The restaurant was established in 1856 by Captain Richard ‘Leggy’ Wheeler, who started as a dredger man and then a master mariner.
Bernard Walsh set up a mini-chain of Wheelers restaurants in London from 1929 but today there is only one left – in Whitstable.
Chef Mark Stubbs and his team make everything from scratch and local fishermen provide their fresh produce such as lobsters, scallops, crabs and oysters.
Rock oysters are served in a diverse range of flavours, including Guinness tempura batter, Thai style (lemongrass, cucumber and lime granita) and southern fried – Louisiana style (bacon, roasted peppers, chorizo crumble). The celebrated wild Whitstable native oysters are also available when in season.
The contemporary cuisine Mark serves up contrasts with the décor filled with antiques and old photographs – providing a relaxed environment while guests tuck into culinary wonders.
After you have finished, explore the quaint shops along the High Street, learn more about the town’s heritage at the Whitstable Museum and spot the various examples of street art – including The Queen on a Segway.
CRAB AND WINKLE RESTAURANT
Sitting on the East Quay at the Harbour is the Whitstable Fish Market, overlooking the fishing trawlers coming and going.
Ideal for a warm day, you can pick up fresh oysters, garnish with either Tabasco or lemon, and sit in the harbour or wander down to the pebbly beach to enjoy the sights.
But during the winter months, head upstairs to the Crab and Winkle restaurant to get your fix.
The ‘Crab and Winkle’ line was the nickname of the first steam-driven passenger railway in the world which ran from Canterbury to Whitstable Harbour. It opened on May 3, 1830, but closed in 1953.
You can get half-a-dozen oysters – either battered, grilled or natural – while gazing out of the window at the Thames Estuary with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Feel free to explore the Harbour and venture to Whitstable Castle, which started as a residence home for the Pearson family in the late 1790s.
It has impressive outside gardens and tearooms if you need a pit stop.
THE MARINE HOTEL
The Marine Hotel underwent a £500,000 revamp this year, transforming its bar and lounge area, restaurant, reception and orangery.
There is also outdoor seating at the front of the building where you can enjoy yet more views of the Thames Estuary and Tankerton Slopes - perfect for people watching.
But if the weather is a let down, head inside and order “trio of oysters”, which is served with a Bloody Mary granite.
Once you have gulped these down with some beverages, head down the Slopes and stroll along the seafront.
The WHITSTABLE OYSTER FISHERY COMPANY
The Whitstable Oyster Company is one of the oldest companies in Europe and can trace its origins back to the 1400s.
It peaked in the 1850s when it was sending 80 million oysters a year to Billingsgate fish market.
Following the Second World War and the flood of 1953, oysters went out of fashion.
Barrie Green and his business partner John Knight took over the company in 1978 – by which time it was practically defunct with large debts. Oyster production had hit an all-time low.
But Richard and James Green opened a fish restaurant in the old oyster stores and started to produce the Whitstable native oyster.
The company has grown rapidly, employing more than 150 staff, and operates the Whitstable Brewery, the Hotel Continental and the East Quay Bar.
You can choose between grilled oysters served either with garlic butter and parmesan or black truffle butter and Champagne – or be traditional and have half-a-dozen raw.