Once the preserve of celebrities and oligarchs, oysters have left the champagne bars and are becoming the dish of choice for dinner party hosts. Supermarket sales have soared compared with last year, with analysts and chefs saying that their versatility and “air of mystery” made them a dinner table talking point.
One supermarket said that its sales increased by 78 per cent year on year, while they have also made it onto the fish counters at budget outlets.
A leading chef said that there was also a rise in the numbers sold in restaurants. Nathan Outlaw, who runs the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, Cornwall, said: “They are seen as being a little bit decadent but in times past they were actually classed as peasant food. I think oysters have become the ‘in’ thing for dinner parties because there is still an air of mystery surrounding them.”
He said that the continuing debate about whether they should be eaten cooked or raw, swallowed whole or enjoyed in parts, also contributed to their rising popularity.
“The best way to get people to try them is to serve them deep fried and crispy,” he said. “Sometimes the thought of eating them raw puts people off. We are definitely seeing a rise in the number of customers ordering oysters, both cooked and raw, in our restaurants. I’m really glad because when they are really fresh they are lovely.”
Oysters feature on the menus of the nation’s finest restaurants, including Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, and Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s in Mayfair, but the latest sales figures reveal they are also part of a new trend enjoyed by diners at home.
Oyster sales at Waitrose increased by 78 per cent last month, compared with the same time last year, with Christmas coming second only to Valentine’s Day as the most popular time of year to enjoy the delicacy. The supermarket, which has stocked oysters for at least 30 years, charges 79p per oyster at its fish counters.
They can also be bought at budget supermarkets such as Lidl, where a pack of six fresh Pacific oysters costs £2.79. These oysters, which were on sale for the first time this Christmas, were sold in over 600 Lidl stories across England, Scotland and Wales.
Not everyone approves of the trend. William Hanson, the etiquette consultant, believes that hosts who serve oysters at dinner parties are amateurs. He said: “They are like a Marmite type of food and I would not want to serve them just to be a little bit pretentious as the middle classes have a habit of doing.”