On account of being about as landlocked as it’s possible to be in England, we’re a city that mostly eats food that has legs or roots. Sure, we’re served well by the excellent fish market in Viccy Centre and there’s the Lobster Pot and Loch Fyne both at full sail, but until Curious Tavern opened in Hockley, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone serving oyster platters in a cosy bar.
The new site under the Mercure Hotel on George Street joins three other Curious venues. Their unusual approach to interior design raises eyebrows – an effect achieved here with dark wooden beams, ornate ceiling tiles and huge glass lanterns dimly lighting the seating booths towards the back of the bar. You could be excused for thinking you’d been thrown back 400 years into the bowels of a galleon, were it not for the neon yellow sign screaming “SHUCK IT” from the back wall.
The Curious Tavern is not a restaurant, yet. It’s a bar serving a huge selection of gins, cask beers and champagne with seafood snacks on the side, especially oysters. They might be ‘the deep end’ of shellfish for many but, for fans, an oyster is a pleasurable beating of the senses with a bat made of the seaside. Like coffee, green olives and The Smiths, they’re something you’ll fall helplessly in love with once you’ve tried them often enough.
My guest and I dived straight in with a platter of five native Colchester oysters, served with lemon and tabasco (£10) – a personal favourite. They were fresh and full of flavour, but possibly shucked too long before our visit; the juice, which is arguably the best bit, had vanished from some. The wine list helped us wash them down and it was nice to see an Albariño – a Spanish white wine grape growing in popularity here – served by the glass.
Pairs of oysters with a choice of garnish will encourage nervous explorers to have a go. You can bury your oyster in a classic cucumber and gin combination, red wine and shallots – which I thought needed more vinegar – or the peppery and most delicious “Latino” garnish.
If the thought of oysters is still making you squirm, fear not, for they also serve pints of shell-on prawns (£7.50) with bread, butter, salad and possibly the best Marie Rose sauce I’ve ever tasted. And, if the whole concept of seafood feels like a raw deal, the Huntsman’s pork pie (£3.50) is a great snack for the most stubborn of land lubbers.
It’s great to have somewhere that’s proud to be different, even when you compare the Tavern to other Curious venues. There are promises of an exciting ‘phase two’ for the Tavern, but details remain under wraps for now. Alex Traska
2a George Street, Hockley, NG1 3BP. 0115 988 1252
Curious Tavern website