Shocking really that as a Kentish girl I had never before visited Whitstable, to right this wrong I head down this past weekend in search of oysters.
Upon arrival we were immediately swept up in the throng, for those who don't know, The Whitstable Oyster Festival attracts up to 10000 people (to this little sleepy seaside town - that is a lot) many of them there for the opening day it seemed, good food and fine weather combining to make this a great day out for anyone, even if you don't like oysters.
Having read that UK oyster stocks have been severely depleted this year due to an outbreak of herpes and this article from Word of Mouth's Tony Naylor I feared that there may not be as much to draw the crowds as I first thought though they were there and it made the day all the more enjoyable. In fact, I'm not sure why Naylor would have written an article with such a tone on the eve of an event which promotes Whitstable's culture and heritage.
Oysters may not be every one's cup of tea but I adore them. So too do the hoards of people queueing at the many stalls set up for the week. My mate Dave was manning one of them, he's manager at the Brewery and it's brilliant to witness their tangible sense of community and genuine love of the product, it's not easy shucking oysters, doing it all day? I know I couldn't - very sore hands.
The molluscs I tried, 80p each or £4.50 for 6 were the best I've ever had, fresh from the waters that morning and prepared before my eyes, served with the requisite lemon, shallot and red wine vinegar. I certainly could not imagine a world without oysters, granted I am a fan, but were I not I should still like to see other people enjoying them.
Other attractions on the day included the regular Saturday market and the Beer Festival, in the brewery there was a huge selection of Kentish ales on offer. I sampled a pint of the Pearl of Kent (a nickname often given to the town), a fruity yet robust drink which left me feeling a bit woozy.
With such a vast number of visitors, it was difficult to find anywhere for lunch, everywhere offering food was bursting at the seams, even the towns chippy's had queues snaking down the quaint streets. We left the town and had lunch at the nearby Long Reach, oh how I longed to be eating at The Sportsman, another time.
The fish and chips I had were pretty dire, a miserable end to an otherwise wonderful day out. The tartar sauce was tasteless and I'm not sure how that is that even possible? The fish was soggy, the peas dry and the chips tasted of old fat. Still, it was only £5.99 and the beer garden was pleasant. We ought to have known better really, it's a Beefeater and there's an adjoining Holiday Inn, my only excuse is that we were starving.
It wasn't about the lunch, it was about the oysters, I urge you to get yourself down there and try some if you can, the festival runs all week.
Whitstable Oyster Festival
Sea Front and East Quay
The Long Reach