Patara, Greek Street

Published on Blue Tomato on 5th November 2011:

Patara, Greek Street, London

Thai restaurant Patara is full of Eastern promises. With four venues around London and more across the globe, it certainly has a good reputation and we were expecting a good feed. Food made with fresh ingredients and plenty of lemongrass and galangal was definitely top of that list, along with excellent service. Thais are known for their polite hospitality after all.

Oysters were in season so a selection of their finest Maldon rocks was an obvious starter. The raw huîtres arrived perfectly shucked and ready to be doused with a refreshing mint, coriander and lemongrass liquor or, if you prefer, lemon or Thai vinaigrette. Their tender soda-battered counterparts have a more spicy edge with an accompaniment of chilli dip. Of course we couldn’t neglect their signature dish miang guaytiew either, which was a delicate selection of rice paper rolls with prawn, crabmeat and five spiced duck.

For main, a grilled rack of lamb with sweet rice rolls and grilled black cod with ginger and pickled yellow bean sauce were richly accompanied by broccoli spears, pak choy leaves and shiitake mushrooms. It was a small banquet but a very healthy spread. From the selection of mostly European wines, we chose the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domain du Grand Tinel 2006 to wash it all down but their cocktails are equally excellent.

And there’s nothing quite like pulling out all the stops for the final course with floral additions to both the crêpe pollamai and the tart sangkaya. Under the spot lighting, we weren’t sure whether it was the desserts or the flowers that looked more delicious. So we had both.

Patara offered a pleasing supper but we were also surprised by the modernity of their menu. The meticulous presentation of the dishes demonstrated a very Western approach but some things, like bowed greeting from the staff, was undeniably Thai. Go and expect to be sumptuously fed, even late at night.

A shucking good time at Patara

Published on Foodepedia on 8th October 2011:

In this 25th year of my life, I seem to have slipped more oysters than any other. They’ve come from as far as Japan and as close as, well, down the road from where I sat sampling them. And while it has been an experience navigating the subtle shapes, tastes, scents and textures, I’ve never had an opportunity to shuck an oyster myself.

But with the start of the native oyster season came a most irresistible invitation – an evening of champagne and oysters to celebrate these delicate little molluscs.

The event was held at Patara, a Thai restaurant who are putting Maldon oysters on the menu across all their venues for the next two months. Richard Emans, the director of Maldon Oyster Company, was on hand to demonstrate the art of shucking an oyster while we supped on finely chilled champagne and attempted to garner some skills.

It seems that with all the fancy shucking equipment out there, all you really need is a tea towel and a good shucking knife. And the right technique of course.

So to shuck an oyster, start at its hinge. Brace your oyster in the tea towel, flat side up and revealing only the hinge, to protect your hands from potential slipping of the knife. Tackle the crevice in the hinge with your shucking knife at 90º. You want to prise it open with gentle annoyance rather than brute force. Of course that is not to say that some strength is not required too. After all, my first oyster proved to be rather stubborn.

When you do breach its shell, the shucking knife slips subtly inside and you will need to run it along the top shell at 15º. This removes the flesh from the “lid” and allows the two shells to be separated.

The last thing to do is to run along the edges of the flesh and gently flip it in its “cup”, taking care not to lose any of the liquid, so it presents beautifully.

After the demonstration, it was time for the oyster shucking competition. Teamed up with Luiz Hara of thelondonfoodie, we were given two oysters each to practice our technique before being let loose on a pair of sixes per team.

As I struggled through the four oysters I managed to release from captivity, Luiz breezed through the other eight. But unfortunately it wasn’t to the speed of the team placed just across from us, who were indisputably the fastest. Luckily for us, the competition was judged on presentation as well as speed and we knew a thing or two about showing off our wares. Thus coming second on speed wasn’t too detrimental to our efforts.

In the end it came to a harmonious draw. The winning team each slinked off into the night with a proud box of huîtres under arm and a Patara cookbook to remember the evening – but not before being sumptuously fed on oysters and fine Thai cuisine, accompanied by more champagne and wine.