The Wright Brothers - Oyster producer to the stars

Updated on 24 February 2011 | 0 Comments

The Wright Brother supply oysters to top London restaurants and celebrity haunts like The Ivy. What makes their produce so special?

Here we are in Valentine’s season – time to down tools, open your throat and sling a slithery oyster down your gullet. Oysters, of course, are traditionally associated with love because they are said to have aphrodisiac qualities, which is most likely true – the high zinc content provides a bit of that va va voom couples are after. 

Oyster season

February is also a great month to feast on oysters because it is smack in the middle of the oyster season , which runs from September to April  - never eat an oyster in a month which doesn’t have an ‘r’ in it. 

Oyster market booming

So many of us still shudder at the thought of them, but the British oyster market is booming. That’s thanks, in part – but a significant part – to the Wright Brothers, an oyster wholesale company, farm and fishery and owner of three restaurants, in London and Cornwall.

The brothers, actually brothers-in-law Ben Wright and Robin Hancock, opened their wholesale business in 2002, when Britain was harvesting around 10 million oysters a year. Since then, that number has nearly doubled. 

Posh nosh

The Wright Brothers were soon supplying top London restaurants including Scott’s, The Ivy, Le Caprice, The Wolseley and Mark Hix’s Oyster and Chop House. Through this, they began to educate consumers about oysters. Those in the know don’t just buy any old oyster, but choose which oyster they fancy that day.

“Seafood on the whole is definitely on the up in the UK,” confirms Robin. ‘And something we’re trying to be a part of is educating people about oysters – giving them a choice where there wasn’t always one, and explaining what the different varieties are and why they might like them.” 

What variety?

At first you have the two different species: Pacific or Rock oysters, which are greyish with a metallic glint and long and thin, or Natives, which are darker, plumper, round and flat. They’re as different as beef and chicken, or red and white wine.

Then you choose your variety, whether the Speciale de Claire, a popular French oyster the brothers introduced to the UK, or Maldon, Colchester, Cumbrae, Lindisfarne or their own Duchy variety. 

Duchy Oyster Farm & Fishery

It’s all very well to be peddling posh oysters in smart London restaurants, but the real operation takes place down in Helford in Cornwall, where the Wright brothers took over the Duchy Oyster Farm in 2005.

Helford, Colchester and Whitstable are the only three places in the UK where the perfect conditions for oyster cultivation exist. It is dependent on the right combination of salt water, fresh water, the temperature of the water and an abundance of plankton.

In Helford, the brothers also own The Ferryboat Inn on the Helford River, which serves up oysters and ale in the traditional, low-key pub setting. “It’s living the dream,” says Robin. “You eat your oysters with a pint, while looking out at the oystermen on the river.”

Oysters used to be a cheap snack. Then they fell out of favour and were brought back as an expensive treat for those who dared to show their foodie prowess. If you’re not sure how to approach them, a baked Pacific is a good place to start, perhaps fried in batter or with a strong sauce such as Tabasco, to give a variety of textures and flavour. With the superior Natives, a squeeze of lemon is enough. 

Health food

“Oysters are incredibly good foodstuffs,” points out Robin. “They are packed with vitamins and minerals. Fresh, unadulterated seafood is always good for you.”

But he admits they can be tricky customers. “My eight-year-old is trying very hard to like them, but he’s not quite there yet.” 

Oyster viruses

Supplying oysters can also be troublesome. Whole harvests frequently suffer from nasty viruses, and stocks in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and France and Ireland are currently struggling. “We’re free of problems in Cornwall at the moment,” says Robin. “But the French are offering very high prices for British oysters, and that is forcing the price up.”

At the moment the brothers supply between 2 and 2.5 million oysters each year through their wholesale business, and grow a similar number. 

Are you ready to open your throat and swallow? Hold fire! It’s actually a common misunderstanding that you should swallow an oyster quickly and whole. “You would miss out entirely,” says Ben Wright. Savour it instead – it’s a long time to wait until next February. 

Also worth your attention: 

Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House, Borough Market, London  

The Wright Brothers Soho Oyster House  

Whitstable Oyster Festival 

The Five Most Seductive Foods

How Top Chefs Use Aphrodisiacs


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