The Company Shed, West Mersea

The Company Shed is to seafood what Wagamama is to noodles.  No, scrub that – Wagamama is a chain with a sophisticated system for order fulfilment.  More like an unlicensed cafe serving the most incredibly fresh food in a friendly but chaotic room.  Nope, not even that does it justice.  What do you need to know?  Jay Rayner in the Observer liked it, even without airs and graces.

The Company Shed is just that – a shed set amid the harbour at West Mersea.  Look around you and you’ll spot many fishing vessels and nets, plus tanks with farmed native oysters by the hundred.   As you enter the shed, it has a wet fishmonger and a kitchen on the left, typically populated with a selection from the catch of local boats, but not as much as there used to be, courtesy of fish quotas.

You don’t book, you have your name put your name on the blackboard, then go for a gentle stroll along the flats for 45 minutes or so until your name reaches the head of the queue.  Yes, the Company Shed is a pretty popular destination.  And eventually, your turn arrives. You might find yourself directed towards a table already occupied but with the requisite number of spare seats.  It’s that kind of place – sociable to the nth degree!

First thing to do is go to the shelf and return with a corkscrew and a number of glasses from the eccentric collection stored for these purposes.  You did remember to bring your bottle of wine, didn’t you?  If so, uncork, pour and get into the spirit.  Next, ask for a bread board and knife, plus a pot of butter (50p), then slice up the crusty bread you brought along.  You didn’t forget the bread, surely? No meal would be complete without it!

If you’re heading out to the loo or for more glasses, do cast an eye to your right, where you will see tanks of fresh live crabs, lobsters, mussels, oysters and other crustacia.  Order from that selection and that’s what you’ll be eating.

Now, peruse the menu.  It’s split into hot and cold dishes.  Hot dishes include seared scallops, grilled mussels, tiger prawns and grilled oysters.  Sometimes there are more on the board too.  These are all sublime and, compared to most seafood restaurants you might visit, absurdly good value.  What you’re paying for is the zingingly fresh seafood, not faux modernist decor, embroidered napkins and/or snooty waiters.

The cold menu includes the infamous seafood platter – £11.50 per person inclusive of smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, prawns (peeled and shell on), cockles, 1 green lip mussel, 1 crevette and ½ crab, though if you have a mind to you can upgrade to lobster.  Then there’s the various oysters – natives in assorted sizes, plus gigas for an alternative. Whatever you may feel about oysters,  these are delicious and taste of nothing so much as the sea.  For the record, I do chew mine, thus avoiding the process of sliding them whole down the throat, which some people find distasteful. But then why waste glorious bivalves by not enjoying them to the fullest extent?

In fact, there are a wide range of “extra” dishes you can buy on the side:

Smoked salmon (£4-10/100g)
Smoked mackerel (peppered/plain) (£1-55/100g)
Whole crab (£5-25/500g)
Peeled prawns (sm £1-45/ med £2-90/ lg £5-80)
Shell-on-prawns (£2-75)
Crevettes (~£1-00/each)
Green lip mussels (~0-25p each)
Salmon terrine (£3-50/100g)
Lobster (£17-50/500g)
Smoked fish pates (Smoked salmon £1-40 – Smoked mackerel £1-50)
Smoked cods roe (£3-20/100g)
Dressed crab (£6-20/200g)
Langoustine (£3-80/100g)
Jellied eels (£3-25/tub)
Rollmops (0-85p each)

Take your pick – they’re all massively fresh and totally delicious.  And don’t forget a big bowl of salad with their home-made dressing to add some greenery.  Somehow this is all you need – pay for luxury if you want, but the Company Shed boils fine seafood dining down to its barest essentials and gives you what REALLY matters – the best product available!  At my last visit, the bill came to less than £40 for all the scallops, tiger prawns, oysters, crab, langoustines and salad my friend and I could eat, supplemented only by a tenner for the wine and bread.  You simply can’t go wrong!

Oh and for the person who stated on a review that he thought the Company Shed was overpriced, try the prices at Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant for a comparison!!

PS.  27 April 2013: Another trip to the Company Shed today.  No oysters or gravadlax, lobster expensive but lots to compensate!  Dressed crab with salad, bread and wine to start, then scallops with bacon and herbs, tiger prawns with salt, herbs and mayo, green-lipped mussels with herb oil and parmesan crust, and two small dover soles for a mere £7.25!  Incredible food, incredible bargain! 🙂


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