The Aphrodisiacal Oyster!
Oysters – you love them or hate them. Either you tried your first oyster and immediately rushed to the bathroom to spit it out or swooned with delight at this new source of gastronomic pleasure. But have you ever stopped to think about oysters – not whether to order them or not but their history, culture, origins and farming?
Vincent’s lovely wife, Suzanne, mentions that the oyster was originally the poor man’s food and it seems she is right (of course! As Vincent will tell you – she’s always right!). A bit of digging around tells us that in the 19th century, the oyster had been a staple diet of the poor and eaten in great quantities. In 1860, the three oyster companies in Whitstable alone, employing more than 100 boats and over 500 people, sent 50 million tons of oysters to London. Most of them were eaten by the poorest folk. “Oysters and poverty always seem to go together,” as Pickwick’s Sam Weller remarked.
Beef and oyster pie was a classic Victorian dish – the poorer you were the more oysters you put in, meat being the ore expensive ingredient. Eventually the meat became costlier than the oyster and so it came about that the oyster became the rich man’s food.
Q: So what is an oyster?
A: A bivalve mollusc. And what’s one of them you ask? A mollusc with laterally compressed body enclosed by a shell in two hinged parts. And what’s a mollusc?
Oh never mind, let’s get back to food…
We use rock oysters here at the Retro – they are a good size, fresh and creamy in texture and we serve them in a traditional style with a touch of lemon zest. The key to serving a tasty oyster, apart from ensuring its freshness, is making full use of the oyster’s natural juices. Once the oysters are opened we remove the juice, and let it rest for a few minutes with the lemon zest before serving. Delicious.
To quote Suzanne, “love my oysters with their juice – it’s just a little bit of sea water – close your eyes and imagine yourself on the beach…”
Would we serve cooked oysters? We may be traditional is some senses but if a customer is squeamish about raw shellfish then we are happy to serve them cooked. After all eating should be a pleasure and rules are there to be broken when the diner desires!
Fascinating facts about Oysters
Pearl Oysters. You won’t find yourself swallowing a pearl in the Retro. Pearl oysters are not closely related to true oysters, being members of a distinct family, the feathered oysters (Pteriidae). But did you know that almost all shell-bearing molluscs can secrete pearls – although most are not very valuable?
A season for oysters? Tradition says you should buy oysters only in months containing the letter ‘r’. This comes from pre refrigeration days but generally you avoid the spawning months when oysters become fatty, watery, soft, and less flavourful instead of having the more desirable lean, firm texture and bright seafood flavour of those harvested in cooler, non-spawning months. Needless to say there’s a whole discussion to be had about farmed oysters but that’s another story…
Types of Oyster. There are five main species of oyster to be found namely Pacifics, Atlantics, Kumamoto (mostly cultivated in Japan), European flats and Olympia (the only oyster native to the west coast of USA).
How to eat them. As far as we are concerned you can eat them any darn way you like! Oyster flesh has a lovely texture and, like any piece of meat, should be chewed. This also releases the full flavour, and the juice from the shell completes the experience. However some people insist on swallowing oysters in one. As we say – take your pick just make sure you enjoy them!
The French Connection
France is one of the best sources of the oyster; it has been estimated that around 90 per cent of Europe’s oyster production takes place in l’Hexagone, with the coastal areas of Brittany, the southern end of the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean and Corsica as hotspots for ostréiculture (oyster farming).
For centuries, oysters have been traditional food during the Christmas season. In France, 70 percent of oysters are eaten at Christmas and New Year, and it makes for a popular starter at the festive table.
The word “oyster” comes from Old French oistre, which in turn comes from the Latin for oyster Ostreum (or its feminine spelling ostrea).
So there you go – just a tiny tidbit of tantalising tips on oysters. But never mind the facts – just come on in and try them for yourself – best you call first to check they are on the menu. And if oysters don’t float your boat we’ve got snails and a whole host of tempting starters.
Tripped Up By Trip Advisor
Did you see the recent news reports about Oscar’s restaurant, described as “amazing” and “mind blowing” Michelin-stared food, built in the hull of an old fishing boat amid reefs and shipwrecks in Brixham, Devon? Staff in scuba gear will swim to catch whichever fish you desire, cook and serve it to you.
Yes there was a catch – it didn’t exist. Made up by a disgruntled businessman fed up with fake reviews on TripAdvisor.
You can read the full story here if you missed it. But therein lies the theme of our first blog –
CAN YOU BELIEVE THE REVIEWS?
Review sites – love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re here to stay. Consumer power is one of the best things to have come out of the awesome resource that is the Internet. If a product or service does not deliver its promise the consumer has the power to fight back with a few simple clicks online. Sites such as Amazon, Yelp, eBay, TripAdvisor and TopTable allow you, the customer, to say your bit.
If you are looking into a new purchase, be it a TV, a holiday or booking a restaurant then chances are you’ll head for the internet to do your research before making a decision. According to a recent study* 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews (Survey of Customer Service).
You can see why online reviews have become so important to small independent business like us at the Retro Bistrot. In the cut-throat world of online marketing, where a competing product – or restaurant – is only a click away, what people say about us online can have a powerful impact. It’s no exaggeration to say that online reviews can make or break a small business.
But can you trust the reviews you read? Can we, the business owner, be confident that all reviews are genuine? Do those leaving reviews make an effort to be honest and fair in their judgment – a judgment that will most likely stay in print, online for a very long time, coming up every time someone clicks on that business name?
The original concept behind online reviews was, like many ideas in their infancy, pure and positively brilliant. But inevitably as the idea becomes reality the rot sets in. The freedom of the Internet also allows for misuse and abuse. The press has been alive in recent months with stories of fake online reviews both here in Europe and in the USA.
At the end of 2012 Amazon declared it was cracking down on thousands of fake book reviews. Several mystery writers, including R. J. Ellory and John Locke, admitted to using various forms of manipulation, such as creating deceptive online identities.
In 2011 TV Dragons Den star, Duncan Bannatyne, started a campaign against TripAdvisor, complaining that a “dishonest” review compared his Charlton House spa hotel in Somerset to Fawlty Towers and asked TripAdvisor to remove the posting. “They have tried to bully me, they have sent threatening letters and emails, they have urged me to shut up, but they won’t speak to me directly,” he said. He says publishing defamatory or fake reviews is a threat to hoteliers, who cannot fight back.
An “online reputation services” company called KwikChex, acting on behalf of more than 1,000 hoteliers, said at the time that it estimated there were at least 27,000 legally defamatory comments on TripAdvisor
One of the business people involved in that action was Frank McCready, owner of the Old Brewery Guesthouse in North Yorkshire; he set up a website entitled ihateTripAdvisor.org.uk to raise awareness about the damage that misleading TripAdvisor reviews can cause. He says: “TripAdvisor’s successful business model appears to be based upon a minimum of checks, an arrogant disregard for accuracy and truthfulness, and a customer-service regime that is virtually non-existent. It is too easy for hotels to write their own reviews, or pay others to write them. It is too easy for reviewers to post untruthful or damaging reviews, or for hoteliers to ‘sabotage’ their competitors.”
Even TripAdvisor makes a tacit admission that you cannot trust all the reviews. A spokeswoman said: “Our advice to travellers is to throw out the anomalies that appear overly critical or overly complimentary. What is left is the collective wisdom of the community.”
Have you actually been there?
You don’t have to trawl the Internet for long to find others who’ve taken against the apparently arbitrary nature of TripAdvisor reviews. Tripadvisor-warning.com are a small group of people “that are tired of the way TripAdvisor chooses to conduct their business, mainly because of the total lack of consideration towards “owners” in the hospitality world.”
One of their biggest beefs against the site is the view that “TripAdvisor doesn’t feel the need to validate damaging reviews, they just post them, with absolutely no consideration about the consequences”.
“Is it fair,” they continue, “or even right that TripAdvisor posts reviews like “Hotel stinks” Owners Arrogant and rude” Sheets stank of urine” Mold on the walls” Rats in the room” Fleas in the bed”? If they are true, then YES we should be told, because places like this do not deserve your business. However seeing as TripAdvisor cannot assure the reviews are true and come from a validated user they should NOT be posted”.
Bob Cotton, the former chairman of the British Hospitality Association, says that at the very least, every effort must be made to ensure that reviewers have been to the hotel or restaurant they are damning or praising. Such a stipulation has helped to make eBay the success it is – you can only comment on a provider with whom you have done business.
TripAdvisor’s response is to say that travellers would miss out on valuable customer service experiences, such as when a friend or family member pays for the room, or when a visit does not involve an overnight stay.
Simply making people register their details would be a start, but it would undoubtedly lead to a sharp fall in TripAdvisor’s user numbers and its revenue, so it is unlikely to be countenanced.
Cotton said: “Websites have a responsibility to ensure that [a reviewer] has actually stayed at the hotel. You can’t ban these online comments – that is like de-inventing the atom bomb. But common sense should prevail.”
Toptable is an excellent example of a site that allows you to book online and to leave a review but you can only post a review if you have actually dined at that restaurant.
Interestingly enough the reviews of the Retro Bistrot posted on TopTable are more often positive but above all honest and based on a genuine experience.
Thin End of the Wedge…?
Our grumbles are just the tip of the iceberg, however.
Many business owners on TripAdvisor are seeing a worrying trend. Customers are threatening to write negative reviews unless they receive a refund, upgrade, freebies, or other request. Earlier this year TripAdvisor was obliged to launch a new feature as part of its management tools to help business owners who are being blackmailed.
It works both ways. Some businesses have also played dirty by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there’s an even simpler approach – offering customers a refund in exchange for a positive write-up. As a spokesperson for review site Yelp said, “The proliferation of fake reviews is a huge problem for e-commerce and recommendation sites that depend on user ratings. At the end of the day, if consumers don’t trust the content, then there is no value for anyone.”
TripAdvisor’s slogan used to be ” Reviews you can trust.” Strangely enough they no longer use that slogan…
Honesty is the Best Policy.
On a final note, we’ve been advised to “play the game” but our game is one of honesty and integrity. We work hard to deliver a positive experience, excellent food and wine in a welcoming environment with a sense of personality. We accept all feedback that helps us deliver the best and we welcome that feedback whether positive or negative – as long as it is honest and considered.
What do you think – as a local business yourself or as a customer? How much importance do you place on an online review? Can you trust the “collective wisdom” of the consumer? Do you stop and consider the fairness of your words before you press ‘publish’ on a negative review? Does the vast and contradictory nature of online reviews leave you totally confused? We’d love to know, so please leave your comment.
Oh – and if you have the urge to say something positive about the Retro Bistrot then here’s your chance…!!
Retro Bistrot, Teddington on TripAdvisor
If there is anything you’d like us to cover in our blog, or you have feedback for us, please do let us know via the Contact page or via Facebook or Twitter.