Usually that means the blue card-shaped thing, but for two weeks in September it's about the mollusc loved and loathed in equal measure. I'm in the first camp — one online pundit says eating them is invigorating, like "battery-licking for grownups". I agree and liken them to a mouthful of slimy mineral-laden oceanic mysteriousness, the mystery is that I'm not quite sure why I like them, but like them I do.
I regret missing last year's inaugural King's Cross Oyster Festival, so I'm relieved that it's on again this year. Over the fortnight, 20 restaurants and businesses in King's Cross will be serving oysters in traditional, weird and wonderful forms. Drew Smith, a food writer, launched the festival last year "as a way to link up local restaurants and business people." He adds, "this year's theme is to cook oysters, and the restaurants are putting old-fashioned cooked oyster dishes on the menu." Think roast chicken with oysters sausages, oysters Rockefeller and oyster soup. The festival's website also promises 'oyster walks', 'literary nights' and of course, Pearly Kings (a tradition born in Somers Town).
Speaking of tradition, oysters were the food of the poor in Victorian times. They were readily available and were, as now, highly nutritious. But in this country in particular, they've become something for well-off foodies to wash down with champagne. Pollution and neglect sent the British oyster industry into decline, precipitating scarcity and expense. Drew hopes with the festival and the release of a book Oyster: A World History, he can help in some way to stimulate the local oyster industry and acquaint them with a wider audience. If this means British oysters will in time become more affordable and available — I'm all for it.
Why have an oyster festival in inner London, nowhere near the sea? Transport is the clue. King's Cross is London's historical larder, with waterways and railways sucking produce from all over the country into the area to feed the belly of a hungry city. Drew says: "Consignments of oysters from Loch Fyne in Scotland came by train into King's Cross. And the lighthouse building was an oyster house — the light came on when they got new supplies."