The Company Shed is on Mersea Island, England’s easternmost inhabited island, about a hundred miles from London and ten miles from Colchester down a long, snaking run of two lane roads. If behind a lorry (truck) or a prospective competitor in the Slow Car Nationals, the two-hour drive from London could easily stretch to three. So why do food writers from some of the biggest periodicals in England take the journey out there?
The answer is spectacularly simple: The Company Shed serves the most stunningly fresh seafood you have ever tasted.
The press are not the only ones making that drive. The first thing one notices approaching The Company Shed is the queue…and that is just for the privilege of putting your name on the waiting list. Get there at noon and the wait is two hours. Get there after 1:00 p.m. and you are, quite simply, out of luck. When we returned to The Company Shed after our two-hour wait – following a trip to the pub for a taste of the rather ordinary local ale – the list had been closed with only the 82 parties still with marvelous seafood in their near future.
Mersea Island is a quaint seaside village across a causeway that floods at high tide. It is important to time your arrival and exit from the island as there are times you simply cannot get to or leave the island. The approach to the seashore is through a picturesque village full of charming 16th Century houses.
Mersea is a working fishing port. Oysters are brought in by the boatload with holding tanks large enough to house a small whale. Frankly, all one needs to see in order to know what’s in the fisherman’s haul is the menu at The Company Shed.
As spectacular as the seafood at The Company Shed is, so is it simple. If you are looking for fancy preparations and presentations you are in the wrong place. For that matter, if you are looking for condiments, wine or beer you are in the wrong place (unless you brought them with you…there is no corkage).
The oyster could not have been simpler and could not have been better. In some ways it summarizes in one shell what The Company Shed is all about: fresh seafood, pulled out of the sea on the day, served up unadorned but steeped in its own perfection. We chose to shoot it with some Encona West Indian-style Hot Pepper Sauce. Anything more would have been surplus to requirements.
Another standout was the Rollmops: pickled herrings rolled around an onion pickle and a cornichon. It was preserved perfection on a toothpick.
Not quite so good was the Samphire. While the sea vegetable was very fresh it lacked seasoning. Frankly, I think we did it better here: http://sdfoodtravel.com/leigh-on-the-sea-sea-scallops-with-black-pudding-and-samphire/.
But the great glory of The Company Shed is the Seafood Platter. Featuring a brown crab, smoked salmon, two types of smoked mackerel (one peppered, one not), two types of shrimp and langoustines, there is nothing that is not simple and is not wonderful on the plate. The Peppered Smoked Mackerel was perfectly balanced between smokiness and the essence of the sea. The langoustines and shrimp were exactly what they said on the label. But the standout was the brown crab. It was perfectly prepared with no excess and cooked just to the point of doneness. The flavor was somewhere between Maryland Blue Crabs and California Dungeness Crab. While it was, perhaps, not quite as sweet as the Maryland Blues it had a warm savoriness on the palette that was profoundly satisfying.
I may not be the most patient driver on record, but the trip to Mersea is easily worth it. I would never let a hundred miles – nor a two hour wait — stand between me and seafood perfection.
- The Company Shed
- 129 Coast Road
- West Mersea, Essex.
— Michael A. Gardiner