IT is a Friday night at Le Di-Vin on Randolph Place and there’s not a seat to be had in the popular West End wine bar.
The atmosphere is buzzing and with good reason, this evening sees the monthly visit of The Oysterman.
Resplendent in his white leather apron, unique double-bucketed utility belt and single chain-mail glove, head oyster shucker Ferran Seguer is here to dispense free oysters, shucking, cleaning, seasoning and serving them in a well practised routine.
Before dispensing his wares, however, Ferran has promised to teach me the art of shucking, that is, the opening of oysters.
He starts by talking me through the tools of his trade, beginning with the dramatic metallic chain-mail glove.
“Used by butchers and fishmongers alike, the chain-mail glove is very handy for what we do because blood doesn’t mix well with oysters,” laughs Ferran, owner of Edinburgh-based The Oysterman Events.
What does mix well with oysters are the seasonings hanging around the 40-year-old’s waist; his utility belt boasts a large and smaller bucket, one full of oysters, the other for the empty shells, as well as “holsters” for the condiments.
“The leather apron and metal buckets give a nice touch of theatre to the whole outfit,” says Ferran.
He continues, “There are six different seasonings.
“Three classics; Tabasco, white pepper, and lemon juice. Then we have Ponzu, which is a Japanese soy sauce, raspberry vinegar and a single malt whisky which comes in a spray.”
The Oysterman Events do exactly what the names suggests.
“I call myself The Oysterman, my alter-ego has taken over,” laughs Ferran. “I do mostly private parties and weddings... anywhere you would like to have someone serving oysters.”
It was at one such event that Ferran was spotted by Virginie Brouard, owner of Le Di-Vin.
“Being French, she loves oysters and loved the concept of what I was doing,” he recalls.
“She thought it would be a great addition to Le Di-Vin – oysters for free is a very nice thing to offer guests.”
Unlike today, when they are regarded as a delicacy, oysters were once the staple diet of the Capital’s poor.
At one time, the Firth of Forth had the largest native oyster bed anywhere in the world.
However, by the early 1700s, with as many as 30 million oysters being dredged from the estuary every year, the river was reduced to just 1,200 by 1894.
Today, there are none.
While the oyster-beds of the Forth were home to European oysters, Ferran works with their Pacific cousins, or as he calls them “Japanese oysters” and he’ll be here for “as long as it takes” to give them all away.
“Usually between an hour to two hours, but sometimes it is just unbelievable how quick they go,” he says.
It was in Barcelona, his home city, that Ferran shucked his first oyster, helping a friend with his business.
“I thought it was a great idea because people were like, ‘Wow!’ It added a nice touch to any party.”
When love brought him to Edinburgh three and a half years ago, he brought the concept with him.
“It’s not just about serving the oysters,” he explains, “although that is a very important part of what we do.
“The oysters have to be good, but The Oysterman is a very visual concept. We are not just serving canapes.
“People want to know about the oysters, how to shuck them, where they came from and about the seasonings.
“So it’s an interactive experience.”
When it comes to shucking, there are two techniques Ferran highlights.
Slipping on the metal glove, he speaks as he demonstrates, “The French way is to open them from the side.”
He inserts the knife in the right hand side of shell. “The flat shell is always face upwards, two thirds of the way up on the right hand side is the muscle, and you cut the muscle loose which means the oyster can not keep itself closed.
“Personally, I think this is the more difficult way, also it gets more grit into the oyster.”
Having enjoyed the oyster with a sprinkling of white pepper and lemon juice, he continues.
“So the way I do it is the British, or American, way.
“You insert the knife into the hinge at the back of the oyster, again with the flat shell on top.”
He does so with the short, narrow blade knife he uses, and starts to wiggle it.
“It’s not about applying strength,” he cautions.
“What you want to do is find the right spot. Give the knife a shoogle from side to side and, once you have it in half a centimetre to a centimetre, turn it to pop the shell open, then run the tip of the knife along the side of the shell to cut the muscle loose.”
The oyster is alive up to the point that the muscle is cut – that’s important as the shellfish must be fresh.
“It has to be alive, the problem would come if it was not and that’s a very important part of what we do, we make sure every single oyster is fit to be served,” he said.
There are several ways to tell if an oyster is fresh, as Ferran explains: “The weight of it is one. If you tap it and it sounds hollow, that is a bad sign.
“When you open it, if there is no water in it, that too is a bad sign.
“The final check is the smell. If it smells of the sea in a nice fresh way, its fine. Sometimes you get the smell of stagnant water. If you do, discard it.
“The most important rule for us is if there is any doubt, discard it,” he says, emphasising the point by adding: “Second rule, any doubt discard it. The most important thing is that no one gets ill.”
With the checks in place and confident that the oyster is fresh, the next thing to do is scrape the muscle and oyster loose and get rid of any grit that may have got into the shell by pouring off some of the water.
Then simply add your seasoning of choice and savour.
Demonstration over, it’s my turn. Donning the cold metal glove at least assures me I’ll come out the other end of the experience with all my fingers intact.
Slipping the knife into the hinge and wiggling, it turns out I have the knack. Finding the muscle and severing it takes a bit more effort.
Still, Ferran is impressed, especially when my next two attempts prove grit free as well.
Better still is the reward, white pepper and lemon prove the ideal accompaniment. Delicious.
As Le Di-Vin’s regulars look on hungrily, Ferran reflects, “The good thing about what we do is that it gives people the chance to try oysters for the first time.
“If you go to a restaurant and have to order three or six when you’re not sure if you’ll like them, that can be off-putting. Then you might worry about how you eat them.
“Here, it’s fun and people are relaxed and confident enough to ask, ‘How do we do it?’”
The Oysterman’s next visit to Le Di-Vin, Randolph Place, is on Friday 22 February, 6.30pm.
For more information visit www.theoystermanevents.co.uk