Seafood sensation in the South Hams: The Oyster Shack
PUBLISHED: 12:09 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:09 12 June 2017
There's huge affection for a iconic South Hams seafood restaurant, as Catherine Courtenay discovers
It must have been a daunting moment when Chris Yandell took over the running of The Oyster Shack.
The iconic little seafood restaurant, which is hidden down one of the narrow lanes near Bigbury, came with a huge legacy and the 23-year-old was fully aware that a step wrong and he’d be facing the wrath of an army of devoted fans.
Thirteen years later and the ‘Shackers’ are as fully on board as ever, in fact their numbers are increasing by the day.
The fact that regulars have their own name not only signifies loyalty, but also reflects the personal and welcoming approach taken by Chris and his team.
“I like being around people…the energy of it,” confesses Chris. The Plymouth-born son of an inventor, Chris says he’s not tech-minded like his dad, but he has always loved hospitality. It was the trade he studied for his degree and it was a stint at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant which confirmed his love of coastal produce. When his family bought the Shack, he needed no encouragement to step in.
“I’d eaten here a couple of times, I knew of its reputation; but it was still a leap of faith,” he admits.
So what is so special about the Shack? Well, to start with it really isn’t much more than a shed, with an outdoor eating area. The restaurant evolved out of very basic beginnings, being the building that housed oyster purification tanks for the catch coming from the River Avon just down the hill. Locals were drawn to the place, and would pitch up with their own chairs, a picnic, bottle of wine and shucking knife, and start tucking into the fresh oysters.
Chris recalls the old caravan awning held up by wooden poles, which kept the rain off; he smiles when remembering the time a customer received an accidental soaking when water pooling in the canopy above, collapsed on his head.
“We only had a Shack T-shirt to offer him – and it was only a medium size…” he reminisces.
Such is the affection for the Shack it seems any mishaps are forgiven. There’s now a more substantial cover over the outdoor area and brightly painted walls, outdoor heaters and strings of fairy lights create a playful and warm atmosphere. The bright theme continues inside where there’s more lights, walls adorned with seaside-themed bits and bobs and the buzz of lunchtime diners tucking into plates of seafood, from fruits of the sea and ‘Shackuterie’ cured fish sharing platters to mussels in wine, seafood tagliatelle, and a fish pie filled with that day’s catch. It’s tempting food, and all very reasonably priced too, with regular offers, like three courses for £16.
Much of the new look is down to Chris’ partner of four years, Katie Baine, who’s fully in tune with the ethos of the place, and draws on her creative talents and events management background.
The two met through a mutual friend, who just knew they’d be a perfect match. “Although it took five years of her saying we should meet before we did,” adds Chris.
Liverpool-born Katie was working for the British Fashion Council in London but her slightly unusual childhood (a big house with lots of animals; a granddad who was an engineer and a dad who was a racing driver, she tells me) included a huge love of seafood, from ever since she was small. And it’s not the only love Katie and Chris share because, by a strange quirk of fate, it seems they’re both into racing cars – Katie even raced a vintage Morgan when she was younger.
Between them, they’ve developed the Shack from its humble beginnings into a dining destination, without destroying its unique identity.
“It’s why we still have the oilcloths,” says Chris, explaining that back in the day, people used to bring their own tablecloths.
Sharing the Shack passion is head chef Andy Richardson who, surrounded by such high quality local produce, insists on only using that which meets strict sustainable criteria, And, in true rustic Shack style, he even has his own smoker. With its characterful, slightly Wallace and Gromit look about it, it fits perfectly with the surroundings – and, like all the offerings here, it produces some of the most sublime and beautifully flavoured plates of food.
Did you know...
Oysters arrive daily from Constantine where they’ve been through a unique two week purification process. Enjoy them raw or grilled and, if you don’t want them ‘au naturel’, there’s a choice of toppings like spring onion, cucumber and soy, or blue cheese crumble. Some are firm favourites, like garlic butter and parmesan which has been on the menu
for 27 years!
There’s an onsite veg garden where they grow a lot of their own fruit and vegetables.
Chris probably won’t let you leave without trying his favourite, the Shack’s thermidor sauce. Perhaps dip in some sweet potato fries – they’re divine.
Chef Andy runs demos and ‘Round the World’ cookery masterclasses throughout the year, check the website
It’s a bit far off, but the annual Christmas Barrow Market, with its stalls, Christmas trees and cookery demos, is in every Shacker’s diary.
The Shack supports two charities, The Fishermen’s Mission and The National Lobster Hatchery