Whitstable has long been synonymous with oysters, with much of the town’s history built upon Whitstable’s Native Oysters (Ostrea Edulis), a flavourful and delicious variety of cultivated European oyster.
A regional delicacy and staple of any Whitstable diet, oysters continue play a central role in Whitstable’s commerce and culture, being served up in the town’s many gourmet restaurants and oyster bars and celebrated in the town’s annual Oyster Festival.
Native Oysters have been harvested and cultivated in Whitstable since Roman times, and in 1574 a Royal Patent was granted to the owner of Whitstable Manor for the fishing of the town’s oyster beds.
The sale of the oyster beds to the Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers of Whitstable in 1793 ushered in a new and more commercialised era in the history of Whitstable’s oyster cultivation, as the town’s reputation for delicious seafood grew, and oyster harvesting continued growing from strength to strength into the Victorian era.
Oyster production drastically declined between the 1940s and 1970s due to a perfect storm of pollution, disease, bad weather and underinvestment. However the town is currently in the throes of an oyster renaissance, with renewed interest in fresh, locally-sourced seafood.
Whitstable Oyster Festival
Featuring live music from some of the country’s premier live acts, and live comedy from some of the biggest names in the business, the Whitstable Oyster Festival is a family-friendly celebration with something for everybody.
The festival is traditionally held on the last week of July at the point where the oyster season ends and a period where fishermen traditionally have been able to take a well-earned break from their work.
Each Sunday the festival falls on is named Sea Sunday, an opportunity for another parade and a service which celebrates all things maritime at St Alphege’s church on the High Street from 9:30am and at 3pm there is always an Oyster eating competition at the Harbour– the first person to eat six Oysters in the fastest time wins!
Where Can I Try Some Of These Delicious Oysters?
While we could talk about Whitstable’s interesting history and rich cultural heritage all day, all this oyster talk can make a person hungry. So you’re probably wondering where you can get your hands on some of these delicious oysters.
Well the good news is that Whitstable Native Oysters are served at a number of restaurants and oyster bars throughout town:
Whitstable Oyster Co.
Sitting right on Whitstable’s gorgeous seafront, The Whitstable Oyster Co. offer the town’s most famous export fresh out of the water.
Housed in the historic Royal Native Oyster Stores, the restaurant’s philosophy is a simple one: preparing traditional dishes from the very finest and freshest local ingredients.
The company can trace its origins right back to the 15th century, and at its peak in the 1890s shipping out 80 million oysters a year.
To this day it remains a family-owned business, dedicated to serving up the best seafood Whitstable has to offer.
Wheeler’s Oyster Bar
Fresh seafood and a relaxed atmosphere at Whitstable’s oldest restaurant.
A boutique eatery with a unique charm, Whitstable’s oldest restaurant has four sittings: at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and 7:30 pm.
Wheelers doesn’t serve alcohol, but diners are invited to bring their own: the restaurant offers menus online so you can work out your pairings ahead of time, and doesn’t charge a corkage fee.