10 minutes with: Alex Povall, Head Chef, Oystermen Seafood Bar and Kitchen

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st December 2017

Formerly a seafood pop up, The Oystermen Seafood Bar and Kitchen opened its first official standalone venture this summer with ex Café Murano and Merchant’s Tavern chef, Alex Povall behind the pass.

Hailing from the sunny south coast it was inevitable Weymouth born Alex would one day become the head chef of a seafood restaurant, but before heading up the Oystermen, Alex had surprising never actually worked in a seafood restaurant before.

Photo (credit Greg Funnell) 3 whole Devon brown crab and whole Brixham plaice

3 whole Devon brown crab 

and whole Brixham plaice

Photo credit Greg Funnell

“I grew up with seafood so it was always the luck that I had never worked in a fish restaurant so it was something a little bit different," says Alex of his new head chef position.

Growing up in Weymouth, Alex worked closely with Dorset chef Russell Brown when he joined his and his wife’s 15 seat restaurant, Sienna - a tiny little eatery that quickly became the smallest Michelin starred restaurant in the guide when it was awarded a star in 2010. Not one to rest on his laurels, Alex followed this up by working with ex Gordon Ramsay protégé, Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder at Lime Wood which is part of Hartnett Holder & Co based in the New Forest.

“As an employer, she was absolutely great," says Alex of working with the Michelin starred chef. “I really enjoyed working for her she was really personable. Unless they’re in the industry a lot of people don’t know that much about her but she was so down to earth. I still use a lot of techniques and ingredients I was using when I was working with Angela.”

But after helping the chef launch numerous restaurants including Café Murano in Covent Garden and later Merchant’s Tavern, Alex was ready to head up his own kitchen. And after receiving a chance message from Oystermen co-owner, Matt Lovell on LinkedIn, Alex was well underway to embarking on the next step in his career.

“It was a really weird situation," explains Alex. “I didn’t know their work but Matt sent me a message.”

He continued: “I wasn’t specifically looking for anything at the time but decided to have a chat with him and went to their pop up in South Kensington and really clicked with Matt and really liked the sound of what they were doing. The whole idea of what they wanted to create was really interesting.”

Originally a pop up created by co-founders Matt Lovell and Rob Hampton, the pair officially launched their first permanent residence on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden earlier this year.

Photo (credit Greg Funnell %40gregfunnell)   The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen Covent Garden low res

The Oysterman

Photo credit Greg Funnell

A small 26 cover restaurant, The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen specialises in freshly-sourced produce from all around the UK brought in on the day.

“Our USP is that we only buy directly from the farmers so we don’t use any wholesale for our oysters," says Alex.

Part of the reasoning behind ordering the produce on the day is due to the confined working conditions in the kitchen.

“Our oyster fridge is balanced on top of a wine fridge right at the back of the restaurant so it’s a little bit ridiculous.”

He added: “We order for the day as we have no storage what’s so ever but all of the stock that we hold gets used in the day. We order at night they get packed that evening and there with us the next day so they are literally as fresh as you can get.”

Keen to establish a relaxed environment where guests can come and unwind over a leisurely lunch with a bottle of wine or two, Alex and the team have created an intimate dining experience set moments away from the hustle and bustle of London’s West End.

“It’s all about providing the best relaxed service and simple food," says Alex. “Everything tastes great and we’re just trying to create an atmosphere where people can come and enjoy good food.”

Six months in, the Oystermen has really made an impression, both on foodies and critics alike. Tim Hayward of the Financial Times said he ‘wanted to move in’ while Giles Coren declared it ‘the best new fish restaurant to have opened in London in yonks’ for his review for The Times. The latter causing quite the stir when he stepped through the door for the first time.

Alex said: “I remember standing in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant one night and seeing this guy come through the door and think, shit, I know who you are!”

Speaking of the positive reception Alex said: “It was amazing, especially for me at is was my first head chef position and it was really wonderful knowing that people were coming to eat the food that I’m doing using my recipes and my style.”

Grilled Penzance squid Photo credit Greg Funnell
Grilled Penzance squid Photo credit Greg Funnell

And with glowing reviews of course comes accolades but for now Alex is happy people are just enjoying his food.

“I’m not aiming for it, if it come it comes if it doesn’t it doesn’t," Alex says of the prospect of having a Michelin Guide inspector come knocking.

He added: “We’re not there now but we got up to number one on tripadvisor after three months so that was really exciting and people really are enjoying it. When you get people come in and they voice that in a public forum that’s the big thing, it’s really rewarding.”

So, after establishing themselves amongst the crowded streets of London what’s next for the niche oyster bar and restaurant that was once just a mere pop up?

It seems collaborations are in order having already teamed up with South London company, Canopy Beer Co to brew a stout using the restaurant’s own oysters.

Speaking of the partnership Alex said: “I’m going to convert this into an oyster and stout pie. A classic recipe I guess but we’re going to put a little twist on it”.

He added: “Russell (Brown) is releasing a book in the new year so we’re going to do a little collaboration with him for launch night.”

And a second site could also be in the pipeline as Alex explains: “We’re currently looking at new sites. Our plan as a business was to break even after a year and be back to zero. There’s no investors in the business, it’s all from loans from the government and the bank and we actually did that after three months so we’re way ahead of ourselves so restaurant number two is the next step and it’s going to be soon, hopefully.”

He added: “There’s a lot in the pipeline but it’s still early days and the cooking is the main focus for me at the moment.”

By Michael Parker

@canteenparker

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st December 2017

10 minutes with: Alex Povall, Head Chef, Oystermen Seafood Bar and Kitchen