Wheelers Oyster Bar, Whitstable, Kent
Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable is a very small and quirky oyster bar and seafood restaurant. Its reputation is such that you need to book 3 months in advance to secure a weekend table during the summer months.
Visit Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable to experience some of the best seafood available in this adorable seaside town on the North Kent coast.
Both quirky and unmissable, this little gem of an eatery should be on every foodie’s bucket list. It had long been on mine so it was a major stroke of luck to get a last minute cancellation on a recent weekend away.
Sitting down in its cosy oyster parlour for a seafood supper on a quiet Sunday evening in Whitstable was one of those rare and memorable foodie experiences I will treasure for a long time to come. It will surprise and delight you in equal measure.
For a taste of its best dishes, order a seafood platter as a starter and wash it down with a bottle of English sparkling wine from the Chapel Down vineyard in Tenterden.
This is an unpretentious restaurant with the freshest seafood. If you can get a table – take it!
Wheelers Restaurant is The Oldest Restaurant in Whitstable
Wheelers Oyster Bar has the double accolade of being the oldest restaurant in town and (allegedly), the oldest seafood restaurant in the UK. The tiny oyster parlour was founded back in 1856 by Mary Ann Wheeler, the wife of a local fisherman.
Although it’s not on the beach or by the harbour, you can’t miss it on the High Street due to its oh so pretty hot pink painted exterior. Like most of Whitstable, it’s an instagrammer’s dream.
The interior of the restaurant is equally charming in an old fashioned granny-like way. Inside there’s a small Seafood Bar where you can feast your eyes on the counter and buy freshly made crab sandwiches, fishcakes, prawns of varying sizes and all kinds of mouth-watering fishy delights.
Diners either sit at one of four stools at the Seafood Bar or dine in the Oyster Parlour where there are just a handful of tables. It’s all very cosy and feels like stepping back in time into an elderly relative’s sitting room.
There’s an old fireplace and mantelpiece adorned with knick-knacks. On the walls, plates and nautical memorabilia. Through a picture window you can look beyond to a back room where a narrow communal table accommodates larger groups.
Eat The Best Oysters in Whitstable
Whitstable has long been known for its oysters and fishing. Back in the Roman times, thousands of the juicy molluscs were dredged from its seabed. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Whitstable’s oysters were readily consumed by London’s lower classes. The oyster offered the capital’s poor an affordable but mineral rich source of sustenance.
There are two types of oysters in Whitstable. A cultivated oyster and, dating back to the Romans, the native, wild oyster called ostrea edulis. It prefers a cold climate so if you want to eat it, make sure you visit during the months with an ‘R’ in it when the native is harvested and the oyster is at its best.
Not surprisingly, around 300-500 oysters are served at Wheelers Oyster Bar each day. Go native by ordering half a dozen wild Whitstable oysters or try something a bit different but equally juicy and delicious. You can order rock oysters cooked in a Guinness tempura batter or try them served Japanese style with soy, mirin and pickled ginger.
Fittingly, dining at Wheelers Oyster Bar is a friendly and communal experience. There are 4 sittings a day so each table orders at roughly the same time. They like to keep things simple with a small seasonal menu offering a choice of 6 starters, mains and desserts.
A long browsing menu lists lighter dishes and what’s available on the seafood counter that day so you can also make up your own mixed platter.
As you’d expect, the emphasis is on the best locally caught fish. In addition to Whitstable oysters, there’s local lobster, cockles, whelks and scallops from Rye bay.
An excellent starter is the Wheelers mezze. Served on a wooden board the sharing platter includes rings of light crispy-spiced squid, earthy home-smoked prawns with lime, chilli and garlic; curried crab (a triumph); slices of rich smoked salmon, melt-in-your-mouth beer-battered fish with a tangy tartare sauce and home-baked warm honey and walnut bread.
Fish mains such as halibut and hake start at around the £20 mark. There’s a rich lobster lasagne with a leek and white crab ragout and a lobster sauce grated with Parmesan. Pleasingly, the relaxed and laid back vibe means that if you prefer, you can order several starters instead.
We devoured the generous pan-fried crab cake. It was served on a bed of creamy pear and celeriac remoulade with a harissa and brown crab mayo and a delicate quince curd on the side.
For a grand finale, the dessert menu offers an enticing choice of puddings. An impressive pistachio soufflé with chocolate ice cream appeared and a pear tart tatin was served with blue cheese ice cream and toasted walnuts. Rhubarb presented three ways includes a sublime scoop of rhubarb and pink champagne sorbet.
Spend the Day Cooking at Wheelers Oyster Bar
If you find yourself in Whitstable on a Wednesday, when the restaurant is closed, you can spend the day perfecting your seafood skills with Head Chef, Mark Stubbs.
At his Shoreline School of Cookery you’ll learn how to detect fish at their optimum prime, how to prepare and fillet flat and round fish and how to prepare and cook live crab, lobsters and scallops.
He’ll also teach you the secrets of how to make a good fish stock, Court Bouillon, fish cream sauce and Hollandaise sauce. Best of all, everyone sits down to a three course meal with wine and goes home with all the fish you’ve prepared together with stocks, sauces and a dossier of recipes.
- Bookings must be made by phone
- Wheelers doesn’t have an alcohol licence but you can bring your own bottle (there is no corkage charge)
- There is an off-licence opposite the restaurant called The Offy. Buy a bottle of Chapel Down English sparkling wine from them and they’ll keep it nicely chilled for you until your table is ready
- If you can’t get a reservation, order a seafood platter in advance and take one with you to the beach for a picnic
- Whitstable is easily accessible by train from London. Trains leave from St Pancras International Station and take just over an hour
Where to Stay in Whitstable
The Hotel Continental – a 3 star hotel directly facing the beach (ask for a sea view). It’s a 10 minute walk into the centre of Whitstable
The Marine Hotel – lovely 3 star hotel located on Tankerton Cliffs, owned by Shepherd Neame Brewery.
See All: Best Places to Stay in Whitstable
They say that although pets like me are a big part of the home, they can’t allow you to bring them into the restaurant when dining.
How to Find Wheelers Oyster Bar
Wheelers Oyster Bar, 8 High St, Whitstable CT5 1BQ
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The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.