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Canary Wharf: How Oysteria is serving up fresh seafood beside South Dock

Co-founder Jamie Topkaya on opening a restaurant with award-winning head chef Tacim Yetis

Jamie Topkaya of Oysteria

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Seafood in Canary Wharf often plays second fiddle.

With the possible exception of sushi and black cod at Roka and Nova Soctian lobster at Big Easy, few venues spring to mind as places to find dishes with fish and crustaceans as the main ingredient.

This might be a bit of a disservice to Boisdale, although despite the smoked salmon and shellfish platters it’s always seemed a restaurant that’s more turf than surf at heart.

Those who enjoy eating the fruits of the sea can rejoice, however, because the estate now has two places that put them front and centre.

There’s Fish Game, recently opened on Wood Wharf, with former head chef at The Gun Matt Colk overseeing its charcoal grills.

And then there’s Oysteria, which popped up next to the  Canary Wharf end of South Quay Bridge earlier this year.

Oysteria’s interior features sea foam green upholstery and bubble lights

While Fish Game has found talent in a cook formerly working at a Blackwall venue, Oysteria represents a wholesale move for a family well-known on the Isle Of Dogs.

The Topkayas – father Mustafa and his children Jamie and Felicity – ran Italian spot Capeesh on the ground floor of Pan Peninsula next to South Quay DLR for seven years.

Having identified a vacant unit in Canary Wharf during the pandemic, they’ve now crossed the dock with Oysteria the core focus, having recently sold Capeesh as a going concern.

Jamie, who is spearheading the new venue, said: “We’d seen this place as a completely vacant unit but initially we weren’t going to take it on.

“Then we saw a gap in the market.

“Oysteria was really a good opportunity that came out of Covid.

“We spoke with Canary Wharf Group and they did a survey, which found there was a lack of seafood restaurants in the area and that they would really like to change that.

“We knew from running Capeesh that people locally really like their seafood – we’d been there a while and we thought it was time to jump over the water and onto the estate. 

“I’ve always been a fan of oysters and we’ve managed to find an award-winning head chef to make the magic happen in the kitchen.”

Oysteria head chef Tacim Yetis

Before guests taste anything however, it’s worth taking note of a few things.

Astonishingly, Oysteria is the first restaurant in the Wharf’s history to face out over West India South Dock.

This strip of quay boasts a chunky colonnade to the rear of Bank Street, gets the sun pretty much all day and benefits from views down the dock. 

Oysteria has tables right beside, sheltered from above, as well as a glass all-weather seating area for when things inevitably get a bit chillier.

Inside, the restaurant boasts minimal decor aimed at subtly recalling the deep.

“We’ve tried to remind diners of the sea,” said Jamie.

“There’s wooden cladding that’s similar to the deck of a boat, lighting like bubbles in the water and a light green colour scheme.

“It’s a bit like the restaurant under the sea. 

Prawn risotto at Oysteria

“Outside, of course, guests can enjoy seafood right next to the water and we have heaters for colder weather.

“At Oysteria, people will find a good atmosphere, good food and good service – we’re very focused on looking after our customers.

“We want to put a smile on everyone’s faces.”

Key to that will be the food. The menu is about 70% seafood with burgers and steaks available for those who prefer land-based flavours. 

The dishes are mainly Italian with influences from other parts of the Mediterranean – all overseen by head chef Tacim Yetis.

Named best chef in the UK at the 2022 Kebab Awards, he mostly does his talking on the plate, but did let slip that his personal recommendations were for the tuna with pistachio, salad and soy sauce, the monkfish with saffron gel, crusted polenta and spinach or pan-fried scallops with wild mushrooms, celeriac puree and salmon roe.

“On the drinks side, we are focusing on cocktails, including some that come with an oyster,” said Jamie.

“We have a Gin Martini and a Bloody Oysteria, which both come with one – the former features an oyster liqueur.

Fresh oysters – what else – at Oysteria

“The latter is a Bloody Mary-style drink, which goes perfectly with the shellfish thanks to the Tabasco sauce.

“We source much of our seafood from Billingsgate, which is only a stone’s throw from us, with some oysters coming from Jersey and Poole as well.

“It’s been an amazing learning process, discovering how to tell if they are fresh by tapping them, 

“We serve them very fresh and there’s nothing better.

“If I was personally ordering a meal, I’d always start with a dozen and then follow it with the tuna.

“With the Italian influence, we offer a lot of pasta and risotto dishes too and those are always tempting. 

“Then we have a fantastic pistachio tiramisu for dessert, which is perfect with a Limoncello.

“We’ve been getting busier and busier as we’ve built it up – taking on a unit that was just an empty shell at the beginning and turning it into a restaurant.

“We’re planning to introduce a two-for-one cocktail offer soon as well as a happy hour.”

  • In the meantime, Wharfers looking for a deal can get lunch for £11.90 for a main pasta or risotto and a soft drink or £14.90 with a house wine or beer on weekdays from noon-3pm.

“We pride ourselves on delivering quick service,” said Jamie.

“At lunchtime we know people want to be able to sit down, eat and leave within 30 minutes and this is already proving popular.”

Oysteria has tables by the water and also in a weatherproof section outside its premises

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How the WaterAid Dragon Boat Race is coming to South Dock

The Canada Square-based charity is inviting teams to raise funds for its cause and paddle for glory

The WaterAid Dragon Boat Race takes place at West India South Dock

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With so much water in this part of London, it’s easy to imagine it as a universally available resource.

Canary Wharf and the Isle Of Dogs are embraced by the lazy meander of the Thames.

Then there are the vast pools of the docks themselves and canals that connect them, which carve up the landscape. 

The stuff is everywhere and – as evidenced by Love Open Water’s project in Middle Dock last year – easily clean enough to swim in, even if glugging down huge quantities is probably unwise.

Everywhere there are shiny new apartments with rainfall showers, designer toilets and taps pumping the stuff up 50 floors so we can live in towers. It’s literally available on tap.

So it’s easy to forget that about one in 10 people globally live without access to clean water close to their homes.

This basic human right is unavailable to some 771million people globally, with the battle simply to slake their thirst and stay alive a terrible brake on almost all aspects of their existence, be it education, work, health – the list is endless.

Teams raise funds, then compete for glory at the event

The mission of WaterAid is simple.

Within a generation, the charity is working tirelessly to make sure everyone in the world has sustainable access to both clean water and decent toilets – the integrity of the former, dependent on the latter. 

Founded in 1981, it has helped more than 28million people get clean water and 29million people get decent toilets, helping lower the percentage of those without access from one in eight, to one in 10. 

“I got involved with the charity because my family is from Bangladesh and I’ve seen first-hand what a lack of hygiene and clean water can do,” said Aminur Rahman, supporter care advisor at WaterAid. 

“In Bangladesh it’s very common for under fives to die from lack of clean water.

“Children tend to go to local ponds with dirty water to drink. I’ve had personal experience of that with a relative.

“I’ve been to Bangladesh a few times, so for me this cause is something personal that’s close to my heart.”

“You can’t really argue with what we’re trying to do,” added Fiona Lavery, the charity’s change and employee experience director. 

“We work in 27 different countries around the world, predominantly in Africa and south-east Asia, including Mali, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Colombia.

“Each one is different, which makes the challenge a complex one.

“It can be about a lack of infrastructure in rural or urban areas – or it might be that there are marginalised people who can’t get at it because of the situation they’re living in.

“It can be about taps and toilets, but water is also a political issue and a cultural one. As an organisation, we only employ local people to deliver our projects and that’s the right approach because it is community led.

“We empower people to have access to solutions, rather than flying in, giving them something and then going away again.

“That would not be sustainable.”

Various prizes are up for grabs, including best dressed team

HOW TO HELP

In order to do this work, WaterAid needs a constant flow of funds and recently announced the return of its Canary Wharf Dragon Boat Race.

Teams of between 11 and 17 will do battle on the waters of West India South Dock on July 6, 2023, from 11.30am to 6.30pm.

In addition to an entry fee of £350, teams are set a fundraising target of £1,500 and challenged to exceed it. 

On the day, each team will race at least three times in a series of heats, with the fastest three teams taking part in a grand final. 

Prizes will be handed out for the three fastest boats, best-dressed team and, of course, most successful fundraisers. 

The event also includes lunch and a post-race reception with a welcome drink.

“The events fundraising team at WaterAid wanted to create a water-themed event in Canary Wharf since we moved to the area in 2020,” said Corinne Stone, the charity’s senior community and events officer who is organising the race. 

“As dragon boat racing is becoming one of the most popular corporate sports in the UK today, we thought it would be a brilliant opportunity to use the water on the docks and engage with our corporate neighbours in Canary Wharf whilst raising vital funds for our cause. 

“Last year was a huge success and I’m so excited to welcome even more teams for 2023 for what is a fun, competitive and great team building experience.”

Sponsored by Canary Wharf Group, the event raised £26,000 for WaterAid last year with 15 teams competing and aims to exceed that in 2023.

“It’s the perfect setting for the community to get involved,” said Aminur.

“It’s a competitive challenge but it’s also fun and we’re raising awareness at the same time.

“It’s not just about financial support either because just having that visibility can lead to people doing things like petitioning their MP or local authority to highlight this issue.”

Teams of between 11 and 17 are given a funding target of £1,500

“We took part last year and it was brilliant,” added Fiona.

“It was harder than I expected and got highly competitive, but I would say that, for any organisation that wants a proper team-building day, this is perfect.

“You have everyone in the boat and you have to learn to think together. 

“We had people from across the organisation in the boat – some I’d never met in 11 years of working at WaterAid – it’s fantastic for people who want to do more than sit in an office.

“What people expect from an employer has changed – they want companies and other organisations to care about the world we all live in. 

“Events like this offer them a way to demonstrate that they do and for their employees to get out and do something beyond the day-job.

“There are so many challenges that remain worldwide and we need this help to work to mitigate things like climate change.”

Registration for the event is now open, with teams encouraged to try to raise more than 50% of their target by June 8, 2023.

Canary Wharf Group event manager Camilla McGregor said: “We are delighted to welcome back WaterAid’s Dragon Boat Race to Canary Wharf. 

“Following a successful partnership last year, we are overjoyed to see the event increase in popularity with many teams already signed up for this year’s event, helping to raise much needed funds for this fantastic charity.”

Follow this link to find out more about the event or register.

Aminur Rahman and Fiona Lavery of WaterAid

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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