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Philip Hensher: Let's celebrate oysters and asparagus

A bit more than 20 years ago, I was in the market in Cambridge at the middle of June. We'd been gorging ourselves on local asparagus for the last few weeks and I headed to the vegetable stall. There was none to be seen, and I asked the stallholder if she would be getting some tomorrow.

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Grey mullet with oyster stuffing

Serves 2

Anthony Rose: For fresh oysters and Dover sole, think laterally with a vinho verde or Greek assyrtiko

White wine with fish, red wine with meat, simple as that. Or is it? This pearl was most likely handed down in the halcyon pre-Delia days when white wine meant sancerre or muscadet and red meant bordeaux or beaujolais. Fortunately for us all, there are now many more exciting wines to choose from, which is just as well because recipes these days are so much more imaginative and eclectic, as shown by our very own Mark Hix on the previous pages. France has its jurançon, roussillon and Alsace and beyond, there's crisp fresh Spanish albariño and a host of native Italian whites (more of which next week), Austrian grüner veltliner and the new-wave drier styles of German riesling. There are the assertive sauvignons of New Zealand, New World graves-style blends with semillon and Cape chenin blanc, not to mention dry Aussie rieslings.

J Sheekey Oyster Bar, 28-32 St Martin’s Court, London WC2 (020-7240 2565)

J Sheekey (the J is for Josef, the market stall-holder who in 1893 was graciously allowed by Lord Salisbury to sell fish and shellfish on his new manor of St Martin's Court, provided he served meals to Salisbury's theatre-going pals) is a legendary eating-house. I remember my mother pointing it out as a London landmark, along with Fuller's Cake Shop and Fortnum and Mason (this was the late Fifties, and food was clearly on her mind). I've always loved its solidity and class, even when it was getting down-at-heel in the 1980s. The mash carefully piped round the perimeter of your sea-bass was always the best mash. I once saw Anita Brookner lunching there with her agent, holding a cigarette in the same hand as her fork and taking puffs between mouthfuls: the epitome of ladylike decadence.

Oyster stew

Serves 4

It sells oysters, sushi, burgers, stews, steaks and even flowers. But does The Commander deserve to be saluted?

The Commander, 47 Hereford Road, London W2, tel: 020 7229 1503

Oysters with champagne sherbet

Serves 2

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Paperbacks: Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan

SCEPTRE £7.99 (416PP) (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897Don't let the sappy title put you off this steely re-telling of one of the more scandalous chapters in the life of the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1907, while designing a "prairie house" in Oak Park, Illinois, Wright fell in love with his client, the beautiful and clever Mrs Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A new home and a tasteful garage installation later, the couple left for Europe, abandoning their spouses, nine children and a tabloid press hungry for details. No one could have predicted the final chapter of an affair that, five years later, was to leave two families devastated by an act of unimaginable violence. Debut novelist Nancy Horan, herself a one-time resident of Oak Park, does an impressive job of rescuing Mamah from the footnotes of history. As she sticks closely to the facts – old newspaper reports, letters, contemporary – there proves little need for novelistic invention. The most fascinating sections examine Mamah's attempts to intellectualise her actions, in particular her attachment to proto-feminist thinking. In her diary, she copies out a quote from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "It is not sufficient to be a mother: an oyster can be a mother." Maternal guilt sits grit-like in the gloopy soup of this high romance. The children haunt the sidelines of the novel like needy foundlings. On their return from Europe, the loved-up twosome move into Wright's newly built home, the famous "Taliesin", and the setting for the story's grisly final act. This compelling read sheds light on an ill-fated relationship from the foundations up.

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