But most of the oysters we typically consume are imported from places like France, Ireland, and Australia. That’s quite curious as aquatic invertebrates (like oysters) are one of the top valued exports in Malaysia, according to our Department of Fisheries.
Realising this and the potential that our country’s seafood industry has, Raymond decided to open Lafina Oyster Bar—said to be Malaysia’s first oyster bar serving locally-produced oysters.
An oyster farm with its own hatchery
“Honestly, I would say the reason why people perceive imported oysters as being good in terms of quality is because there are just no other options around, until today. There’s just nothing for us to judge them against,” Raymond confided.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have any local oyster farms. According to Malay Mail in 2019, Malaysia had about 30 oyster farmers, but the supplies weren’t enough to meet local demands.
Now, though, we have Penang Oyster Park which is Malaysia’s first oyster farm that’s equipped with its own hatchery. What this means is they’re able to cultivate oyster seedlings without the need to buy seeds from abroad, which is the usual practice.
They breed the seedlings under a controlled environment and diet, including putting them through a process called UV depuration. This ensures that the oysters are free of bacteria and safe for consumption.
Raymond collaborated with Penang Oyster Park to start Lafina Oyster Bar and offer locals a taste of our homegrown species.
It’s all about freshness and taste
Aside from its Malaysian label, what makes Lafina Oyster Bar’s oysters stand out against other international oysters is their freshness. After all, time is of the essence especially when it comes to live seafood.
Most imported oysters typically need two to three days of travelling before they reach our dinner plates. But at Lafina Oyster Bar, it only takes a few hours to ship from their farm in Penang.
“We usually have deliveries every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening to ensure the freshness of it, whereas imported oysters may only be imported once a week due to the high cost associated with it,” Raymond explained.
Currently, the brand grows three species of oysters, namely:
- Iredalei, which has a creamy profile
- Belcheri, which has a more meaty and crunchy profile
- Magallana+, which has a sweet taste and firm texture
In terms of pricing, the oysters being homegrown means they also come at a lower price. For example, their Malaysian Magallana+ is priced almost 30% lower than an Irish Gallagher oyster of the same size, Raymond said.
A proudly Asian product
The idea for Lafina Oyster was hatched around May 2022. But it wasn’t until August 2023 that it became a tangible reality with the opening of its first outlet in Pavilion Embassy, KL.
There, you’ll find their fresh oysters prepared with an Asian flair. This is because Raymond believes that the Asian way of consuming oysters tastes much better and more flavourful.
Elaborating on this, he shared, “The Thai method of eating oysters is one of the best in the world and that’s exactly what we want to portray as well. We should be proud of our Asian heritage because there are just so many more amazing flavours that we can get in this region.”
In that spirit, there’s the option to top the oyster with Grilled Garlic Chili (RM3), Grilled or Raw Thai style (RM3), and Grilled Cheese (RM5). But if you prefer the more traditional manner, you can opt to have them the usual way with Tabasco.
Aside from that, the oyster bar also serves other seafood items. This includes live homegrown mussels, little lobsters, mackerel, tiger prawns, and yellow maskray.
An oyster bar that’s for everyone
Speaking frankly, Raymond shared that the brand isn’t profitable yet. But their main focus for now is on educating people about local seafood.
With that in mind, Lafina Oyster Bar is committed to being a Muslim-friendly establishment. This is so that everyone can learn about and enjoy their offerings.
As oysters are typically served with alcohol, this is quite an interesting take. Commonly, the preferred alcohol is white wine as it enhances the oyster’s natural flavours.
“[It’s] something that sounds stupid because I know perfectly well that sales of oysters will go up when there’s alcohol involved,” the founder expressed.
But he was always amazed at eateries that could bring people from all walks of life together. And so, he wanted to recreate that at Lafina Oyster Bar.
Sticking to this, the brand plans to eventually obtain their halal certification. Until then, he assured us that all ingredients are free of pork and alcohol.
To be on par or even better than others
On top of its first physical outlet, Lafina Oyster Bar allows customers to order live oysters and mussels online. Customers just need to choose their preferred quantity on the website.
At the time of writing, the catalogue only consists of Magallana+ oysters (starting from RM128 for half a dozen) and green mussels (starting from 1kg for RM60). Once ordered, the brand will harvest and deliver them to you within 24 hours.
Currently, they’re limiting deliveries to the Klang Valley area. The reason being that some customers prefer their oysters shucked before delivery, and shucking limits their freshness to about two hours.
Looking at the bigger picture, Raymond defined the brand’s success as being when more people try their offerings and leave with happy reviews.
“When we are able to do that, it will also have a spillover effect where we will be able to pay our staff better, pay our suppliers on time, and when my customers, staff and suppliers are well taken care of. That’s when I can say, ‘We’ve finally made it’.”
Featured Image Credit: Lafina Oyster Bar