The Crab House Cafe is like a slice of Caribbean seashore culture right there on the English riviera, or that’s how it appears – little more than a beach shack and with plenty of outside tables and quaint wall decorations, but a kitchen with serious intent, dedicated to serving top notch local seafood.
Hidden away near Wyke Regis behind the Fleet Lagoon, beyond Weymouth on the neck of the Portland peninsula, you’d be forgiven for missing it, yet punters clearly seek out this seafood paradise from afar, and not by accident. As the photos below demonstrate, you’d go there just for the sunsets, though my pics don’t do justice to the riot of colour witnessed.
In fact, Dorset is renowned for fine seafood, and this restaurant appears top of the list in the Guardian’s review (see here.) This is what they say:
I’ve known the Crab House since it first opened, serving fresh shucked oysters picked from its own oyster beds just outside the restaurant’s front door. Oysters – in fact seafood of all sorts – is a passion of Nigel Bloxham the owner and chef, and the cafe is perfectly situated to buy fish fresh from the Portland and Weymouth day boats. On a sunny day there is almost Caribbean/Floridian feel to The Crab House. Portland harbour is home of some stunning wild shell fish too, and the special, of razor clams with chorizo and young sweet broad beans, that I sampled was criminally gorgeous. The posher dishes include fillets of brill caught from the Shambles sand bank only a couple of miles offshore, served with horseradish and samphire (£19.95), and locally dived scallops (£8.95). So much of this fantastic local fish is exported to France and Spain – in fact most of the best fish you’ll eat in France, Spain and Italy comes from the West Country. The crisis with the euro means more of it is now available at home – a sweet silver lining to the European financial meltdown perhaps.
• Ferrymans Way, Portland Road, 01305 788 867
We chose well, largely from the specials board, but didn’t on this occasion go for the oysters, crabs or lobsters – that treat is reserved for next time around. A shame, since at the next table a young female guest donned and apron and wielded the hammer to take apart a big juicy crab – though luckily not her family with them, despite a few near misses.
Neither did the razor clam dish appear on this occasion – a shame since we would both have been sorely tempted. However, the Argentinian chardonnay I chose to accompany the grub was a revelation, being not too aggressively citrus but retaining an aromatically floral bouquet.
My partner’s squid (competitively priced at £3.50 or thereabouts) proved tender and moreish, enhanced by a lip-smackingly savoury oriental sauce that had us guessing the ingredients – which certainly included a touch of star anise.
My scallops, as per the menu, came with a basil pesto, cream and local samphire, which grows wild hereabouts and makes for the perfect addition to a range of seafood dishes. Call it sea asparagus if you like, the primary differences being that it retains the salty taste of the sea and comes in narrow wispy green strands. My partner likes it so much she ordered a plate of it as a side dish with her main. The scallops themselves were queens rather than kings but were sweet and delicious, seared but not overcooked. They told me eloquently that the kitchen knows its onions, for which I am duly grateful.
The fine cooking continued with my partner’s muscular skate wing, served with chorizo and paprika – she lapped it up and purred contentedly. My brill from the specials board put the kitchen to test. Brill is a delicate fish, easy to overpower and requiring a seasoned hand to bring out its subtle flavour. Typically this is done by poaching or steaming, though here the fillets were pan fried and mounted vertically on top of a pile of veg (why do this? It merely overcooks the veg!) with a lime and coriander dressing. Granted that it’s a fine line, but if you’re going to pan fry in butter you should be adding colour to the fish, which on this occasion looked a tad anaemic. It tasted well though, and also avoided the worst fate for any fish, that of being cooked to a mush.
For afters we chose to share a dish of roasted amaretto peaches with vanilla ice cream, then follow up with a plate of cheese. The peaches were perfect and scrumptious, though neither of us detected the promised amaretto. Maybe it was there for the roasting but evaporated in the process – but some flavour of it would have been welcome. The ice cream was properly made and showed evidence of vanilla beans, as you would expect.
The plate of cheeses (allegedly one serving) included four out of five cheeses listed on the menu. We would have chosen all five, though the waitress never gave us a chance to specify. A shame that the executive decision taken was to exclude the blue, though the ones served were uniformly excellent and clearly had been well kept – in other words, no evidence of fridge-cold slivers. They came with a nice touch of home-baked fish biscuit among other crackers, celery, grapes and a tiny pot of chutney. Thumbs up all round.
Since the standard of fish cookery I hold up against is my local, the Company Shed, I am delighted to report the Crab House Cafe to be a roaring success and worthy of the comparison. Go, enjoy and return for more!