Eating out with Freddie
The Crow’s Nest 2/3 Hope Square Weymouth DT4 8TR 01305 786930
Published in February ’07
The bistro-style restaurant will always have a special place in the affections of diners of a certain age (for example, Mrs Freddie and me). Bistros became all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s, when we were taking our first faltering steps into the adult world, and seemed to us then the height of sophistication. Maybe some of our readers remember the original Bistro Vino, in a dark alley near South Kensington station, which was our particular favourite in the late 1960s.
So it was with a pleasant sense of recognition that we walked into the Crow’s Nest, under the shadow of Brewers Quay on the far side of Weymouth Harbour. All the bistro essentials were there: the red-checked tablecloths, the wooden chairs, the tiled floor, the dim lights. The only difference was that the candles are no longer stuck into old Chianti bottles, which probably has become too much of a cliché to be anything but irredeemably naff.
The décor can only go so far in creating the ambience of a restaurant, though, and the distinguishing feature of the best bistros is a comfortable, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. That is certainly what we found at the Crow’s Nest, where the service was competent rather than slick but the staff seemed genuinely to like their work and to take pleasure from our enjoyment of the excellent food they put before us. It warmed a spirit battered by a trying Friday and a body frozen by a particularly cold and windy evening.
There are about a dozen each of starters, mains and puddings, with a strong emphasis on fish. We went there after several days of gales, which meant that a few of the fish dishes were actually unavailable; better to be honest and to risk disappointing customers than to serve fish past its peak of freshness. As it happened, we both chose largely non-fishy starters. Mrs Freddie went for a wild boar terrine, consisting of both coarse and smooth pâté which were flavourful without being too strong. I opted for flat mushrooms topped with prawns and stilton. The prawns were rather overwhelmed, so I put them to one side to enjoy separately, but the robust tastes of the mushrooms and the cheese were a match for each other and combined splendidly. The dish was accompanied by a well-dressed salad, including grapes which were refreshing after the strong flavours.
Mrs Freddie did go down the fish route for her main course: scallops and monkfish cooked in a cambazola sauce which she described as ‘charmingly creamy’. She had been afraid that the sauce would be too strong for the fish but reported that it was not so, although it was certainly very rich.
For my main course I chose pork cooked in a Calvados, cream and wholegrain mustard sauce. It was decorated with chunks of apple, which were good to eat on their own but which dominated the pork if they shared the same forkful. The apple flavour of the Calvados sauce was much more subtle and more effective at enhancing the flavour of the pork. I liked the texture of the meat, too: it was a long way from being tough, but nor was it melt-in-the-mouth tender, which I don’t think is appropriate for pork.
The wine list was impressive – not extensive but compiled with an eye for the best. Thus the one Australian shiraz is a Brian McGuigan, the one red burgundy is a reasonably priced Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and so on. Also on offer, if your taste is that way and your head is strong enough, is Cornish farmhouse cider! We drank a Sancerre La Crêle 2005 which – surprisingly, considering its youth – was not as spiky as Sancerre can sometimes be but almost creamy.
The pudding menu has a number of intriguing items like Mississippi Pie, but after such generous helpings of the first two courses, we both went for ice cream pots: chocolate and brandy for Mrs Freddie, honeycomb and vanilla for me. Mrs Freddie said. ‘I’m not sure I can taste the brandy but it’s a darned good chocolate ice cream.’ A moment later she stopped with a jolt as she hit the brandy, which had sunk to the bottom.
Peter Ledger opened the restaurant in 1994 as a sandwich bar behind the old Crow’s Nest antiques shop. In 2001, when the shop closed and the cottage next door became available, he expanded the business into the restaurant and opened up the area on Hope Square outside for al fresco dining and drinking. The cottage had been a bakery – appropriately, since the bread that I ate to take the richness off my starter was excellent.
Peter had no extensive formal training as a chef but learned mostly from his mother, who was head cook at a country house in Sussex. On the evidence of the meal we enjoyed, he learned well. ‘There wasn’t all the talk of organic ingredients back then’ he told us, ‘but that’s what she used. It’s been natural for me to carry on.’ Peter’s wife, Angela, is a full-time teacher but in the evenings transforms into the restaurant’s front-of-house manager.
Despite their informal décor, bistros never were cheap and three good courses at the Crow’s Nest will cost in the region of £20 to £25 without drinks. But we certainly came away feeling not only that we had eaten well but that we had enjoyed the whole experience and had thoroughly relaxed. Any restaurant which achieves all that scores highly in our book.