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Eating out with Freddie — The Crab House Café

Eating out with Freddie - The Crab House Café, Ferrybridge, Weymouth DT4 9YU

The Crab House Cafe, Ferrybridge,Weymouth

The Crab House Café,
01305 788867

When you find a restaurant which changes its menau sometimes
twice a day and which supplies a hammer as an eating utensil almost as often as
a knife or fork, you know you’ve found somewhere unusual Certainly the Crab House Café is outside the
normal run, but it could hardly be better situated for a fish restaurant: right
on the edge of the Fleet at Ferrybridge.

The frequently changing menu is because of owner Nigel Bloxham’s
insistence on the absolute freshness of the fish he serves. It is not unusual
to see fishermen in their wellingtons coming through the restaurant straight
from their boats, carrying their most recent catch.

The hammers are for getting into the crabs that give the restaurant its name;
if they occasionally make it sound like a builder’s yard, they add to the
uniqueness and the informality of the place.

The standard of the food undoubtedly qualifies this as a
restaurant, but the word ‘Café’ in its title is reflected in the décor: bare
wooden tables (but comfy chairs), tables outside looking over the Fleet and a
lack of frills. A few nets and crab shells reflect the piscine theme, but it is
not overdone – my experience of fish restaurants is that the number of such
fishy reminders is usually in inverse proportion to the quality of the food.
Mrs Freddie was particularly impressed by the trouble that had been taken with
the exquisite flower arrangements, set in oyster shells, that graced each

The best thing about the layout is the open kitchen down one
side, with nothing but a rapidly diminishing pile of fresh fish between the
diners and the chefs. We sat on this side of the room, so we had a good view of
the slick kitchen operation and were able to chat to Nigel Bloxham in his rare
spare moments.

For a nation surrounded by the sea, we are in general
surprisingly uninformed about the finer points of edible fish. It is possible
to be rather daunted by the range available, but there is no such feeling at
the Crab House, where the friendly staff offered to explain anything on the
menu without making us feel embarrassed by our ignorance. In fact, the service
we received throughout the meal was first-rate.

One of the questions I had to ask was ‘What is huss?’ I learnt that it is a type of dogfish with a not-too-fishy taste, cut into
medallions around one central bone. This sounded ideal for my main course, and
so it proved; unusually for a fish dish, it was served with a red wine sauce,
reflecting Nigel’s description of it as ‘a fish for meat-eaters’. It followed a
starter of a tangy mackerel mouse which was well set-off by its accompanying
beetroot salsa.

Mrs Freddie’s question concerned oysters: should she have
them au naturel or go for one of the two accompaniments of pesto and parmesan
or bacon and cream? The consensus was that an oyster purist would go for the
natural approach, but she decided to try the tastier pesto and parmesan and
didn’t regret it. She followed this with skate, which she could not remember
having had before. She found it easy to slide the flesh off the membrane of the
skate’s wing and particularly liked the accompaniments of chorizo, spring
onions and paprika as well as more conventional vegetables.

As you might expect, the wine list is mostly white and
mostly French. We found that a 2005 Sancerre from Paul Prieur went well with
all the food we had chosen.

For pudding, Mrs Freddie was tempted by the rice pudding
with fruit, but the helpings at the Crab House Café are generous and she had
found the skate quite filling,

so she opted instead for a light and refreshing combination of melon with
champagne jelly. I chose fresh peaches which came in a syrup that had been
given an added kick by what tasted like a copious slug of amaretto and which
were accompanied by some excellent ice cream.

The Dorset restaurants which enjoy a wide reputation are a
select few but despite being open for only three years, the Crab House Café is
fast joining their number. Complimentary reviews are appearing in the national
press and fish enthusiasts are travelling long distances to discover that the
compliments are justified. For this reason the restaurant is always busy and
buzzing: it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and on Sunday evening, and don’t
even think of turning up unless you have booked the best part of a week ahead.

Perhaps it has something to do with the prices, which are
decidedly reasonable with a three-course meal coming out at around £25 a head
without drinks. I think it is more the case that Nigel Bloxham has got all the
basics – cooking, décor and service – right and added to them a quality and an
approach which make the place uniquely special. As Mrs Freddie said wistfully
at one point, ‘I wish we lived nearer.’

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