It’s been five years since our last meal to this piece of seafood-serving royalty in the heart of Bournemouth. What’s changed? What’s improved?
Visiting The Crab back in December 2013 with Connor Mackay came as a matter of impulse; since then I have developed a strong relationship with the restaurant, given that at least three of my friends currently work there, more than one in upper management.
But it wasn’t this affiliation that brought me back through its doors five years later for another sampling of its à la carte menu. It was the too-good-to-decline discount, which comes by way of Tablepouncer. A whopping 40% comes off your bill at the end this way. And when you see the food, you’ll know the deal is decent.
Naturally the menu is far different from 2013, and, in all honesty, the sheer variety is the one thing I noted absent this time around. Nevertheless, when it came to picking starters and mains, I still had to deliberate for some time. Did I want the Dorset Lamb Terrine with sautéed chickpeas and curried sweetbreads? Or perhaps the Treacle-cured Salmon with pickled local shellfish, lemongrass foam and an onion seed cracker might take my fancy instead? The dishes are interesting — that’s one of the elements that appeal to me. I don’t watch shows like MasterChef because I think they’re too busy being all arty-farty with the presentation and focusing enough attention on how the food tastes in combination. I would sooner give a high score to a dish that presented interesting pairings but wasn’t artistically presented, than some awe-inspiring food sculpture that otherwise lacked any form of flavour.
With that in mind, I finally present my choice for starter – Cod and Parma Ham Wellingtons, served with Boursin Mousse and Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms (pictured below).
See? A nice simple presentation, but a very interesting combination of flavours. I personally don’t endorse the mixing of meat and fish in the same dishes, but I’ll admit this pairing worked a treat. The light savoury of the flaky pastry, then the saltiness of the ham layer underneath gave both substance and flavour to the fish in the middle. The Boursin cheese mousse was delicious both on its own and in combination with the Wellingtons.
Allow me to take a moment to remark upon the Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms. My friends and family will know I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms. However, I have in recent times considered the idea of travelling around Japan for a while, and given that Shiitakes are native to Japan I thought I may as well give them a try. The verdict? Not that bad, actually. The texture was more akin to a mussel than a mushroom, in my opinion, and the pickle had taken virtually all the repellent flavour away. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy them.
Now for the main course. This took a little less contemplation – in fact I only saw other dishes I fancied after I had placed my order. Seared Local Halibut with Smoked Jerusalem Artichoke, Truffle and Stilton Bon Bon and Jersey Royal Fondant Potatoes; Steamed Place Fillets with a Shellfish and Saffron Risotto, Chorizo and Confit Chicken Wing, Samphire and Paella Crisps; or the Seared Fillet of Local Stone Bass, served with a Dorset Clam and Mussel Chowder, Pancetta and Bean Fricassée and Brown Crab Mayonnaise.
All of those gorgeous-sounding choices lost out to the Marinated Mackerel and Scallop Duo, served with Scallop Roe Pappardelle, Basil Pesto, a Chilli, Crab and Sweetcorn sauce and Watercress(see pictured).
This is not a seafood pasta dish of regular proportions or degrees. Quite the contrary in fact. Everything about this dish was something I loved. Delectable seared fillets of mackerel and scallops were just the tip of a very tasty and flavoursome iceberg. The sauce, I think, is what made it. That rich tomato basis with just a hint of pepper from the chilli and the accompanying watercress made even more delicious by the welcome herbaceousness from the pesto and the sweet notes from the sweetcorn. And, like with the starter, no airs and graces about the presentation. But so colourful and attractive – that’s what I’m talking about! I hope that this dish never leaves the menu – I know I’ll be trying to recreate it one of these days.
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, but the first two courses proved that wrong. Do you think they managed to repeat it with dessert? Now, on my first visit here, I didn’t have a dessert, and I have since found out that my choice came from the outgoing sweet menu! Literally two days later, it changed, with some very delicious-sounding choices therein. Might drop by for a coffee and a pudding in the New Year…
Getting to the point, the choice of sweet didn’t take long at all. It was the Chocolate Brownie Sundae (see pictured below).
To my delight, this was not some huge American-style ice cream sundae drowning in whipped cream. This was light, understated and didn’t even contain that much ice cream at all! The bulk of it was made up of rum-soaked raisins! Rum & Raisin has to be among my favourite ice cream flavours, so there was no complaints from me there. The little jug of hot, bittersweet chocolate sauce provided that rich but necessary contrast to all the sweetness going on in that little glass (which I could imagine Connor disapproving over – “They shouldn’t have glass in the kitchen; I don’t know how they got away with that!”)
For me, a perfect end to a stupendous meal.
When I came to The Crab in 2013, I was already quite impressed. It earned a very respectable 43/50. This time, I have awarded it 47/50, which places it as a joint-second highest scoring restaurant, alongside only five others. It would have scored higher if certain changes hadn’t been implemented. Such as the absence of an amuse-bouche, for example. I’ll never forget the tiny Espresso cup of Crab and Lobster Bisque (see pictured) they surprised us with five years ago. And, like I said before, I felt the variety was somewhat lacking compared to last time. Different management and all that, I guess.
Still, you would be mad not to get on Tablepouncer and enjoy a meal at The Crab at Bournemouth. Did I mention that all that food, plus two vodka and mixers cost me £27 with that 40% off? One of the best deals in Bournemouth? I think so…