‘Nervously, noisily, nearly exquisite’ – The Crab at Bournemouth

The Crab at Bournemouth delivers classic seafood with imagination and panache

The Crab at Bournemouth serves up a classic seafood fayre with imagination and panache

Often, I find that a dining experience can be tainted by pretentious service – something ‘The Crab at Bournemouth’ has been accused of in the past. When we leave our homes in search of a fine dining experience, often spending significant amounts of money, restaurants should be privileged to serve us. We should never be made to feel like we are lucky to part with our hard-earned cash. Despite this, there is a polar opposite to pretentious service. Overbearing, unnecessary visits to your table can interrupt your conversation, or similarly spoil an otherwise lovely lunch or dinner. It’s a very fine balance for restaurants, and one that should not be underestimated.

The Crab holds an impressive position, not far from the sea front. In fact you can see the sea from most of the tables, allowing you to play a game of spotting diners craning their necks to admire the view throughout your stay! Whilst the building itself is fairly discreet, the dining room boasts floor to ceiling windows which creates a fantastic reflective atmosphere at dusk, particularly in a buzzing and busy restaurant.

We were greeted with a warm welcome on a very busy Saturday evening. Casual diners were being turned away from a fully booked restaurant which is always a positive; particularly in preparing an accurate critique for a dinner serving that would be stretched to the maximum number of covers. The bar is nicely located as you enter the restaurant and your attention is also immediately drawn to a grand piano towards the centre of the room…more on that later.

Once seated, our drinks were ordered and arrived promptly, alongside a vibrant selection of fresh breads. An equally impressive accompanying selection of garlic mayonnaise, salted butter and hummus was a nice touch over and above a single lump of butter. At £25 a bottle of very decent Belstar Prosecco (Italy), the light, refreshing citrus notes were a perfect and affordable accompaniment to an evening of sea food.

Having ordered our starters and main courses, we were treated to a complimentary amuse-bouche of smoked salmon mousse, delicately presented on a tasting spoon. Topped off with a thinly crisp crouton and a cress garnish, the spoon was very nicely balanced and packed a beautifully smokey punch. The mousse was perfectly seasoned and coarse enough to hold its own with the crunch of the crouton, the cress garnish adding an important fresh twist to the spoon. In its own right, the mousse was fit for a larger portion as a starter, very impressive.

A pause in service and the pianist made himself comfortable, ready to play. It was pleasant at first, but not all the diners had arrived yet, so the background noise wasn’t at its loudest. He was hitting the keys pretty hard too, a plea of ‘listen to me, I’m good at piano.’ He was good, very good. I didn’t need the extra force to tell me that though.

My starter of ‘Salcombe Crab and Poached Lobster’ arrived in good time and hit me with the ‘wow’ factor I refer to in my ‘best kept secrets’ blogs. The lobster soft, sweet and succulent, paired with textbook dressed crab meat, dotted around a jet black slate was a sight to behold. Amidst the stars of the dish were garden peas and perfectly piped pea puree, poking fun at the senses as I mistook one for the other. Further cubes of celery roots and salad leaves were scattered to great effect, whilst a final swipe of a light marie-rose style sauce cut through all the elements of the dish for an outstanding combination. This, undoubtably, was the best starter dish I had the pleasure of eating for a long time.

Throughout the evening, the serving staff were very attentive to topping up our glasses, but a little tentative to ask if we wished to order any more drinks, or engage in the briefest of conversations, almost a nervousness amongst some that they would be overbearing. This was certainly not the case.

Suitably impressed thus far, I had opted for ‘Spiced Monkfish and Scallops’ for my main course. Served with a sweet potato curry and lime and coriander rice, the scallops were seared to perfection and combined excellently with the fresh, tangy notes of lime and coriander, and the thick, hearty sweet and spicy notes of the curry. The monkfish needed ever so slightly less cooking time, however the seasoning and flavour combinations within the dish more than saved it. A notch down from perfection, no doubt. Shortly after tucking into our main course, the servers delivered a small dish of grated cheese, croutons and what I could only describe as a cold gravy dip. There was no explanation to the purpose of these extras or what they consisted of. A little baffling in my eyes.

Throughout our main course, our favourite pianist was back but now melting nicely into the background noise. My assessment? A perfect touch for later in the evening, but out of place at 7pm in a half empty restaurant.

I’m a sucker for a good cheese board, so two thirds of the way through a very decent dining experience, it was too tempting to resist The Crab’s ‘Selection of Cheeses.’ The most pleasing thing for me was that the selection lived up to its title. Too often I have sampled 4 minor variations of Cheddar, all huge and overbearing. The Crab had selected a Cheddar, a Smoked Applewood, a Brie, a Goat’s Cheese and a Stilton, all very different in texture, flavour and finish. The modest chunk of each variety was enough to polish off with little trouble and the oat and rye biscuits, spicy chutney, celery sticks and grapes added a classic balance. Perhaps a further opportunity to impress would have been an explanation of the selection, having had to guess that the smoked cheese was an applewood.

Overall, I have to commend the Crab for an extremely impressive and accomplished meal, an excellent 8 out of 10. The waiting staff need an arm around their shoulders in my view, encouragement to help tell the story behind some of the dishes and complete the picture. That disconnection between kitchen and dining room is holding the Crab back. Despite that, I wouldn’t have missed that food for the world.

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