Restaurant review: Wells Crab House
PUBLISHED: 14:27 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:27 05 August 2019
As a coastal county, fresh seafood is a part of our food heritage. Wells Crab House celebrates our finest ingredients with culinary flair and a huge welcome
With fish served fresh from the boats less than a hundred metres from your table, it is little wonder that Wells Crab House is becoming one of the county's best loved seafood restaurants. Unassuming from the front, more beach café than high end dining experience, it hides the joyous culinary experience and understated coastal inspired decor awaiting you inside.
My dates for the night were my two sons, who love seafood and were happy to be last minute replacements for their dad. The menu is ever changing reflecting the availability of the fish and the seasonality of other ingredients and there are vegan and dairy and gluten free options.
The lobster and crab are mainstays though, caught from the quay, a true taste of the sea and taking centre stage on the menu. This isn't your usual fish and chip restaurant (though that is available on the specials menu according to whatever the catch of the day is). Mouth-watering menu tempters include prawn and whitebait ramen with noodles, soft boiled egg, katsuobushi and pickled ginger; herb plaice schnitzel with sautéed rainbow chard, pickled chilli and cucumber or perhaps the turbot fillet with Vermouth and chorizo risotto.
Huge seafood platters piled high with crab and lobster, prawns and salmon, trout and cockles, crayfish and herring make their way to other tables. The restaurant - Norfolk magazine Restaurant of the Year 2018 - is full and buzzing, even on a Wednesday evening at 6pm.
The boys jump straight in, picking a mixture of appetisers (four for £10); sharp and moreish roll mop herrings, devoured in seconds; rich juicy olives stuffed with the saltiest of anchovies; crayfish tails with a kick of lime and chilli; and a bowl full of cockles, brought to life by a generous dousing of accompanying cider vinegar, served in a stone bottle.
I thought I would have my own starter - Thai spiced crab cakes with satay sauce and lime zest - but apparently we were sharing everything. The crab cakes were so good, they actually tasted of crab - sometimes you find the delicate flavour is masked by too much potato. The satay sauce was rich and delicious, the sweetness perfect with the spice in the crab cakes - in fact I would have liked more sauce.
For main course, both boys went for the Frary's Wells crab with fries, Blakeney dressed leaves, homemade pickles and bloomer bread. Huge plates arrived, an enormous dressed crab taking centre stage with a mountain of salad and sliced beetroot and tomato and a little pot of punchy pickles. The crab tasted so fresh you could imagine it walked into the restaurant from the quay just moments before, unsuspecting of its fate.
For me, it was the pecan and honey-coated butterflied bream with a goat's cheese, pepper, sweetcorn, white balsamic and chilli salad. The fish was beautiful cooked, the flesh delicately flaking away and the skin, crisp and beautifully seasoned. The very sweet pecan topping proved an interesting contrast in taste from the creamy goat's cheese and sharpness of the salad, but it was also in danger of masking the beautiful subtle flavour of the bream. A little less topping and it would have been perfect.
The restaurant prides itself on its service - it also won our outstanding front of house award last year - and it cannot be faulted. No question (and there were a lot) was too much trouble to answer, they were friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable about the food.
We couldn't leave without a dessert, though we were all fit to burst, and my eldest son had been earwigging the waiter's conversation with the next table and heard the words 'giant donut'. So a giant, sweet rhubarb-filled deep-fried donut parcel, served with clotted cream ice-cream was ordered, a melt-in-the-mouth, playful nod to the beach. In an instant it transported you to the seaside funfair, sticky fingers reaching into the sugary bag for a little bit of childhood heaven. We ended the evening wandering along the quay, the last of the evening sun bathing the landscape in the most glorious light - the magical setting and the fabulous food combining perfectly as a reminder of what makes our county so special.
Starters, priced from £3 - £8; main courses from £15; sharing platters from £29; desserts, £7.
Wells Crab House, Freeman Street , Wells-next-the-Sea, NR23 1BA, 01328 710456; wellscrabhouse.co.uk