Dinner, 12th January 2008
An exceptional fish restaurant just off junction 13 of the M4
I chose this venue for an alumni meeting of ex-colleagues – they work West and I am in London, so The Crab was a good venue almost midway between locations. Unless you know the area, it is not easy to find – coming off the M4 from London you need to take the road to the left after the Red Lion pub in Chieveley, travel out of the village, looping round the no-through route to North Heath, across open country before heading north on the Wantage Road. Initially the Crab appears to be a picture postcard pub sitting by the road, despite its modern sign with a vibrant orange crab on it, however it is in fact a suberb restauarant with some exceptional rooms (many with hot tubs and private gardens).
We met for a drink in the smart sitting area near the front reception – comfy sofas and arm chairs and a sophisticated ambience. I was late and my friends had already ordered a couple of beers – delicious roasted nuts came as an accompaniment – no good for people trying to shed their extra Christmas pounds. I ordered a spicy tomato juice to sip while considering the menu – my drink was exemplary of its kind and would have been even better with a vodka in it…but I was driving. We selected some interesting starters – Marcus had king scallops in a white chocolate and caviar sauce – they were plump and sweet and went well with the complex flavours of the sauce (sweet and sour). I had queen scallops simply grilled under breadcrumbs and Edam – succulent little nuts of flesh, although a little difficult to prize out of their dish due to the Edam coating. Rob had a crab risotto – served with tender mussels – given the speed with which it vanished, it was clearly very good. Both Rob and I had king crabs to follow – his cold with a salad and mayonaise, mine hot with a simple garlic butter. They were amongst the biggest crabs I have seen, but cooked to perfection and ready cracked to better enable getting the flesh out of the shells. Marcus had a dover sole, simply grilled and served with seasonal vegetables, goose fat and new potatoes. We had a refreshing bottle of New Zealand Sauvignan Blanc (Spitfire Mark II) to accompany our meal – it was delicious and I will hunt it out again. We skipped dessert (defeated by the size of the crabs) but expresso coffee, filter coffee and fresh mint tea were all delicious, as were the petit fours and madeleines that accompanied them. Service for the main part was fine but not polished – our waitress confessed to hating the look and feel of crab legs and asked me to swivel my plate so that she would not have to make contact with them when clearing things away. (An unusual and potentially troublesome phobia to have when working in a fish restaurant named The Crab!)
The restaurant is festooned with fishing nets and nautical/piscatoreal paraphanalia – fun and unexpected so far in land. It is a surprisingly romantic venue, but good for most social meetings – I might bring my other half here and spend the night in one of the rooms after a glorious meal.