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Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Crab & Winkle, South Quay, Whitstable

I love the seaside in late winter. The coast has a kind of personality in wind and cloud that hordes of summer sunbathers just can’t match. Whitstable in March is not like Whitstable in July. It’s quieter certainly, colder too, but it seems to breathe more freely – the coast reasserting itself. 

We traipsed down on a rare midweek day off, with notions but no expectation of a last-minute table at The Sportsman. That wasn’t to be. No matter, Whitstable (or Crouch End on Sea, as it might be called) has plenty to offer apart from windswept pubs that aren’t really in Whitstable anyway.

Having attended last year’s oyster festival, I was familiar with the fishmonger that sits beneath The Crab & Winkle. Guessing that a restaurant above a fishmonger would be likely to serve good fish, in we went.

It took a while for the waitress to notice us, but we were eventually seated at a table with a sea view from a smallish window. The restaurant has a certain charm, but it’s nothing special to look at (like yours truly in those regards). Service is friendly but rather slow (ditto), while the atmosphere consists of a Kings of Leon album on repeat. I don’t know about you, but I can only hear that my sex is on fire so many times in one sitting before I feel like I should go to the doctors. 

But what about the food? Well, here’s where things improved. A ‘pre-starter’ of cockles was a nice touch, but at £3.10 for a plate that you could have got downstairs in a plastic pot for considerably less, felt a little pricey. 

Six native oysters followed, at £9.75. They tasted wonderful. Unfortunately, several were cut to mush inside, as if someone had shucked them with a hammer and chisel (I once used a screwdriver – not pretty).

Grilled sardines Provencal were rather better, sprawled across gooey red pepper and tomato. These were beautifully, simply prepared, fresh and very lightly charred. A perky red onion salad helped the dish along. We could almost have been in Provence, if Provence was about 15 degrees colder than it is, and if three sardines cost £6.70 there. Perhaps they do. 

My main, a special of whole brown crab at an intimidating £18, was outstanding. Smashing up crustaceans is a rare pleasure, one of the few times when adult men really get to mess around with their food. I took full advantage, cracking claws, sucking legs, crushing shell and at times, even eating. It was marvellous. 

Cute Letts went for beer battered fish and chips at £14.50. That’s right. Cod and chips. For £14.50. Mushy peas cost an extra £3, bringing the total for fish, chips and peas to a whopping £17.50. 

It tasted great, but it bloody well should do at that price. Even Tom Aitkens’ ill-fated Chelsea fish and chip shop didn’t dare charge £17.50 for fish, chips and peas.

With a couple of bottles of gorgeous Whitstable brewery pilsner, a glass of white wine, and some horrible, bitter coffee, our bill came to £76, exclusive of service. The food at the Crab & Winkle is good, and at times even great, but there’s no way two courses (and a pre-starter) should cost nearly £40 per head. Yes, there’s a cheaper lunch menu option, and yes, the oysters were the priciest starters (though the crab was nowhere near the most expensive main), but really, £76 is a joke. It’s a shame.

Phil Letts' take: 5/10

Crab and Winkle on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. This looks absolutely fantastic! Thanks for sharing!