Re­gional & Sea­sonal: Wells Crab House Seafood Res­tau­rant

A res­tau­rant on the Nor­folk coast makes the most of the lo­cal seafood, de­liv­ered straight off the boat

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words: Karen Youngs Pho­tog­ra­phy: Richard Faulks Con­taCt Wells Crab House Seafood Res­tau­rant, 38 Free­man Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, Nor­folk NR23 1BA Tel 01328 710456 www.wellscrab­

Aclus­ter of sail­ing and fish­ing boats bob gen­tly in a North Nor­folk har­bour, the calm wa­ter sparkling in the May sun­shine. The air is alive with the chat­ter of chil­dren, their fish­ing lines dan­gling over black-painted rail­ings. There is a squeal of de­light as a line is with­drawn to re­veal a glis­ten­ing brown crab. The catch is hauled in and de­posited into a brightly coloured bucket, while other chil­dren clam­our to in­spect the prize. This is Wells-next-the-Sea, a tra­di­tional sea­side town full of nar­row streets and cob­bled al­ley­ways pep­pered with listed build­ings. Marsh­land shel­ters the har­bour from the open sea and pro­vides a home for waders, bit­terns, gulls, and marsh har­ri­ers. The golden sandy beach is a des­ig­nated Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty, with its rows of colour­ful beach huts, grass-tufted sand dunes and back­drop of pine for­est. Rich in wildlife, it is an im­por­tant breed­ing site for rare birds such as lit­tle terns, ringed plover and oys­ter­catch­ers. In Tu­dor times, Wells was one of the main ports of east­ern Eng­land, and in the 18th cen­tury, the town was an im­por­tant pro­ducer of malt. It con­tin­ued to be a thriv­ing ship­ping and mar­itime cen­tre in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies. Wells still has a small work­ing port and a fish­ing fleet. Crabs, lob­sters, other shell­fish, mack­erel and bass are abun­dant, and freshly caught seafood is a spe­cial­ity in the town’s restau­rants. One of these is the small and wel­com­ing Wells Crab House Seafood Res­tau­rant, lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately 200 yards from the quay, stand­ing out with its bright blue frontage. Scott and Kelly Dou­gal took it over in April 2016. Orig­i­nally from Suf­folk, they moved to Wells six years ago, when Kelly was of­fered a job in the town. “We have had many years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, and we had al­ways wanted our own res­tau­rant. So when the Wells Crab House Café went up for sale, we de­cided to go for it,” says Kelly. Af­ter a lot of dis­cus­sion, the cou­ple de­cided to sub­sti­tute ‘café’ for ‘seafood res­tau­rant’. “Our in­ten­tion was to of­fer a menu that cen­tred around seafood, and we wanted to be clear about that in the res­tau­rant’s name. So, with Wells crab be­ing so well-known, we de­cided to keep it,” ex­plains Kelly. “We fully re­fur­bished the premises. We wanted to give a sense of sea and sand, so the res­tau­rant has a nau­ti­cal feel.” The re­sult is bright and fresh and in­cor­po­rates plenty of blue to rep­re­sent the sea and sky. There are fin­ish­ing touches, such as fish­ing nets and an an­chor, and the day’s spe­cials are dis­played hang­ing from a pair of oars.

Us­ing the seafood on their doorstep is a top pri­or­ity, and Scott and Kelly are reg­is­tered and ap­proved to buy di­rect from lo­cal fish­er­men. “We have some of the best tast­ing crabs and lob­sters in the UK, in this re­gion. Us­ing lo­cally caught seafood means ev­ery­thing is beau­ti­fully fresh. It also sup­ports the lo­cal fish­ing com­mu­nity,” says Kelly. The crabs are sup­plied by Andy Frary, straight from his boat. He also sup­plies the res­tau­rant’s mus­sels when they are in sea­son. “Our lob­sters and oys­ters are also lo­cally caught, and our fish comes from trawlers up and down the coast­lines here,” says Kelly. The prox­im­ity of the port, just min­utes away from the kitchen, means the catch is as fresh as can be. “Our most pop­u­lar dishes are the dressed crab, steamed lob­ster and our lob­ster ther­mi­dor. But our spe­cials board may in­clude mus­sels, oc­to­pus, cock­les and hal­ibut, to name a few.” Buy­ing lo­cally caught seafood does mean that the choice varies, de­pend­ing on what is avail­able at the time, and the menu changes ev­ery month to re­flect this. How­ever, crabs and lob­ster can be or­dered all year round. The res­tau­rant has be­come so busy that Scott and Kelly have in­tro­duced two evening sit­tings. The first, from 6-7.30pm, is very pop­u­lar with young fam­i­lies, while the sec­ond sit­ting, from 8pm, caters for adults and chil­dren over five years old. Book­ing is ad­vised, par­tic­u­larly at week­ends and dur­ing peak sea­son. “We love Wells,” says Kelly. “The town is stun­ningly beau­ti­ful, with friendly lo­cals. It has his­tory, wildlife and scenery, plus there is the best lo­cal pro­duce to eat.”

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