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
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 There is a squeal of delight as a line is withdrawn to reveal a glistening brown crab.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.”