Fish fit for the gods at the Crabshack, Worthing
Verging on an obsession, ever since I moved beside the seaside some 10 years ago, I have undertaken a quest to seek out the greatest seafood on the south coast. It seems inexplicable to me that new restaurants can spring up professing to proffer the perfect prawn, or the most succulent seabass and then serve up quite obviously less than fresh fish, or, worse still, every seafood lover’s greatest nemesis: frozen calamari. Casting my net a little further afield than my hometown, Brighton, I skipped off to the Crabshack on Worthing’s lively seafront and found myself falling head over heels for a cone of cockle popcorn. BY POLLY HUMPHRIS
Before we talk about the food, let’s talk about the location. Worthing itself seems to be rejuvenating by the second – I was surprised to see as many bars as heaving as they were along the seafront. Fair enough, it was a Friday night at 6pm, so I expected there to be a flurry of post-work drinkers out and about, but there was absolutely no rowdiness (sadly, I’m all too tainted by visions of Brighton’s West Street…) and instead a relaxed and cool vibe that was far more chilled out beers than shots of Sambuca.
Having popped into a couple of lovely bars en route (it would’ve been rude not to on a sunny spring evening), the Crabshack appeared at the end of Marine Parade like a beacon of salvation, its retro signage low lit by a string of festoon lights – there’s nothing more appetite inducing than a few glasses of wine in the sunshine and the shack’s exterior couldn’t be more inviting. That’s not a slur either; the reference in the restaurant’s name is entirely deliberate and it is a shack, albeit a beautifully turned out one with a stylish wooden floor and exposed brick walls. Outside, the wood-clad terrace fitted out with bench-style seating could comfortably sit 20, while inside, a long wooden table for sociable eaters divides the room with tables either side for more private dining.
Taking our seats to the right of the kitchen (which can be seen clearly, but that doesn’t intrude on proceedings at all), my stomach flipped with glee at the sight, let alone the divine smell of the Crabshack’s famed fish plate for two. A combination that’s already become something of a signature dish, it offers fritto misto, Sussex smokie, Springs smoked salmon, dressed crab, a proper, old school prawn cocktail and mini crabcake balls with a roasted red pepper and basil sauce.
The Sussex smokie – undyed smoked haddock in a creamy cheese sauce with pan-fried leeks and crunchy ciabatta for dunking – is the ultimate in comfort food and the edible equivalent of a big warm hug with tender, sweet hits of fresh fish cutting through lashings of velvety soft, salty sauce. The winner though? That proper prawn cocktail. Prawn cocktails need nothing other than crisp iceberg lettuce and plump prawns coated in a slightly acidic, slightly spicy mayonnaise and the chef at Crabshack knows this; it was a thing of beauty and tasted even better than it looked.
Bar the restaurant’s most popular dishes such as the fish plate for two; the delicious and very moreish crispy squid tossed with garlic chips, chilli and parsley; the moules mariniere – – fat Fowey mussels steamed with white wine, parsley, shallots, roasted garlic and cream; and of course the really tasty dressed crab served with claws to crack, Grainwave soda bread and fries on the side, the Crabshack’s menu changes daily according to what’s in season and what’s been caught locally that day. We couldn’t resist a bowl of Sicilian-inspired fish stew, which arrived steaming with heat, zingy with a kick of chilli and packed full of squid, prawns, crevettes, langoustine and mussels all topped with a pan-fried fillet of seabass. Stewed in a tomato and fennel broth, which was packed full of flavour, but left light so the taste of the fish wouldn’t get lost, each ingredient sang for itself delivering a different, but equally delightful mouthful with every spoonful.
Subverting the ‘normal’ order of things, we ended our meal eating the dish with which it began…for a second time. Call it greedy, call it self-indulgent, call it what you want – I care not because the Crabshack’s cockle popcorn is to die for and given the chance, I’d have eaten three portions. Sweet, fleshy cockles coated in a tempura-light batter then deep fried, you get a generous mound of them served in a paper cone to be doused in vinegar to your own taste and then devoured, steaming hot from the end of silver seafood fork. I’ve had cockle popcorn a fair few times, but never has it been this tasty. Do not under any circumstances forget to order it. At least once.
Worthing’s neighbour, Brighton might be attempting to steal the show with a flurry of quite flashy seafood restaurants that have opened over the past couple of years – some of which are a hit, but others of which are far more style than substance, but, in my opinion, the Crabshack gives each and every one a run for its money. And then some. The bar is great too by the way, serving G&T how it should be served (again, my opinion, but I’ve drunk a fair few) with local Blackdown gin and Fever-Tree tonic, some fabulous wines sourced from near and far, and a good range of beer on draught. Now the weather’s getting warmer, ring ahead (tables get booked up really quickly) and bag yourself a spot on the outside terrace with an ice cold G&T and a cone of that crowd-pleasing cockle popcorn to start. You will be overcome with joy.
Crabshack, 2 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3PN