Tethered in a south coast coastal town, I have a lasting, secret love of wet nights out-of-season. Certainly, you can drive along the Weymouth Croisette, look at the palm trees and notice how much the Riviera looks like on a summer evening. I? I like it when the lights are lubricated by the windshield wipers, and the blood is cooled by the Solent wind’s zealous scream.
Below, once the tourists are gone and the mood has dawned, it does not matter whether the government takes new precautions. The locals are experts of voluntary self-isolation and the streets are deserted anyway.
Catch occupies the top floor of the old fish market building at the bottom of the harbor. You escape from the stones scraped by rain to be led through the empty fishmongers’ refrigerators and counters, then upstairs into a church vaulted cage. There is a small open kitchen, a few tables and the kind of background “jazz” that is bio-equivalent to Librium.
I took my mother. She lives down there. Like me, she loves her nosh, and is possibly the person from whom I inherited my visceral mistrust of faff in food. She casts a selector’s eye across the room, nods affirmatively, then turns her basilisk gaze to the menu.
I dreaded Catch at this first hurdle as they use the now common restaurant syntax, the bekomma-ed list. “Crab, fennel, onion, coriander” does not really give your old mother much to go on, but it actually sold something much more developed and interesting. Shredded fresh crab meat, layered over finely shredded fennel, in a slice polished by the ubiquitous Chef’s Ring, the onions lightly pickled, interspersed with edible flowers and sprinkled with green coriander oil.
We admired it for a moment, then the waitress swung in with her little jug. I began to believe that the table-side “leftovers” were now the dominant tropics in British restaurants, that they had become an intrinsic part of the experience, such as cutlery, functioning bathroom arrangements or a roof. I’m old enough to remember when stacked ingredients and subtle gravy were rare indications of iconoclasm, driving away the civilian gravy boat and banishing the reactionary gueridon. Now they are everywhere, a given. However, this one was filled with an attractive crab-consommé, which combined sensitivity with a charmingly rough, dock body. A little Tom or Finland really.
“Lobster Thermidor croquette, lemon and fennel” gives the inquiring reader more information. The croquettes were light, almost custard. There was a buff piece of lobster tail, glazed and strained like a bishop, and a princely bisque over-pour, which ran heavier to tomato than crustaceans, but highly in context.
“Poached skates, pork belly, pumpkin, seaweed and sage” saw the fish rolled and laid next to a glittering pork belly rod, while pumpkin sauce was tossed around the color of a life jacket. It was a large and well-produced portion, with the kind of innovation and complexity flanked by Michelin, but still large enough to feed a mature adult.
“Roasted hake, chicken wing, mushrooms and truffle, vin jaune” repeats the fish-and-meat combination which, despite what chefs seem to think, no longer really shocks anyone. The chicken wing was stuffed with a meatloaf, mushrooms and truffle hatched in a fluffy tartlet and the vin jaune infusion was concentrated enough to resist fish, chickens and mushrooms. It was an excellent combination, rich enough to serve either smaller or with a cardiac collision.
“Hazelnut, Lemon and Lime” was a vanishingly delicate sponge base covered with ice, foam, gels, sugared peels and a handful of crushed nuts and – even though now it seems like writing restaurant reviews simply means getting the description you should have , to fill in. the damn menu – I’m glad to say it was bloody beautiful.
At Catch, they serve fish landed at their door by local boats, and they do it brilliantly. The food is as creative and sharp executed as you would expect in a larger city or a more fashionable European coastal town. It is served with precision, but with hospitable heat.
I suggest you take the low cunning of our locals and flock to Catch in the miserable evenings of the off-season. Go on a zealous Tuesday in February, or that Monday in March when we’re all supposed to kill ourselves, because, in fact, Catch is so good that the moment the sun comes out, you have no hope in hell to get a table.
Catch at the Old Fish Market
1 Custom House Quay, Weymouth DT4 8BE, 01305 590555; catchattheoldfishmarket.com
Dinner menu: two courses for £ 45, three courses for £ 55
Tasting menu: £ 70
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