It seems apt that I’m writing this whilst in the middle of what feels like a holiday whose sole aim is to eat as much seafood as humanly possible. As I shovelled down fresh oysters in yet another French coastal town, it occurred to me that it would tempting (and hackneyed and predictable) to declare that, ‘you just can’t get fish like this back home’, or ‘it’s a shame us Brits can’t do shellfish like the French can’. But it would also be wrong.
It may occasionally feel to us landlocked Midlanders that it’s difficult to find fresh seafood and shellfish without making a concerted effort to look (the market in Birmingham would be an obvious choice, though us small towners in the periphery might have to go to a smaller fishmonger with undoubtedly higher prices and a smaller selection). But go to pretty much any of the UK’s fishing ports or towns and you’ll easily find yourself some freshly-landed fish that hasn’t been shipped halfway across the world but was plucked out of the big blue that very day.
That’s exactly what we went in search of on a recent visit to West Bay in Dorset. While others hunted for Broadchurch memorabilia, I was on the lookout for bivalves. And find them we did. Tucked down a little side street in West Bay is The Trawlermans – a teeny tiny deli selling whatever fish has come in that day. Nothing special, you might think, until you spot its riverside garden just outside. A quirky little al fresco spot where you can order pretty much whatever they’ve got in the shop and enjoy it in the most casual of settings.
The watchword here is simplicity. The fish is fresh, prepared simply. It comes with bread. You take your own booze. This isn’t about a chef proving their worth, or an interior designer creating the perfect ‘space’ for you to enjoy your lunch. It’s about the ingredients, front and centre.
We were in a gang so opted for a shellfish platter that could cater for all of us. They didn’t have any lobster the day we visited so we doubled up on dressed crab, thinking it would be the star of the show but it was just one of a whole cast of great characters that kept six of us busy for nearly two hours.
Huge green-lipped mussels and some smaller relatives too. Big fat tiger prawns and some smaller crevettes and teeny tiny prawn cocktail-style prawns. Cockles, whelks and all the things that remind my mum of her childhood seaside trips, plus what I’m pretty sure were some briny anchovies too and even a fish pate that was perfect slathered on the mountain of fresh bread that came alongside the platter.
Sauces were simple and did what they should for a meal like this – complemented without overshadowing. A traditional Marie Rose that was creamy yet light, and not at all cloying, with the right balance of sweetness and tangy acidity. And then there was a less traditional sweet chilli sauce – perfect with some of the meaty, fresh prawns.
I’ve mentioned the hunks of fresh bread piled high with decent, salted butter, and the whole platter itself sat on a bed of crisp salad that wasn’t just about aesthetics but added to the whole fresh feel of the lunch. We washed it all down with some chilled white wine that we had carried with us (true dedication to the cause I feel) while the boys got some pints from the pub next door.
If this lunch shows anything, it’s that sometimes simplicity rules. There aren’t a million courses, no fancy interior, no clever use of modern techniques – indeed, no cooking. But it proves that sometimes decent ingredients can do it all.
Of course, the fact they’d been chosen and prepared for us, laid out on a nice platter and served up with a few little additions and a very helpful waitress made it all the more enjoyable, and that’s the beauty of this little hidey hole in West Bay. Broadchurch fans, go for it on your tours of hotspots from the series – I’ll stick to the seafood!
We paid in full for our platter at the Trawlermans which I’m pretty sure was a very reasonable £39 or £49 (sorry, my memory is faded due to wine consumption) and was more than enough for six of us.