When Matt and Cat go on holiday they like to have all mod cons, luxuries like walls, a bathroom with running water and a...

When Matt and Cat go on holiday they like to have all mod cons, luxuries like walls, a bathroom with running water and a nice comfy bed.

Seafood platter

Therefore camping is not their thing. Cat has less than fond memories of tossing and turning under rain and tear-soaked canvas at guide camp. Matt’s recollections of walking the South Downs Way as a youth are tainted by similar tent-based indignities. The only way they’d be persuaded to camp out these days would be in the most luxurious style imaginable.

However, this is not a tale of Matt and Cat’s well-spent youth, this is the story of a civilised meal at a camp site. All of you who love glamping will know that a holiday under canvas can be more than wasps and leaky flaps. And so it was that Matt and Cat saw the flipside of 1977-style camping, as guests of friends who had pitched up at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park. This popular site near one of M and C’s favourite beaches was jammed with happy campers.

Crab and lobster

The temporary town was well-organised with neat rows of tents and tourers, contained within their designated pitches. Each territory was marked out with windbreaks, discarded bicycles and strings of pretty fairy lights. Matt and Cat’s friends had conjoined a brace of pitches and the two families had created quite a homely set-up, complete with a refectory table and kitchenette.

Supping elderflower pressé and Old Speckled Hen respectively, Cat and Matt took their places at the table, ready for their supper. Now normally, this isn’t the kind of meal that garners a Matt and Cat review. But this was different. A local business, close to the campsite, sells fresh local shellfish to campers and passers-by alike: “Caught Fresh Every Day From Local Fishing Boats”. M&C’s hosts had organised some big platters of food from the ‘Best Dressed Crab in Town’ kitchen. All your reviewers had to do was bring some bread and one of Cat’s nutty salads and they were ready to have their shell-on feast. Each well-presented platter contained enough seafood to feed two people and, although there were over a dozen diners sat around the table, six platters made quite a banquet.

Aside from Shippams paste, Cat’s experience of eating shellfish was pretty limited. However, she adventurously poked at some of the molluscs and with some gentle encouragement from her consort, popped a mussel in her mouth. Matt, a certified expert in invertebrates, was less shy and soon the bivalves were being emptied and their salty residue licked away from eager lips. A good supply of mussels was present, along with a single native clam and an impressively large green-lipped mussel. Cat declined her half of that rubbery invert; Matt declared it to be like the other mussels, only bigger, and he polished off the neighbouring clam which slipped seductively from its shell. Incidentally, fact fans, the world’s oldest known living animal was a clam called Ming which reached a jaw-dropping 405 years old. The clam on Matt and Cat’s platter was a far more juvenile specimen.

Cat expressed an interest in eating some crustacean next and pre-emptively squeezed fresh lemon juice over the crab’s exposed flesh. It was, as promised, beautifully dressed; the meat was flaky and packed nicely back into its upturned carapace with a garnish of parsley. It was delicately flavoured and Cat mopped out its shell with a lump of rustic bread.

Throughout the fishy feast, Matt and Cat denuded the plentiful prawns, both regular and king-sized. They were fiddly things to disrobe and some of the younger diners were a bit tentative about grabbing the whiskery crustaceans. Although the edible remnants were quite small, they too were delicious.

The half lobster was left until last. Was it possible that its forebears made up the nearby chalky promontory at Culver along with other long-dead sea creatures? Anyway, this particular lobster’s sacrifice was not in vain for, although its crusty shell was unlikely to be compressed over millennia to add to the IW’s chalk deposits, it was some fine eating. The firm flesh came away from the tail with ease; its flavour – slightly more piquant than the crab – went well with the picnic’s olives and bread. Matt saved the soft claw flesh for himself, winkling it out of its snug home, which had been thoughtfully pre-cracked.

Altogether this was a great feast, locally caught and beautifully prepared and presented. Matt and Cat were well satiated by the generous portions. There were a couple of un-opened mussels on each tray which really shouldn’t have been offered for eating. However, even with these rejected molluscs, at £16.50 the Best Dressed Crab in Town seafood platter offered great value for money and a fun and safe way to eat Bembridge’s aquatic bounty.

You can find The Best Dressed Crab in Town by the roadside just past the Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park. It’s takeaway only, and if you fancy some good value seafood and don’t want to be bothered preparing it yourself, you won’t go far wrong here.
The Best Dressed Crab in Town

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  • da yw wyth

    28th September 2014 #1 Author

    The café now open as “The Best Dressed Crab” is certainly a must for anyone keen on seafood. On stilts, with near 360° views of Bembridge Harbour the setting has few rivals – at least when the tide is in! All members of your party do need to be seafood fans though, as it’s a specialist place; the only alternatives seem to be coronation chicken or an enormous bowl of IW ice-cream…

    Not a cheap place, but a quality one – though at the price I would have hoped for an absence of blaring bland pop music! A huge plus though is that is open year-round, unlike some more feint-hearted coastal venues nearby…

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  • Son Of Caulkhead

    17th August 2010 #2 Author

    Have to agree that this place does some fabulous seafood. My wife and I went for a simple dressed crab, which we took up to Bembridge Down and scoffed heartily whilst looking at the view!
    Definately recommended if you want to get something on the move, though the temptation to eat it right away may prove too much.

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