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Muddy reviews: Crab & Hammer, Paignton

Crab and lobster cracker at the ready! Paignton's netted itself a fabulous new catch on the harbour - an indie seafood restaurant with sustainable cred.

Never mind the grockles and faded seaside glory – there’s a lot to like about Paignton. The award-winning Paignton Zoo, Dartmouth Steam Railway, the brilliant Palace Theatre – and now this tourist town on the English Riviera has a new string to its bow – Crab & Hammer, a chic seafood eatery with a humane ethos.

THE LOCATION

Hello, Paignton Harbour! Aren’t you pretty? Here’s a boat-filled oasis, surrounded by a mix of pubs and eateries, pastel-coloured cottages and businesses with good reason to be there, namely fishing. Blue Sea, at the end of the harbour sends its catch all over the globe, and now it director, David Markham, is going to market a little closer to home – at Crab & Hammer.

THE LOWDOWN

What brought this place to Muddy’s attention – apart from the pretty pics on Instagram – are their ethics. While many shellfish eateries still use the traditional cooking method of boiling shellfish alive, here they use a new technique called Crustastun which humanely stuns and kill crustaceans under 10 seconds.

It’s very in the zeitgeist, what with Netflix’s Seaspiracy and the so-called ‘lobster law’ going through the House of Lords – an amendment to the Animal Welfare Bill which will give crustaceans the same rights as animals with a backbone.

Apparently, there is loads of research that these creatures do feel pain, which is horrendous to think, and the likes of Chris Packham and other well-known wildlife bods are very much behind it. Less altruistically, some say Cutsastun also improves the flavour due to animals feeling less stress. So, an all-round GOOD THING.

THE VIBE

Chic, nautical, and free of your usual seafood cliches (yes you, driftwood oystercatcher). There is a glass frontage which peels back for an indoor-outdoor feel, and wooden tables where you can dine right next to the harbour.

Mr Muddy and I are sat indoors at a table that sits right in the middle of the open doorway which we momentarily fear will be a bit, you know, in the way but turn out, it’s the best seat in the house, thanks to the sea breeze – always the best accompaniment to seafood – and loads to goggle at on the harbour when the conversation runs dry.

Which of course it doesn’t, as I’m too busy pointing out the cool decor to Mr M. “I love that huge sign, and has that picture of a lobster been branded on the table? Look at the lovely lights – I bet it’s gorgeous here at night. And don’t they look like rope octopus! Or is it octopi?” And so on.

The polished concrete floor and sandstone walls has the echo of a working fish shed, yet it’s all very done-up with Ed Sheehan on the playlist and an upper level where, instead of nosing at the comings and goings of ferries and fish vans, there’s the theatre of the kitchen to enjoy instead.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Lunch, dinner, drinks and light bites – it’s all here. You could pop in with your luvver for a glass of champers and some oysters (available singly for £3 each, brilliant if you just fancy a taster or a between-course course), order a seafood platter for two, or pop on a bib and tuck into a half lobster or a whole crab – what they call #straightup.

We’re here for a light lunch, so having ascertained the small but clearly curated wine list has a Portugese 2018 Vinho Verde, perfect to go with my meal, I opt for a crab salad. (Seafood fancier though I am, I prefer someone to have dealt with the fiddly shell.)

A generous portion of tender white meat arrives and, hidden under a dressed salad, the brown meat too, served with two slices of fluffy white bread. Fresh as the breeze rolling off the harbour.

Mr M got his pincers around the Banh mi, their take on the classic Asian crab roll, which comes with salad or fries. (Fries it is then.) It’s a tasty coriander and kimchi-flavoured crab medley in an oh-so-so soft baguette – not a bao bun. Of the two dishes, his had the more impact, though for purists you couldn’t beat my crab salad.

For dessert, we share a lemon tart served with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream – creamy like posset, and very zingy – not too citric, not too sweet.

KID FRIENDLY

While there were a couple of children’s dishes on the menu (cheese burger and Mac and cheese), for older kids here would be the perfect place for a memorable introduction to shellfish – napkin tucked firmly into collar and a seafood pick and cracker in hand. They’d never look back.

Just one niggle. The changing facilities were upstairs even though there was a disabled loo downstairs – surely easier for a parent with pram to negotiate?

OUT & ABOUT

Need to walk off that Singapore Chilli Seafood Feast? Take an amble around the harbour for a gander at the boats or hop on board one of the numerous pleasure boats, like MV Liberty Lass, for a quick trip to nearby Torquay or the fishing harbour of Brixham – the headland is just across the water.

Or head right and up through Roundham Gardens and you’ll find yourself at some pretty beach huts and Goodrington Sands. Got kids in tow? The UK’s largest outdoor waterpark, Splashdown Quay West is just behind here if you fancy a ride down some flumes.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

A tasty new catch for Paignton! Expect this to be a year-round hit with the locals. We’ll be back.

Good for: ethical eaters; an immersive seafood adventure; a night out with the girls; a romantic date with oysters and champers; a good-value birthday treat for a lobster lover; an authentic fishy dishy for landlubber weekend guests down from the big siddy.

Not for: shellfish lightweights who gag at the mention of a pincer.

The damage: brilliant value, a smidgeon of what you’d pay in the Big Smoke: half lobster £26; seafood platter for one £32, banh mi £18.50; a glass of Grolleau Gris starts at £5.70 for a glass, £22 for a bottle.

Crab & Hammer, Harbour, South Arm, Paignton TQ4 6DU Tel: 07826 200900

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