It is a well-accepted fact that a restaurant of a certain age needs a little facelift from time to time, nothing too drastic, simply, a tweak here and there to keep things fresh and in shape.
That is unless you are the Crab and Lobster at Asenby, North Yorkshire. Twenty years in business makes them a “Grande Dame” in hospitality business terms, yet, it looks as fit today as when the doors first opened.
The incongruous thatched cottage eatery has changed little on the outside; super-hero sized plastic crabs and lobsters skulking in the thatch; Palapa shelters – presumably now for smokers – and the only noticeable change, a conservatory-cum-function room at the back.
Decoratively, the interior here is notable for the cluttering of artefacts, ephemera and shabby chic (aka junk ) throughout. Yet, if my memory serves me correctly, I suspect a discreet trimming and thinning’s been going on: there’s still plenty to go at, but somehow it looked just a little less hit and miss. Happily, the lighting is still subdued, so I do not have to worry about what dust or cobwebs may be lurking inside, on and behind all the stuff on show.
The Crab is a restaurant dressed up as a pub; the welcoming bar looks like it should be swamped with locals but is mainly a holding pen for a vacant table. A few locals propping up the bar would have been a good idea on this occasion: for a Friday evening, it was eerily quiet. Although I have always preferred the, haphazard table arrangement, curious seating and relaxed (yet precise) service in the bar, on this occasion I wondered if I had made a mistake. Mercifully, the restaurant was heaving.
A little Piaf-style warbling playing in the bar worked hard to fill any gaps in ambiance and assisted by a capable wine list with a comprehensive, yet impressive selection of wines, things soon cheered up nicely.
The clue as to the menu here is in the name; the Crab and Lobster specialises in – you guessed it – fish and seafood. There is also plenty to interest the carnivore prowling alongside the lobster, prawns, bream, bass, et al. And, if flesh isn’t your thing there’s enough to keep any vegetarian happy.
It would almost be rude to not try the Colchester Oysters on offer; at £2 each they were not cheap but good oysters never are. These came with all the trimmings which frankly, for me are a total waste of time. I eat oysters for the soft texture and hint of the sea on the tongue; shallots and vinegars kill this. Offered here as well was a wasabi mayonnaise and hot chorizo dressing. I tried it, I didn’t like it.
There was trepidation at the arrival of a prawn cocktail at a heart-stopping £11.00. However, frozen prawns swathed in mayo and tomato ketchup, atop roughly chopped iceberg this was not.
Meaty prawns and crayfish were lapped with a fine and “proper” Marie Rose Sauce. There was a decent amount of salad but the majority of the serving was the seafood.
Alongside, a lobster and crab toastie and crevette fritter delicately transported this cocktail into another league. Worth £11? The jury’s still out.
Continuing the fishy theme: steamed natural smoked haddock, a bubble and squeak cake, poached egg, and a wholegrain mustard sauce was the outstanding dish of the evening. There was a serving of crispy onion rings on the side, superfluous to needs, but good, nonetheless. This dish came in at £18.00 and there’s no deliberating on price this time; it was worth every penny.
A fish assiette arrived in full piscine glory: salmon in filo pastry; a crispy, flavour-packed fishcake; char-grilled swordfish, a hefty portion of fish and chips; crushed peas (nothing mushy here) and a posh tartare sauce. This was a robust dish and not for the faint-hearted. No complaints came across the table except a comment on the size (too big) and the seasoning (too little) of the fish portion.
Though a rarity, we passed on pudding, for no reason other than being full – I knew tucking into the bread basket with gusto at the start of dinner would be our undoing. There was plenty to go at had we decided to: unseasonable sticky toffee or bread and butter pudding; seasonable fruits whipped into tarts and cheese cakes; sorbets and ice creams. Given the quality of food here, I have no doubt they were good.
Whilst we had been busy with our food and wine, the bar had filled with diners and the music had switched to a perky jazz-swing mix; the conservatory was hopping with a private function and all seemed just had it always has been at the Crab. This lady not only looks good for her age, it seems she has plenty of years left in her yet.
The Crab and Lobster, Asenby, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 3QL. Tel: 01845 577286. Lunch: 12- 2.30pm, daily; dinner: Dinner 7-9pm, Sunday to Friday, Saturday 6.30-9.30pm.