Mud Crab – Another one of those places that does everything – West Bridgford
Exactly a month before Valentine’s Day, I get to go on a hot date with the host of this site, the delightful Mr Frusher [no money changed hands in exchange for this comment]. Except that my husband is in attendance, and Alec is thirty five minutes late. And it is at a place with a name that leads itself open to being misheard and sounding like an unfortunate bowel incident.
The delay in Alec’s arrival gave the husband and I a lot of time to scope out the place, and for me to chat to a very pleasant waitress about wine. She was happy for me to try a couple of whites from the list before committing to a choice, and as it goes I ended up selecting the one she had recommended to me at the start, the Giddy Goose Sauvignon Blanc. Most Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are a fairly safe bet, but this is one with a bit more floral character going on than most, and was worth the £5.75 for a 175ml glass. The wine list is compact but well selected, coming from all over the globe, rather like the selection of beers by the bottle and on draft. The husband went for the Coopers Sparkling Ale and although he prefers the classic green-ringed ale, it was pleasing to see Mud Crab plumping for one of Coopers’ lesser spotted brews.
Mud Crab is housed in a high-vaulted two storey restaurant. The kitchen is upstairs and as there is no dumb waiter, there are a lot of fit waiting staff milling up and down the spiral staircase. The downstairs is dominated by the central bar, with comfortable booths around the edge of the room and a variety of square, circular and high-perch tables dotted around. For a quiet Wednesday evening in January, there were perhaps thirty other customers who ate while we were there; not the sort of footfall to support the extensive menu Mud Crab has, which made me wonder how the kitchen manages this without resorting to lots of frozen and processed stockpiles.
The menu gave away how they pull off this trick. It is not just lengthy but sprawling, covering the Western dining world through 21st century British eyes i.e. in a variety of cod-gastro guises. However, look more closely and the same ingredients or constituent elements appear repetitiously. There’s crab in many forms: on linguine or on three kinds of salad or served up soft shell in a burger (the waiter gave us this heads-up on the burger as he heard the husband and I recounting the car crash of dining that was his attempt to eat the crab curry at Kayal; we still didn’t order it). Dips appear as starters or on platters or on sides or even on top of pizzas. There’s nothing wrong with this, it makes economic sense, but it does mean that nothing here is new or unusual or particularly market fresh. There are many social occasions that require an inoffensive, everyone-can-eat-something menu, but if you order steak or fish, keep your expectations on a realistic level.
Once Alec arrived, having spent an hour and a half at a bus stop in sub zero temperatures, we were able to crack on with ordering, although the menu’s length made this take longer than necessary, and we had to keep sending away our very patient waiter. Eventually we opted to get straight into the main courses. I went for the Pizza Puttanesca (£8), Alec the peking cripsy duck pizza (£9) with a side of the toe-curling named good fries (£2.50; they are just fries. If you have to tell us they are good, what are you hiding? Perhaps the fact that they are going to arrive in an enamel mug like an ironic joke gone on too long?) and the husband the pan fried crispy skinned seabass with saffron and chorizo risotto (£14.50). We were served after about fifteen minutes, which seemed like a good length of time for a kitchen probably only handling our check.
The pizza was frankly disappointing, the disappointment being all about that base. What a flimsy disc of cardboard that turned out to be, presumably made to a recipe of cheap flour and water, with no rise whatsoever and the shameful colour tone of cold rice pudding. If you took a cheap tortilla wrap from Aldi and warmed it in the microwave you would have got a closer approximation to pizza. A pizza rests on its foundations; this was the house on the sand built by a foolish man. This was a double shame because the topping of the pizza was actually rather good. The anchovies were not whole but fillety bits, but reasonable expectations would dictate that; the olives were fresh and zingy and the capers squidgy rather than pigeon-shot bullets. An accompanying mixed salad (£2.75) did its job.
Alec can talk about his own food [views echoed, wasn’t convinced on the flavour combination and a lack of toppings!] and whether his pizza beat the potato-topped affair he encountered in Zizzi on Monday [close run thing, ill conceived potato aside Zizzi was probably better]. The husband’s seabass was overdone; trying to crisp the skin on any fish without progressing to burnt territory requires care and attention, and when there are few fish items being offered, it often means that the chefs fall out of regular practice. This is not their fault; strategic ordering from the menu may be the best way to avoid ordering a dish likely to fall short. The risotto, however, was creamy as advertised, and the whole lot disappeared pretty quickly.
There is a short dessert menu, although none grabbed our attention. Our coffees were good enough that we all remarked on them, and any bill that arrives with 40% off is a welcome thing (Mud Crab was running a January promotion when we went). The service was attentive and friendly; it can be hard to get right when a venue is quite empty, but the serving staff pitched it well. If a group night out happens to take me to Mud Crab, I will go quite happily with my tactical ordering hat on.
Restaurant website: http://www.mudcrabindustries.co.uk/west-bridgford