Catch at the Old Fish Market, Weymouth

Catch at the Old Fish Market, Weymouth

When you think about it, it makes sense on many levels to open a high-end tasting-menu-only fish restaurant in Weymouth. Firstly and most obviously, this section of the Dorset coast is where much of the best seafood in the country comes from anyway, and how better to enjoy it than via the smallest amount of food miles possible. Secondly, freed of luxe or city centre locations and the costs associated with that, what could easily be a £150+ tasting menu in some five star country hotel or Mayfair joint comes in at an extremely reasonable £75, punchy compared to most local competition perhaps but not unheard of.

But another reason that Catch couldn't open anywhere but here is that the completely charming Weymouth harbourside feels part of a healthy, working fishing community, and to have this wonderful showcase for all their hard work right next to where the dayboats unload their catch must be a source of constant pride. At least, it really should be. Catch have two such boats, parked right outside the restaurant, that supply the kitchens daily with whatever's good on the day.

The strictly day-by-day supply of fish and seafood means two things - one, that the tasting menu changes so much over the course of the week that it's better not to examine it too closely before your visit as half of the dishes could have been swapped out for something else by the time you sit down to dinner. It also requires a supremely nimble and able kitchen, to pivot from skate wing to gurnard, from lobster to spider crab, from cockles to mussels, from one day to the next, while still producing a coherent succession of dishes and a satisfying overall experience. Which Catch very much is.

Sea bass was so lightly "cured" that it was essentially sashimi, and absolutely all the better for it. It came with a vibrant arrangement of pea mousse and broth, studded with pea shoots and little blobs of mayonnaise, which complimented the fish without letting its delicate sweet flavour get swamped. Very tasteful, very intelligent, very enjoyable indeed.

Trout tartlets involved more chunks of sweet raw fish but also roe, which burst in the mouth alongside the crunch of the delicate pastry casings and along with a cured trout mousse made for a delightful variety of textures. There were little blobs of something citrussy amongst the fish (which they probably did explain to us but I've since completely forgotten) and lemon zest and wild flowers to complete the picture.

Crab came in two stages, an idea so perfect for a seafood-focussed menu I'm surprised I'd not come across it before. First we were served a neat disc of white crab meat, with pickled grapes - a very clever idea - and sea herbs, around which was poured a very attractive two-tone sauce of white garlic and something green, perhaps nasturtium oil.

Then part 2, nice bouncy home made spaghetti bound with a sauce of brown crab meat, silky and salty and full of complex earthy flavour.

Next the fish course, on this occasion gurnard landed by their dayboats and tasting essentially perfect - meaty and firm like monkfish tail but with an even more interesting almost buttery flavour. As if that wasn't enough, it came with asparagus - because whenever you can serve British asparagus, you definitely should - and an incredible "chicken butter" sauce which I think I may have finished off with my fingers. Sorry.

And then to prove that Catch can cook red meat just as well as fish, a piece of local venison, seared to rare, with a little medallion of roast turnip and finished with one of those glossy, cheff-y jus.

Desserts were equally impressive. Firstly "tea, honey, mint" which involved a mint granita, a tea ice cream and a very neat honeycomb of some kind of biscuit, and then a little slice of sponge topped with a lemon ice cream studded with szechuan peppers and some macerated strawberries. Next to that was poured a lovely thick strawberry sauce the colour of a stop sign.

And just like that, a world-class seafood restaurant has hauled ashore in Weymouth. And if you're wondering how such an "unlikely" town could have landed such a great place, or if you're anything like my colleague who grew up round there and couldn't believe I'd even entertain the idea of spending a weekend surrounded by its slightly faded Victorian charm (and believe me, those aren't the words he used), well you just haven't been paying attention.

I will always have a soft spot for the richness and variety of restaurants in London, and I don't see myself tiring of the place any time soon. But the fact is, every time I make the journey out to Kent, or Lancashire, or Northumberland, or Cornwall, or more recently Wales and now Dorset, I eat better and better. Rather than attempting to recreate a little slice of Marylebone in the sticks to give the locals a taste of what the're missing back where things matter, restaurants like Catch (see also the lovely Parkers Arms in Bowland, or the Newlyn Arms in Penzance) have built themselves around the local fishing and farming infrastructure and are uniquely placed to make the absolute best of it all. Judging by the fact every table was taken the night we visited, it's already the hottest ticket in town. And that makes absolute sense to me.


I was invited to Catch and didn't see a bill, but with wines you're probably looking at £120/head + service to make the most of it. We stayed at the Gresham Hotel, which was absolutely lovely and I slept like a log, although the matching wines might have helped. Trains are direct from Waterloo and take about 3 hours, so it pays to make a weekend of it, especially if that means you can visit the Crab House Café in Wyke for Sunday lunch before the train home.

EDIT: I've been told that the tasting menu is Saturday night only, rest of time it's a very attractive seafood selection. It's all on their website anyway.
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