Lauren Heath travels the world – via the rum in her glass – from the comfort of a bar stool at Exeter’s new Rum & Crab shack, a gaff that’s picked up on the new trend for artisan spirits. Pirates, young and old, are especially welcome…
Just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of city centre shops and Exeter’s Cathedral Green is one of the city’s newest eateries, The Rum & Crab Shack. It’s the second ‘child’ of a St Ives restaurant owned by two friends who, over a glass of rum, decided this would be their business dream. Thankfully, they are sharing it with the rest of us.
Two large glass windows with gold writing lure you into their industrial-yet-seaside themed restaurant, like a pirate unable to resist shiny treasure. The building is, naturally, a game of two halves, with a distinct restaurant area and a bar area that are so much like those at their original restaurant that this building felt like just the right fit to owners Chris and Neythan.
There are no boats on the window sill, nautical stripes or crab decor here, though – just earthy wooden tables, metal chairs, rope lighting and exposed brick walls. With “seafaring fare from round here and famous rums from over there”, the Rum & Crab Shack certainly knows what it has to offer both the keen diner and the social drinker. What’s even more enticing, though, is that all the seafood is sourced from neighbouring Cornwall, thus making sure all that delicious goodness stays more or less on home turf, as opposed to being exported for other landlubbers to enjoy.
I sat down in the lovely window booth, so I could watch the world go by, and waited for my Strawberry Fields drink − made of pulverised fresh strawberries, mint leaves and lemonade − to arrive. I’ve lately been taking newfound pleasure in trying out alternative non-alcoholic offerings, especially at lunchtime, and this was both interesting and refreshing, and worked well as a palate cleanser throughout my meal.
The Rum & Crab Shack isn’t just about food, of course; if a relaxing drink is more your thing, then look no further – there’s an extensive drinks menu, and you’re welcome to relax in the bar area, sipping away without anyone getting crabby. As well as all the normal options, there are over 80 rums on offer, from Venezuela, the Canary Islands, Mauritius, Cuba, Australia and more.
One of the rums – Dead Man’s Fingers – is even made here, using an imported base rum. It boasts flavours of orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, and when a Dead Man’s Finger cocktail was recommended to me as a must-try, I weakened and went for it. (I’m not someone who normally drinks rum, but it was delicious and I would definitely have it again; very smooth, with all the flavours singing in harmony.)
The menu boasts plenty of crab options, including rum and crab soup, crab cakes and whole claws, and there is also plenty of meat and some veggie options too.
As tempting as the bar area is, though, food was the order of the day for me, and for starters I chose the tempura squid and also the children’s macaroni cheese. The squid was lovely and tender in a crispy batter, with a soft inner layer accompanied by a sweet chilli sauce for dipping, and there was plenty to get your mitts on. With a flutter of my eyelashes I asked for lobster in the macaroni cheese, as per the adult version, and behold, for pieces of silver, my wish was granted! A very good portion of macaroni cheese turned up, with lobster peeking out from the tubes as if it were hiding in coral. The meat was tender, the sauce cheesy but not overly so, and with the addition of chopped spring onions and crunchy breadcrumbs on the top, the whole dish was delicious and felt indulgent.
For my mains course, I choose the crab nachos. (I wish I’d been warned about this sea monster: a large bowl of nachos, knee-deep in beautifully sweet crab, cucumber and tomato salsa, sweetcorn and spring onion, and all smothered in melted cheese. The savoury, fresh and sweet combination was moreish and the dish was certainly big enough for two to share, should you feel the urge to try something else on the menu as well.)
The fare on offer for ‘trainee pirates’ (the kids) is no lesser quality, and there’s not a chicken McNugget or a sausage and mash in sight.
As the tables around me began to fill with punters, creating a good ambience, it was time for finish up and walk the plank back to the agreeable chaos of the city, and my day job. I was, however, happily full to the brim, and still savouring the delicious tastes of my lunchtime escape. I have no doubt that I’ll be returning soon – but at sunset, when I can get stuck into more of the liquid treasure, too.
✱ RUM & CRAB SHACK, 14 Catherine Street, Exeter EX1 1EU; 01392 758050; rumandcrabshack.com