So the city’s newest addition is a welcome one I’d say. You can find many types of restaurants in Exeter – French, English, Italian, Spanish, Asian – mostly varieties of either meat or vegetarian, but very few restaurants specialise in seafood. Enter The Rum and Crab shack! With ‘crab from here and rum from over there’, this St Ives born restaurant is the brain child of Chris McGuire and Neythan Hayes who have had their Cornwall shack established since 2012. Like any good idea, it was decided over a drink – rum, funnily enough! In the midst of the St Ives building work, and not quite being ready over the New Year, they instead opened a pop-up rum bar over the long weekend – and a ‘marriage’ was born.
Exeter’s The Rum and Crab Shack can be found at the rear of House of Fraser, by the Almshouse ruins, in place of The Milkmaid.
I was invited along in their first week to try out some dishes at lunch time. I will admit, I am picky with crab but the menu boasts prawn and lobster items so I was happy to oblige. Of course, the test with anything you are a bit fussy about is to try it and if it is good they must be doing something right.
The building is essentilly of two halves, almost identical in layout to their St Ives first-born, so Chris and Neythan knew it was the right building for them. It is naturally split into a restaurant area, with a few tables outside and then the bar area. The decor is industrial seaside. Not in your face or full of nautical stripes, boats and seagulls (we have enough of those blighters in the city thanks) but nice leather seated booths with dark wooden tables, a mix of colourful metal and wooden chairs, heavy seafaring rope lighting, exposed brick walls and metal bar frontage. All that is missing is the sea view – but you can’t have it all!
I spoke with co-owner Chris, who is currently overseeing their 2nd baby here in Exeter. He was really passionate about their business and aims and, once settled, would be looking to source the seafood from Devon suppliers for the Exeter branch if possible.
The rums on offer have origins including Venezuela, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Cuba and Australia to name a few. One rum out of their huge selection is made by them – Dead Man’s Fingers; using an imported base rum, they distill it fairly quickly and store it for a few months before it is ready to serve and it boasts flavours of orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. They are already supplying Eden Project with their small batch house rum and St Austell are in the process of stocking it in some of their bars. The Dead Man’s Finger cocktail was recommended to me as a must-try so I ‘bit their fingers off’ and said let’s go for it! I must admit, it was delicious and I would definitely have it again; it was smooth with all the flavours singing in harmony.
So…a menu full of seafood options put in front of an indecisive seafood lover who struggles to decide even at the sandwich counter (I can’t help it, I love ALL food)! In the end I opted for the Rum and Crab Soup – fresh crab and tomato bisque finished with their favourite rum (£4.95), the Popcorn Shrimp served with a Creole dipping sauce (£5.95) and then a Crab Taco served with a coriander salsa (£9.95).
The soup was smooth, a deep maroon colour and tasted sweet and rich, almost with a marzipan hue (odd as that sounds, it’s the only flavour I could think of that described what I was tasting; it was delicious!). It was served with some lovely fresh bread and was a great size.
The prawns were clearly breadcrumbed in house in what looked like panko style breadcrumbs, scattered with herbs and deep fried. They were the plumpest prawns I have had in a while. I added a little tobasco to the dip to liven it up even more as I do love a bit of heat.
The crab taco was a great size serving. If, like me, you were struggling to decide what to have, you could certainly share this dish. The taco’s were sat on a clever taco rack, and on top of the lettuce base it was filled with beautifully sweet crab meat laced with coriander, topped with chilli’s, spring onion, cucumber, rasish and sweetcorn and some sort of dressing. It was very fresh, with plenty of crunch. I ate it as a whole, as well as forking some of the crab out to enjoy it on its own – it was so soft and sweet, as it should be and I felt the quantity of crab was certainly fair.
A great first impression; I look forward to returning en famille for the rest of my seafood loving clan to put the menu to the test. Other options include soft shell crab burger, crab or lobster mac ‘n cheese, steamed mussels and jambalaya. For meat fans, there are Dead Man’s Finger coated ribs, spatchcock chicken and fillet steak. There are childrens options and some gluten free options too.
And if you are not a seafood fan then perhaps pop in for an evening drink from their wine, mocktail, cocktail or rum menu. Even with the great options already in the city, The Rum and Crab Shack has added another string to city’s bow – look at all those rums…taxi!