We arrived at Webbes in Rye feeling excited about trying their scallop tasting menu and immediately were worried. The downstairs café was bustling and looked fun. But the upstairs restaurant felt tacky and provincial. Posters in cheap frames advertised their Christmas party menu and the lighting was about as flattering as Basil Fawlty after half a dozen pints of gin. We then asked to move table, away from a view of the toilet and staircase and felt sorry for the next couple who were dumped their. I excitedly chose a bottle of Bacchus from Chapel Down but was told they had run out. Luckily this was the end of any negatives and the scallop marathon commenced…
A small cup of curried parsnip soup adorned with a seared scallop set us on our way. The gently spiced flavour of sweet parsnip complimented the scallop very well. The luscious texture of the soup matched the fishy flesh perfectly. It was an attractive and tasty start that filled us with a sense of reassurance.
Scallop ceviche was far less successful. The flesh had lost its bounce and the marinade was underpowered. Worse still, the minced red peppers anchoring the plate, were overpowering and seemed out of place. It would have been far better with a lick of chilli, some shallots and perhaps a slither of avocado. If you’d served this to a Peruvian they would have been disappointed that one of their national treasures had been let down.
A Thai style scallop with citrus dressing, bean sprouts, coriander and sesame seeds was a bit like a deconstructed Vietnamese summer roll. But without the soft wrapper and sweet hoisin dipping sauce. Cowie enjoyed this one more than me. It was very pretty and an excellent idea. But I wanted something that elevated it above being a dainty salad and something sweet to give the scallop a hand.
“Scallops and black pudding” has probably appeared on most restaurant menus in the UK in the last few years. And rightly so. It’s a cracker. Their addition of a slice of tart apple at the bottom worked brilliantly. It set the saliva glands pumping and made you really focus on the scallop. This dish stood out for us as the one that most elegantly showcased how to create a scallop dish. You need to provide the stuff the scallop doesn’t have: texture, tartness, meatiness. And this dish did it head on.
The kitchen’s second attempt at pork belly and scallops was excellent. Because the pork was so soft and tasty, we’ll forgive them for the first cold effort and the flabby skin. It reminded me of a moment in Master Chef last year when Greg Wallace almost had a fit when someone served him a dish like this one. He raged against the idiotic idea of mixing scallops with pork which unfortunately shows his ignorance. It’s a classic combination that you'll across Asia, Australia and Spain and got a definite Ole from us.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and warmed to Webbes by the end of the evening and at 32 quid each it was great value. They cooked each an every scallop with care, precision and only came unstuck with more challenging dishes and because they were slightly overwhelmed by the number of diners they were looking after. We'd both love to have a fun, fishy lunch in the downstairs cafe.
As we tucked into a fairly solid panna cotta and treacly espresso we hatched a plan to take the restaurant over and strip it back to its warehouse roots. We decided to turn it into a Rye version of Smiths of Smthfield, but for seafood with exposed brick walls, an open kitchen and a scallop tasting menu like this:
Miso blackened scallop
Scallop and morcilla salad
Crispy ‘scotched’ scallops
Scallops with pork belly, artichoke puree and toasted hazelnuts
Souffle St. Jacques with a glass of Mersault
What's your favourite scallop dish and what would your scallop tasting menu include? I'm intrigued and will try to give the recipes a go in my tiny kitchen in Sweden.
This is part of a small clutch of posts about our trip to Rye for the Scallop Festival.