Crab and Cocktails in Salcombe

As we wandered into the chic, first floor bar area of Salcombe Gin, my confident steps faltered.
“Hi – are you actually open?”

For the past week we’d been based in Salcombe in South Devon, walking the South West Coast path from Hope Cove to Dartmouth via Salcombe, with circular routes from each centre for ‘rest’ days. Returning to the car park most late afternoons after a long day on the trail, we had looked enviously over at the sleek, glass and chrome terrace of Salcombe Gin, where trendy cocktail drinkers occupied every inch, their laughter ringing out across the sparkling water of the creek.

The Sun-soaked terrace of Salcombe Gin (far R)

We really have to get there for a G&T some time before we leave, we vowed.

That time had finally arrived. It was our penultimate evening, we had walked and recorded all the major routes of the holiday, and we’d garnered all the additional information we needed. All we had to do tomorrow was visit Burgh Island, join up the circuit from Hope Cove, and check out some ferry times. We had even managed to book a table at Crab Shed.

Salcombe Gin closed at 8pm, the time our table was booked for. We planned to get there at 7pm and savour our pre-dinner G&T, hopefully overlooking the creek if we could get a seat. But as we wandered into the bar, there was not a soul in sight. The outside terrace stood empty, and the two barmen stood idle.

“Of course we’re open! What can I get for you guys?”

After perusing the menu and taking the barman’s advice, we ordered our G&Ts and found ourselves a prime spot on the terrace above the water, exactly where I had visioned us being. I had imagined we would be pressed in by people on all sides but, apart from a table of four women who had arrived and were sitting around the corner, it was all ours. And as the early evening sun bathed the entire scene in golden light, it was every bit as fabulous as it had looked from across the other side of the creek.

The barman explained that, for most of the week, the town had been busy with visitors from London and the South East but now that the holidays were over, it had reverted to its much quieter self… until next weekend when they would all descend again.

Earlier in the week we had taken a taxi to Hope Cove in order to walk back to Salcombe along the South West Coast Path. Born and raised in the town, he told us that 80% of property in Salcombe is second homes or holiday lets which means, outside the holiday seasons, the place is almost deserted.

Apart from being one of the most beautifully sited locations in the UK, Salcombe is also the most expensive place to own property and has some of the most expensive properties per square foot, anywhere in the world. While waiting for our taxi, I had idly browsed the window of a letting agent and was staggered by the prices shown. Some were as much as £6000 a month… or so I thought until I popped my head into the office just to clarify that was actually the monthly rental.

“No, that’s per week,” came the why-are-you-asking-me-such-a-dumb-question response.

According to a piece in The Guardian this year, the average Salcombe house price in 2022 was £1.2 million. The same article quotes a Lib Dem district and county council leader as saying that if you look across at Salcombe in winter, there aren’t any lights on. We had noticed how much quieter the town was on Monday than it had been when we arrived on Saturday morning but as we’d been out all day, every day since then, we hadn’t really registered that the, in terms of busy, the place was now more like winter than summer, despite the glorious weather.

On the upside, we could get a table on the terrace of Salcombe Gin and in just about any restaurant we wanted, including the Crab Shed.

Located in a corner of the long stay car park, alongside Batson Creek on the other side of the water from Salcombe Gin, according to TripAdvisor, Crab Shed is the best restaurant in Salcombe. With seating for no more than 35 or 40 people, it’s not easy to get a table there and during peak season, all but impossible.

I had very little experience of eating crab and on the only occasions I had tried it, I didn’t particularly like it. But as crab is very clearly their speciality and dominates the menu, I was more than willing to try again. If I didn’t enjoy it here, I could confidently conclude I don’t like crab.

Perusing the menu, we were unsure what to order… well, I was unsure, Jack was clear about his choice. “I’m having the Whole Salcombe Cracked Crab,” he declared.
“I’m a bit of a crab virgin,” I confessed to the waitress. “I don’t think I’ve ever had real crab, just crabsticks.”
“You have!” Jack contradicted. “Twice!”

Jack ordered the whole crab, but the waitress recommended not to get that unless you were accomplished with the crab crackers as you would be elbow-deep in shells. Taking her advice, we both opted for the Dressed Crab and let someone else do all the work.

The crabs they serve are all hand-picked, local brown crabs which land literally outside their door – quay-to-plate. Beautifully presented, with the white meat in the centre and the brown meat surrounding it, it tasted like no other crab I had tried. I knew it, I had never eaten proper crab before.

Crab and cocktails – the perfect Salcombe combo.

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