Catch at The Old Fish Market: A love letter to seafood and fishermen
There is a fantastically bad Google review of Catch at The Old Fish Market at which I burst out laughing. Not so much at the review itself, but at co-owner Sean Cooper’s reply to the one-star rating. The customer complained about a number of things – mainly that they didn’t receive a constant stream of apologies throughout the night – to which Cooper replied: “I watched your party the entire time you were sat, your demeanour was confrontational from start to finish and for whatever reason you clearly set out to pick fault with everything.”
It reminds me of the hilarious Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, in which David Mitchell plays an incredibly pompous waiter who tells his shocked customers (Robert Webb and Olivia Colman) with a voice dripping in disdain: “We were watching you from the kitchen and we all thought you were a dick.” Perfection.
This isn’t to say that Cooper or any of the staff at Catch are anything like Mitchell’s Bad Waiter character. In fact, quite the opposite. Everyone at the restaurant, from the front of house staff and our main waiter David to the chefs in the kitchen, were charming, knowledgeable and extremely pleasant. How does that saying go? When you give out good energy, you get it right back. If anything, reading Cooper’s (very polite) retort made me even more confident that dining at Catch would be a treat.
My visit was also my first time in Weymouth and fell on a bad weekend for travelling – with the number of rail strikes taking place these days, it seems most weekends are better spent at home. Four trains and a rail replacement bus later, I finally arrived in the coastal town famous for its sandy beaches. I’ve heard it’s rammed in the summer, but I get there on a rather cloudy day in February and am thankful for the lack of crowds.
After a little recuperation from the journey in our charming little guesthouse (The Gresham), we head to the PlayYard first for a cocktail (or two) before dinner. This buzzy little cocktail bar is full of fun and put us in exactly the right mood for dinner. Think “magical” cocktails, with plenty of dry ice and scented smoke for dramatic effect. It’s really rather wonderful, and, it turns out, a regular hangout spot for Catch’s head chef Mike Naidoo.
After two boozy, bubbly drinks, we amble over to the Catch as the sky darkens and enjoy the last view of the harbour, along which the restaurant is situated. The building it occupies was an old fish market (hence the name) built in 1855. Catch is upstairs; downstairs is Weyfish, a fishmongers that supplies the restaurant as well as the people of Weymouth, stocked with fresh fish and shellfish every day. It’s clear that Catch’s connection to the local fishing community is a strong one, and both depend on one another to keep afloat.
Catch now only offers an eight-course tasting menu, having gone down the a la carte route and finding it didn’t suit their service. This might rub some people the wrong way but I’m perfectly happy with the set up. I’ve spoken before about how much I actually like a limited menu – it signals to me that the establishment knows exactly what it does well and wants to serve its best dishes to customers. A small menu is a thing of beauty, so well curated it belongs in a gallery.
The way Catch treats its dishes with such tender, loving care is a real testament to its commitment to sustainability and the fishing industry around it. A crab dumpling served alongside steaming seaweed, the latter not to be eaten but simply enjoyed for the aroma while you bite into the sweet, stuffed-to-the-brim dumpling, as though you’re standing at the edge of the sea. A cured trout “pastrami” scattered with crisp croutons, seaweed and sea purslane, a herb lovingly hand-collected for the restaurant. A piece of lemon sole, presented as a “rack” as though it were lamb, its spine bones sticking proudly in the air. Why shouldn’t it be treated like a prize piece of meat? It’s a beautiful thing.
What I find most compelling about Catch and its food is that it’s such an earnest love letter to seafood and the fishermen who provide it. Their partnership is an important one. Cooper and Naidoo keenly understand the importance of fishermen, so much so that I am told they provide them with interest-free loans when boats need repairing, so that they can get it fixed and go back to catching and delivering the fish without being burdened by extra payments. They use only what catches are brought in on the day – they don’t even guarantee what their catch of the day is on the menu because it depends on what they have. We got lemon sole, someone else got John Dory, someone else got seabass, for example. It’s an extraordinary way to run a restaurant, and it really, really works.
Catch at The Old Fish Market, 1 Custom House Quay, Weymouth Harbour, DT4 4BE | catchattheoldfishmarket.com | 01305 590555