Crabshakk @ Cathedral House Hotel


I’M still mocking the price of the scallops at this new Crabshakk pop up when, oops, here they come right now, bouncing up the tight little staircase in the hands of that cheery waiter chap who keeps winking at us over his mask.

Shhh, Mrs Mackenna hisses. But it’s too late.

“Is £18 for six scallops a new bloody Scottish record” has already slipped from my lips, tumbled over the balcony, hit the stairs and flopped face first into the depths of this cavernous restaurant where once cheery, chirpy and scarily happy young wait staff, one of whom was literally singing a few moments ago, freeze in their tracks.

Ah, awkward, I think not realising that the really awkward moment is still to come. This comes when I actually taste one. Then another. Biting through bronzed and crisped caramelisation, tarragon crumb, a surprisingly delicate meaty bit and all the while scooping up more of that witchcraft chicken butter with the tangy brown bits from the bottom of a roast chicken pan.

Wowser. If I tell you there’s a punch-up coming over who is going to have the last one, because I may already have had three, and they weren’t actually ordered for me, you get the picture.

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But what do I know? Consider this: You come to a place called the Crabshakk, you’ve gotta order crab? Yes? No.

My advice? Do not order the crab; even if, like me, you peer over and see at very the next table a big fat brown crab chopped neatly in half and assume through the fug from the grill below that it’s been dressed. In here it hasn’t.

There follows some very uncomfortable moments for the son of a man who would despatch, boil, clean and dress, crumb half a dozen brown crabs with utter ease of a Friday evening and have their shells bubbling under the grill as we kids were trooped off to bed.

Put it this way: dead man’s fingers, that’s guts, a shell that no restaurant cracker in the world will ever breach, a return to the kitchen for a hammer to be applied, and even a second go at getting some pleasure from this slippery nightmare is not going to disguise the fact that if the kitchen can't be bothered preparing their crab beyond boiling, then why the hell should I?

Saying all that: Those surf clams, vongole really, with that vibrant salsa verde? More please.

The squid cooked on the plancha way down there that’s sending all that delicious-smelling smoke up into the low ceilinged gods of Cathedral House Hotel where we sit this very afternoon? Rolled, flipped and flapped in a proper grown-up chorizo jam, eaten with bites of asparagus and swallowed with rushes of watercress afterburner? That’s another yes.

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Even the salt cod accras; puffy doughballs of salty goodness, every single one dunked right up to the oxsters in a milky green wild garlic gazpacho? Sending little ding dongs of comfort coursing through my tiny brain.

Side dish of tenderstem broccoli, sir? Seared on the grill, glistening with oil, still with a hint of the bite about it? We’ll take that.

Oh, and chips as well. Straight outta Brake Brothers is my first take on their pale golden fresh-from frozen appearance, but they’re hot, thin, salty and floury inside and so much better than the thrice-baked efforts that we had at otherwise-excellent Ox and Finch last week proving, at least, that appearances, and certainly sometimes prices, can be deceptive.

Now, and to be fair to the staff, this is a Nicola Sturgeon table and therefore, inside, booze-freeze and with dinner served at 4.30pm but we were offered one outside when we arrived.

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Oh, and hands up on this too. It’s shellfish, it’s Scotland, so throughout the meal I have been breezily predicting an easy £100-plus bill for two. Ah, turns out to be £67. Not bad at all.

Next time I’m having a pan of those bargain scallops all to myself.


Crabshakk @ Cathedral House Hotel

28-32 Cathedral Square


Menu: It’s the Crabshakk but not where we know it. Serving very fresh, well-handled Scottish seafood including surf clams, scallops in chicken butter, and squid alla plancher. 4/5

Service: Staff cracked the mask restrictions by being smiley all over and even tossing in a few winks by way of communication. 4/5

Price: It’s proper shellfish, in Scotland and never going to be cheap but turns out to be pretty good value with scallops that even at £18 were the best dish. 4/5

Atmosphere: Cathedral House hasn’t changed in decades, being all Calvanistic wood-panelled vibe meets split level New Glasgowesque feel. Gets a bit smokey but in an OK way. 4/5

Food: The stand-out dish is the scallops with tarragon crust in the fabulous chicken butter but no faulting the surf clams in salsa verde. Avoid the undressed brown crab unless you like wrassling. 7/10