By Phoebe Stone
If there’s ever a time to visit Weymouth, a picturesque harbour town on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, it’s during its annual seafood festival in July. Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival (yes, its headline sponsor is a champagne – win) has been running for 11 years and offers up an embarrassment of edible riches. I was lucky enough to experience it myself last summer – consider this my little black book of dishes to eat and things to do while you’re in town, even if the festival isn’t in full swing when you visit.
Street food scene
My dad always taught me to ‘walk the full length of the counter before making your selection’ (AKA read the full menu before deciding on your order) and this rings true at food festivals. No one wants to fill up on a boring burger only to discover something mouth-watering around the corner. That said, the quality of this festival’s street food, the bulk of which you’ll find in nearly 100 stands snaking around the quay, makes this unlikely.
Biting into a hot, crunchy crab and onion bhaji from Katie’s Cornish Hot Pots is a great place to start, not only for their lipsmacking savouriness, but as proof seafood and spice DO go together. Beware, however – they’re enormous (and addictive).
If you’re in the mood for mussels, seek out the award-winning Crab House Cafe’s stand for the sweetest, juiciest specimens. I devoured a hefty portion of them, served in an aromatic white wine sauce and with the essential crunchy white bread, sat blissfully on the edge of the quay.
My partner was keen to try Dorset Shellfish Ltd’s crab caesar salad. The family business sells crab, lobster and line-caught bass gathered by Weymouth day boats, making their seafood as fresh as you can get. Which meant I had some reservations about my partner’s choice: I pictured beautiful fresh crab drowning in sickly sauce and heavy shards of Parmesan. Boy, was I wrong. The crystallised salt in the cheese married well with the sweet crab flesh, and the light, zingy dressing was evidently homemade.
For something chicer (and seated) Louise & Lobster have you sorted with their upmarket lobster and champagne meal deal: £30 for a barbecued half of succulent local lobster and a glass of Pommery Cuvée Louise champagne.
Restaurants & bars
On Hope Street, tucked behind a row of houses on the far end of the quayside, you’ll find The Red Lion pub. Festooned with hanging baskets and with tables and chairs sprawling out into a secluded square, it’s a great place to grab a drink in the sunshine. Should the sailor spirit take you, it boasts a huge selection of premium and artisan rums, displayed proudly behind the bar.
Around the corner is Mallams, an elegant harbour-side restaurant, which has been championing local produce since it opened in 1990. Sadly, it suffered a fire in May 2018. No reopening date has been announced yet, but I don’t think any guide to eating in Weymouth would be complete without it. When I visited, my highlight was a tumble of sweet and fleshy scallops, each burnished on the edges, served with a tart and subtly floral apple and elderflower puree.
I was impressed that every flavour Mallams’ menu laid claim to was evident in the eating (which is not always the case). A good example was my dessert, white chocolate and ginger cheesecake with rhubarb coulis, where each ingredient was vivid.
While all the food looked beautiful, there’s substance, too – my sea bass main was served with a hearty ratatouille and rough, salty roast potatoes. Mallams has everything you could want in a special-occasion restaurant – interesting but satisfying food, attentive yet easy-going service, and a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. Plus, their tasting menu is good value at £50 for five courses, and there are often fantastic set menu deals (I enjoyed three courses for £45, with a glass of wine and a cocktail). I look forward to visiting again when they reopen – keep an eye on their Facebook page and book early to avoid disappointment.
In the meantime, for beach-casual vibes and bold, fresh flavours Seatbeats on the seafront, where we enjoyed seabass in jerk marinade with sweet, mellow mango salsa, hits the spot.
Beyond the grub
The seafood festival offers (beach) bucket loads of talks and workshops, from crab cracking and picking classes to demos by local and national chefs across two stages. Chef and presenter Sophie Michell, CEO of the Billingsgate Seafood School CJ Jackson, Neil Rankin of London’s Temper and chef proprietor of the Crab House Restaurant Nigel Bloxham are scheduled to appear this year, plus delicious.’s wine editor Susy Atkins. The festival raises funds for The Fishermen’s Mission, a charity providing welfare and support for fishermen and their families, and also aims to promote sustainable fishing – expect lots of tips on choosing your catch and cooking with fish beyond the big five popular in the UK (salmon, prawns, tuna, cod and haddock).
Besides the festival, Weymouth offers all the delights of a seaside town. We spent a few very amusing hours crab fishing on the harbourside with a packet of bacon and a crabbing kit bought from a fishing shop.
I recommend renting a pedalo for an hour on Weymouth beach – the bay is shallow, with white sand and very clear water, and on a sunny summer day could almost be mistaken for the Med.
If you’re interested in history, take a trip up the 174ft Jurassic Skyline tower on Festival Pier. It provides a 360-degree view over Weymouth and the surrounding Jurassic coast, allowing you to imagine the landscape in prehistoric times, or the town as the popular resort it was in the Georgian era.
There are a few very good delis in the town centre worth exploring too: Chalbury Food and Wine on St Mary Street is an off licence packed with local produce, from homemade curds to crisps and liqueurs.
Where to stay
No98 Boutique Hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from Weymouth train station, situated on the seafront by the town clock tower. Rooms are cosy with a contemporary beach-chic style and most have sea views. Downstairs there’s a classy lounge and adjoining dining room, with a little bar tucked in the corner. A standard double room with sea view, plus breakfast and parking included, is £140 per night in high season.