It was a simple chalked sign at waist level that pointed out the way. We duly followed, feeling that we were in on some foodie secret, secret supper club style. A terracotta façade and closed wooden door with overhanging sign made from the bottom of a wooden crate were the only signals that we’d reached our destination. This was The Wheelhouse in Falmouth, an eatery which a generous Lonely Planet journalist had informed us was an absolute must.
The door opened directly into the middle of what felt like a private dinner party at a friend’s house, the chef looked up from behind rows of copper paella pans and smiled and we were greeted with: “Ah, you must be Rachel?” It was a clever touch of old fashioned hosting and we headed over to our rather tiny dining table, an old Singer desk, complete with a handwritten note of our reservation details, retro un-matching crockery and large chunks of bread. It felt churlous to mention to my dining guest MM, that the bread looked like the tiger bread you got from Asda, but that became superfluous as the evening progressed.
“Everything we have is in the circles,” we were informed. Looking up at the bistro style blackboard, the choices ran something like this: brown crab 9; medium spider crab 1; monster spider crab 2; lobster 2; no oysters (too small at the moment and out of season) and beyond the larger numbered crustacean: fish soup, mussels two ways, prawns shell on/off, scallops. I felt a little frenzied because quite frankly I wanted everything, it was a shellfish orgy that I had only previously experienced in Spain or Italy.
A few deep breaths later and we were decided: prawns shell on to share, MM mussels sailor-style (cream and garlic) and I would have the gourmet’s choice of crabs: the spider. Medium please. With The Wheelhouse sauce, a gooey topping of oyster and soy sauce. Oh, and a glass of white and a Moretti. Feeling distinctly continental, we did the inevitable which was to devour the bread and sat back, struggling a little with the Lilliputian dimensions of the Singer table and waited for the feast to begin.
The prawns arrived, smothered in garlicky lemon coloured oil. I sucked the heads for extra taste (sorry dear reader but it should be done). Then onto the main event: crab and mussels. MM had optimistically opted for a kilo and duly, her mound arrived. And then came the alien-like spider crab, legs poking out from a copper paella-style dish. I was armed however, both mentally and physically. Three different types of metal objects would help me in my quest to remove the sweet meat, but most of all I knew I just had to get my hands (and me) dirty. Thankfully I had also been thoughtfully armed with an apron (which it was very tempting to take as a little souvenir). Memories of a first date and a flying lobster claw came rushing back but such a gaffe would be barely noticed here I felt.
The conversation lulled into a series of grunts and I became dogmatic in my pursuit of flesh, cracking, squeezing, prodding and sucking. Deelicious. The alien soon became a study in anatomy, a car crash of limbs and body parts. MM struggled a little with the mussels and I generously stepped in: equally fresh, spongy but firm and garlicky as if they had been marinated overnight. Impressive. We were a little exhausted. A monster spider crab passed by at table level for a very brave customer or customers; as big as a curled cat.
There was no chance of dessert, but I requested the crab to be wrapped up so that I could make a bisque. The prospect was almost as exciting as the meal itself. Price: very reasonable, we paid just over £50 for both of us with three drinks; service excellent; food superlative. I’m not sure how long The Wheelhouse will remain Falmouth’s best kept foodie secret but make sure you book in advance to share it. Two sittings per night from 6pm, closed Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays. Very popular paella nights once a month, again book ahead by phoning Matt or Tina on 01326 318050.