Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe is on the cusp of retirement, and looking forward to realising his dream of opening his own restaurant. He's got as far as finding a building and hiring staff when his Pointy-Haired Boss, Assistant Chief Constable Fisher — who has built his career on capitalizing on Crabbe's successes — finds a hook by which to drag him back into harness. But, to keep him from getting totally rebellious, Fisher lets him keep the restaurant.
A standard episode has an A Story in which DI Crabbe solves the mystery of the week (which is not Always Murder: this is one quiet English county that doesn't have people dropping like flies) and a B Story in which Chef Crabbe deals with some obstacle to the smooth running of his restaurant. Or vice versa.
The supporting cast includes Crabbe's accountant wife Margaret, who to his continual regret is one of those people who has no interest in food unless they're hungry and then will eat anything; the staff of the restaurant (assistant chef Steve, later Gary, and waitstaff Linda and John, later Nicola and Sally) and Henderson, the market gardener (with a somewhat shady past) who supplies the restaurant. On the policing side there is WPC Sophia Cambridge, who starts out as ACC Fisher's staff driver and gofer, and becomes Crabbe's de facto sidekick because she's the one always sent to drag him away from his restaurant when Fisher needs him. In later seasons, Cambridge transfers to CID and becomes a detective in her own right.
This series provides examples of:
- The Alleged Car: Henderson's van. "As long as you keep it out of third, and you don't try using the lights and the heater at the same time, you'll be fine."
- Bad Impressionists: One of the restaurant patrons in "Who Only Stand and Wait".
- Bait-and-Switch: In "Doggett's Coat and Badge", a conversation about the antique, valuable and fragile macguffin is intercut with an innocent bystander in the next room discovering its hiding place and picking it up for a closer look. The conversation is then interrupted by a loud crash. After a moment of shock and horror, it turns out it was something else that got broken and the macguffin is still safe.
- Beleaguered Childhood Friend: Nick Spencer in "In the Smoke"
- Busman's Holiday: "Once a Copper" and "Passion Fruit Fool" both start with Fisher leaving town for the week, and Crabbe looking forward to an opportunity to concentrate on the restaurant, only for a mystery to find him out anyway. "In the Smoke" has Crabbe go away on a holiday from both his jobs, with equal success.
- Commuting on a Bus: Detective Sergeant Cambridge in the later seasons.
- The Coroner: The medical examiner in "Who Only Stand and Wait" is a good example of the type.
- Delinquent Hair: The title character of the episode "The Policeman's Daughter" goes through a rebellious phase that includes running away from home, taking up with undesirable people, and dying her hair pink.
- Drink-Based Characterization: Crabbe's is "Gin and tonic; no ice, no slice". He explains in the second episode that he doesn't trust any ice cube that he doesn't know where the water's been, and that too many places now use lemon slices that were pre-sliced in a factory somewhere and shipped to the bar in individual plastic bags; in context, he's clearly bunging it on a bit for his audience, but it's characteristic enough to be his real reason.
- The Exotic Detective
- Happily Married: Henry and Margaret Crabbe, despite their incompatible attitudes to food.
- Iconic Item: Crabbe's favourite pepper mill, which he carries with him everywhere.
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: In "Passion Fruit Fool", when Margaret wants to give Henry space to talk to their friend Alec, and Henry isn't taking the hint:Margaret: I'll just feed the chickens.
Henry: You just have.
Margaret: Then I'll sit and I'll tell them a story!
- Inept Aptitude Test: Crabbe tries to engineer this by swapping his aptitude test with his Pointy-Haired Boss Fisher. It backfires because Crabbe's results lead to Fisher being praised (Fisher's actual test implied that he seek psychiatric help) causing Fisher to rethink his desire to leave the police force.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: When Crabbe is under suspicion of having been bribed by Hooperman to let him get away, the real culprit reveals himself in this manner.
- Interrogation by Vandalism:
- In "A Matter of Taste", Margaret Crabbe is locked up in a cellar after stumbling on a conspiracy to smuggle vintage wines. She proceeds to gain her freedom by breaking the wine collection.
- In "Doggett's Coat and Badge", Henry Crabbe gets increasingly annoyed as the person he's trying to help refuses to tell him what's going on. Eventually, he threatens to break the man's 50,000-pound wine collection one bottle at a time until the man starts cooperating. "I've never seen a puddle worth 50,000 pounds before." The man folds immediately.
- Just Got Out of Jail: Steve, one of the candidates for sous-chef who Henry interviews in the first episode, a fact that comes to light because Henry was the one to investigate the offence he got sent down for! He still gets the job.
- Jury and Witness Tampering: In "Ugly Customers", several members of a divided jury receive threatening messages warning them to give a not guilty verdict. It turns out that the messages are actually the work of one of the jurors trying to sway his colleagues toward a guilty verdict.
- The Killer Was Left-Handed: Played with in "Who Only Stand and Wait". A left-handed person might still use his right hand if that's what the tool he's using was designed for.
- Lead Police Detective: Detective Inspector Crabbe is the protagonist and main detective, with Cambridge as his offsider in the early seasons and then Guthrie and Morton in the final season.
- My Car Hates Me: The kidnapping victim in "Passion Fruit Fool" makes a very creditable escape attempt, right up to the point where she tries to drive off in her abductor's car, which turns out to be an Alleged Car that won't start unless you turn the key just right.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: In "A Matter of Taste", the restaurant is beset by one from the local planning office.
- One from the local health inspector's office makes repeat visits to the restaurant in "Coddled Eggs".
- Old Cop, Young Cop: For most of the series, the close-to-retirement DI Crabbe is paired with the younger and more idealistic WPC Cambridge. For the final season, PC Guthrie and WPC Morton come on as the new Young Cops.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Assistant Chief Constable Fisher
- Detective Superintendent Chalmers in "Coddled Eggs" is a Cowboy Cop version.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: All three members of the Public Duties Squad, or so they'd have you believe. Crabbe was (according to rumor) sent there after his criminal conspiracy with Hooperman went sournote ; PC Ed Guthrie was (according to him) framed for an accident by his drink-driving superior, and we never hear WPC Jane Morton's version of events (she is rumored to have been involved in an illicit relationship with a high-ranking officer). As Crabbe says, they're all good stories regardless.
- Retirony: Played with in the first episode. DI Crabbe, counting down the hours to his retirement, gets shot by an escaping criminal mastermind — in the leg, because Hooperman is the kind of person who prefers his opponents to be alive and know they're beaten.
- Shoot the Dog: When an old police friend of Crabbe turns out to be corrupt, Cambridge arrests him to spare Crabbe from having to do so.
- Smith of the Yard: The retired policeman Striker in "Doggett's Coat and Badge" was famous in the 1950s after catching a serial killer, and was known as Striker of the Yard.
- Stalker with a Crush: One of the restaurant's patrons is stalked and abducted by her ex in the episode "Passion Fruit Fool".
- Stealing the Credit: Fisher, ever since he and Crabbe were lowly detectives together. There's a reason why Fisher is Assistant Chief Constable and Crabbe is only a Detective Inspector, and it's not that Fisher is a better cop than Crabbe.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: Used by the environmental activist in "Endangered Species" when Crabbe goes to speak to him on his home ground.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: When Crabbe is hiring his first assistant chef. Despite the fact that Steven was actually pretty good at his job, it really says something about the quality of the other candidates when a retired police officer ends up hiring an ex-con!
- True Craftsman: Crabbe, when it comes to cooking. His unwavering repudiation of the food industry's many methods of saving time and money at the expense of quality is a recurring character beat.
- Twofer Token Minority: Cambridge (black and female) is an in-story example; Fisher indicates at one point that he picked her for his staff because it makes his equal-opportunity-employer cred look good.
- Two Lines, No Waiting
- The Un Favourite: In the episode with the work experience student, he's the un-favourite of his family.
- Unsatisfiable Customer: In "An Innocent Man", which showcases some of the restaurant's regular customers, there's a man who puts on wine-snob airs and always finds a reason to reject the first bottle of wine recommended to him by the waiter. By the end of the episode, he's been banned from the restaurant.
- After he rejects the first bottle he's offered, the staff simply wait five minutes and present the exact same bottle under a different name. He praises the "new vintage".
- We Named the Monkey "Jack": Crabbe buys a flock of chickens to provide fresh eggs for the restaurant, and decides there's something familiar about the rooster:"... something in the eyes ... that strange mixture of complete stupidity and naked ambition. I think I'll call you 'Fisher'."
- Wicked Cultured: Dudley Hooperman, Crabbe's opponent at the beginning of the series, is suave, well-dressed, and as big a foodie as Crabbe is.
- Worthless Treasure Twist: "Doggett's Coat and Badge" revolves around a struggle for possession of a unique and extremely valuable bottle of wine. During the climactic confrontation, as all the interested parties are arguing about who gets to keep it, Crabbe suggests they split it evenly and uncorks the bottle before anyone can stop him. Into the ensuing shocked silence, he explains that the bottle is of too modern construction to be the genuine article; it turns out the bottle they've spent decades fighting over is a fake whipped up by one of the previous owners after the original was accidentally broken.
- Your Television Hates You: In the first episode, there's a scene where the television is turned on to a press conference being given by ACC Fisher. What he says isn't meaningful to the plot (or indeed at all, being a fine example of PR platitude-speak), but it metaphorically represents that Fisher is haunting Crabbe's thoughts at this point.