Winning tip: River Exe Cafe, Exmouth, Devon
Bobbing up and down in the middle of a sun-kissed Devon estuary, the River Exe Cafe is a real gem. You can reach it easily by public transport: train to Exmouth then a boat (Puffin Water Taxi from the marina, £5 return), or you can kayak over. Once there, you are treated to the very best that the West Country can offer, with quality mains starting at £15. Don’t leave without trying the crisp local ciders and the freshest mussels caught on the river below. All this to the gentle sensation of the waves as boats glide by.
Café Canna, Inner Hebrides
It takes some effort to reach the Isle of Canna, where the tiny population is hugely outnumbered by seabirds. With only a handful of houses scattered around the deep harbour, it was a delight to discover Café Canna, a white cottage where cook Gareth turns out top-quality food from breakfast to dinner using produce straight from the sea, hills and community polytunnel. After a strenuous walk to see puffins, we found it hard to choose between lobster salad, crab linguine, mackerel tacos, rabbit stew, wild garlic and pea risotto, whisky and honey ice cream and a fudgy tarte tatin.
Cafe Fish, Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides
At the end of the harbour at Tobermory, a small white-painted concrete box – once the ferry terminal for the brief crossing between Tobermory and Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – has been turned into the award-winning Cafe Fish. Its halibut comes from nearby (in sea miles) Gigha, the scallops and lobster from the Sound of Mull. Crisp goujons of fried fish trapped between thick slices of homebaked brown bread give new meaning to a fish finger sandwich. If supplies of local langoustines, crabs or mussels from the other side of Mull run out, chef Liz will summon more from her fisher family for the restaurant’s next sitting.
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East Pier, St Monans, Fife
The East Pier smokes its own amazing, locally caught seafood from a tiny kitchen on the harbour wall – any closer and you’d be in very cold water. You eat on the roof – the lobster, crab and fat chips – and help yourself to crisp New Zealand sauvignon and local beer from the fridge. It gets busy when the sun’s out, but try eating there in the cold, with the wind-whipped spray in your face, for an authentic taste of salt-coated Scotland.
Latimer’s Seafood Deli and Cafe, Whitburn, Sunderland
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We spotted this place up on the road while walking on the beach in Whitburn and looking for a fish and chip shop. We walked it perhaps not expecting much. But it turned out to be the most delightful surprise. We had “naked fish and chips” (cooked in a parcel without batter) from a choice of cod, haddock and skate. Lindisfarne oysters were £8.95 for half a dozen. It was February but the weather was mild and sunny and eating fresh fish on the decking area in the sunshine gave us the feeling of being in southern Europe rather than by the North Sea. On the way out we stopped at the wet fish counter and stocked up on shellfish and good old-fashioned cod roe.
Drift Café, Cresswell, Northumberland
This cafe set in golden sand dunes serves delicious fare, from weird and wonderful black pudding scones to delightful homebaked cakes. It attracts dog-walkers, birdwatchers, holidaymakers and plenty of locals, and everyone is welcomed with a warm smile. Big conservatory-style windows boast sweeping views of the surrounding sand dunes and offer an exceptionally pleasant, light and airy dining experience.
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Dungeness Snack Shack, Kent
It’s easy to drive on past this rickety cabin adrift on Dungeness’s peculiar shingled nuclear shoreline. But it serves some of the most thrilling food you’ll eat at the seaside. From a shipping container kitchen, the cheery team delivers a short but miraculous menu of fish and seafood, all seasonal and sustainably caught by the family’s own boats. My fisherman’s roll was a succulent grilled plaice fillet jammed with salad and lemon into a pillowy bun. Summer sees lobster and crab rolls, and winter cod chowder. Sit on a picnic table, scoured by wind and sun, and ponder eternity over a homemade fish finger.
Billy’s on the Beach, East Wittering, West Sussex
Near the picturesque villages and beaches of the Witterings is this place offering fabulous, good-value seafood (I recommended the seafood platter for £12.50: a mountain of prawns, smoked salmon and crab, with mouth-watering pâté)in an airy seaside cafe, overlooking one of the best beaches for fossil hunting on the south coast. Cheap and cheerful cafe by day, Billy’s turns into a bistro at night and, if you’re lucky enough to catch a summer music night, there is fab music to listen to while you munch seafood and watch the sun go down.
Hipkins Tea Rooms, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex
This has been a family business for several generations and retains a 1950s charm, serving excellent fare with simplicity and impeccable service. It’s next to a safe beach, full of shells and fossils in a quiet part of the town near a resident seal colony and a national nature reserve. There is a huge veranda offering panoramic views of the North Sea and hundreds of brightly painted beach huts, with plenty of seats inside for inclement days.
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Solebay Fish Company, Southwold, Suffolk
Southwold harbour with the village of Walberswick only a rowing boat ferry away. An amazing seafood restaurant with a fishmonger takeaway at the entrance – particularly helpful if you are staying in the campsite a stone’s throw away. It blends in with the harbour sheds alongside it from the outside but then opens up beautifully once you’re in, with a striking nautical/rustic decor. There are excellent shellfish options, kippers, sprats, lobster, oysters and always daily specials. Dog-friendly too, and really good value for money with mains around £14.
The Crab Hut, Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk
It’s just a shed nestled among rows of small sailing boats waiting for the tide to come in, but The Crab Hut is a great place to eat. The weathered crab pots stacked by the door give you a clue as to how fresh the ingredients are, and it’s all loaded generously into baguettes to go with steaming tea served in chipped mugs. Sit back and watch sunlight fading into the wide and watery horizon, listen to egrets and terns swirling above – this is the way seafood is meant to be enjoyed.
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Café Môr, Freshwater West Beach, Pembrokeshire
From Easter until the end of September, Café Môr appears like some food truck mirage. The menu changes based on the market, with the Daily Catch Butty being the best value. The biggest draw, however, is its lobster rolls in Welsh sea black butter, a dish so delicious that the team was apparently invited over to Japan to cook them. Seeing as the fish is local, the seaweed picked feet away and the whole truck is powered by solar and wind, it’s hard to picture a more sustainable meal.
Pysgoty, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion
On the causeway between Aberystwyth harbour and the beach, this place is a gem. A converted toilet block, it only has seating for 10 inside and a small deck outside. The fish and seafood dishes are outstanding and most of it comes from the fishermen of Cardigan Bay. Start with crab salad (£8) or sailor’s scotch egg with curried mayo (£7), then cod, chorizo and laverbread risotto (£16.50). The cafe is also a great viewing spot for the dolphins that regularly swim in these waters.
Half Moon Bay Cafe, Heysham, Lancashire
The view across Morecambe Bay gets even better as you enjoy a full English breakfast. The fry-ups can be ordered all day, but there’s also tasty homemade soup, sandwiches or scones and cream. In summer sit under the front canopy to admire the view across the sands to the Cumbrian mountains – in winter cosy up by the stove. Work up an appetite by first walking along the National Trust-owned headland from Heysham village or take the longer walk along the prom from Morecambe.
Beach Cafe, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire
With stunning views across the Ribble estuary to Southport and out to the Irish Sea this place has a top location. On a clear day you can see across to the Snowdonia mountaintops. The cafe has an eclectic selection of homemade and hearty food with Manx kippers a favourite (£7.95) and a mixed seafood basket at £8.50. It also serves alcohol so is a great location to watch the sunset.
Sea Shed, Limavady, County Derry
This is a one-of-a-kind place in a one-of-a-kind location, with Northern Ireland’s beautiful seaside and its wild vibe still off the tourist trail. The Sea Shed is a cosy, chilled-out wee coffee shop (everything here is either “wee” or “grand” – this place is both) right on Benone Strand. It not only sells amazing speciality coffee, suki tea and the famous Northern Irish traybakes, but is also a surf hire shop acting as a social hub for the laid-back visitors to this low-key surf spot. Coffees start at £2 for a short black.
Rachel’s, West Bay, Dorset
The owner’s husband is a fisherman and what he catches each morning is served just hours later – from the superb fish stew and chowder to crab sandwiches and Lyme Bay scallops. On the harbour front close to the beach surrounded by people eating al fresco, Rachel’s is a small kiosk among typical fish and chip shacks. You can only book a noon table, otherwise you pay for the food and wait while watching the boats bobbing up and down. Get a seafood stew with fresh bread for £8, the same for fish and chips, and it does seafood platters for two.
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Tatams, Portscatho, Cornwall
Little sister/brother of the well-publicised Hidden Hut in the next bay on the beautiful Roseland peninsula, this gem has been built into the village’s old public toilets and has a fabulous view out to sea from the high bar stools placed against the harbour wall. Or you can get takeaway and sit on the beach (if the tide allows) or on the Lugger. It consists of a cafe/takeaway, The Taverna, and a coffee hut serving melt-in-the-mouth Portuguese tarts and a selection of cakes. Mains served in the cafe include River Fal mussels and Newlyn squid in white wine (£14). It has also provided visitors with new, very well-maintained public toilets which are a welcome relief when traversing the South West Coast Path.
Taco Boys, New Polzeath, Cornwall
In a quiet corner of Cornwall, Taco Boys in Baby Bay will sort you out whether you’re famished from surfing or just peckish after a gentle stroll around the bay. A converted horse box provides tacos – hake is a favourite – cooked fresh to order, using top-quality local ingredients and creating mouthwatering flavour combinations. Run by a group of young friends, Taco Boys opened in April 2019 and even got a mention from Gordon Ramsay, who visited while on holiday! Tacos are around £6-7.
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The Cove, Falmouth, Cornwall
We live near Gyllyngvase beach and have several good beachside cafes and restaurants to choose from, but our favourite is The Cove at Maenporth beach. The building is unremarkable but the sheltered tables on the elevated terrace offer some of the best views for diners in Cornwall. The food is excellent: crab chowder; mackerel with chorizo, fennel and a barbecue glaze; ling, lobster and coconut curry. There’s a good wine list and friendly service, and we often go for lunch there when the terrace is bathed in sunshine. Starters about £8, mains from under £15.
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