The Magpie Café, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby: seagulls, goths, candy floss, rock, Dracula…and fish ‘n chips. A magical place, more especially in winter when the hordes of ice cream eaters are absent and the skies are crystal blue, the beaches golden yellow and the seas rough, blowing foam across the beaches. Winter is Whitby at its best. You can still cross the old swing bridge and climb the 199 steps up to the Abbey and St Hilda’s church, passing the ancient smokery on your way. Gaze at the little shops selling Whitby jet, that prolific Victorian jewellery, mined along the coast.

Whitby used to have few places in which you would quite like to eat [avoid the crab sandwiches sold from the kiosks] unless you were intending to devote your life to a study of fish ‘n chip manufacture. Lately we’ve been to Andrew Pern’s latest [and fourth] eatery, the Star in the Harbour, about which read more elsewhere.

This time though we walked from Sandsend to Whitby, a glorious walk along the beach. Pick your times, though, to start your walk from Sandsend about an hour or so after high tide. Two hours, maybe. That will get you to Whitby – 3 miles or so – in time for a good lunch and then a walk back. Parking in winter is free at the Scarborough Borough Council Sandsend car park until 1st March, so enjoy it whilst you can. You can always stop for a coffee and cake at the Wit’s End café by the car park in Sandsend. By the way, property prices in Sandsend are astronomical. Southern money, we expect.

Anyway, we digress. The point was [1] to enjoy a great bracing walk in glorious sunshine and [2] try out the newly reopened Magpie Café in Whitby. Closed since May following two fires, it opened again in late October fully refurbished. Now this café holds special memories for many of us, remembering visits some fifty years ago as a treat in lieu of sandy tomato sandwiches on the beach. The best fish ‘n chips in the world. Great that they tell you all the fish they have available, and even the type/brand/breed of potato used for the chips that day. Jay Rayner’s review in 2009 praised it. AA Gill – famed restaurant critic, author of the great book on The Ivy, and former husband of Amber Rudd [he didn’t get everything right] chose the Magpie as his final meal out before he died.

On this first visit we thought “Too bad then that they bothered rebuilding after the fire”. Hopeless. We should have just had the fish [although that was dry and the batter greasy] but we were tempted [as we often are] by the two course special. Crab Bisque, that most wonderful of soups, hadn’t seen much crab and was so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. You could have built walls with it and it tasted just as appetising as mortar. Mrs P’s is far, far better, as is the M&S one. The fish ‘n chips – sadly devoid of anything really.  Sad. Memories shattered for ever.

Perhaps we went on a bad day – although for a Wednesday in February it was packed – and we were disinclined to give it another go. They have a novel Yorkshire approach to accessibility as well. Granted there are several [9 or 10] steps up to the front door, the “disabled” toilet is on the first floor! Probably a better bet than the other toilets, located on the second floor up a spiral staircase. Hey ho, we thought…The Star here we come [again]. So, on a hot July day accompanied by grandchildren, via a steam train from Pickering, we venture again. This time much better – acceptable let’s call it. Not the best fish’n’chips in the world, or Yorkshire, or probably even Whitby. But acceptable.

The Magpie Café Whitby

Lots of fish and other things – but everyone chooses cod or haddock…

Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour. 250th anniversary celebrations


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