Winning tip: Dolphins and cake, near Inverness
The Rosemarkie Beach Cafe is run by community volunteers and set on the beachfront looking over the Moray Firth towards Fort George, not far from Inverness. It’s dog-friendly and serves good strong tea, homemade cakes, and the best sausage and black pudding sandwiches. It’s also a good place to browse secondhand books and CDs, and a social history exhibition, about local wildlife. We were there on a cold March day looking for dolphins and had given up. Set up by cake, strong tea and pig, we bumbled down the wonderfully clean beach and there they were: a school of bottlenose dolphins, just offshore. A good day out and a memorable drive home to the sounds of a triple CD collection of classic Motown bought at the cafe.
Crab pasties, Steephill Cove, Isle of Wight
It’s not possible to drive to this secluded cove just outside Ventnor, so even journeying here is a small but beautifully formed adventure. We favour walking down through the lush shade of the Ventnor Botanic Gardens, but you can also walk the coastal path from Ventnor, often only with small wild rabbits and sea birds for company. Once there you are rewarded with views, a peaceful swim and some sensational homemade crab pasties at the Crab Shed cafe. The setting and outdoor seating are rustic, squeezed in between fishermen’s huts and lobster pots, but the food is grand. On offer from the tiny kitchen, in addition to the signature pasties, are crab and lobster salads, various daily fishy specials and a selection of wines.
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Top tapas, Southend-on-Sea, Essex
If you want to get into a holiday vibe, you cannot beat a visit to Billyhundreds. It is an unpretentious restaurant, serving terrific food and with a great atmosphere. It is in a perfect location, actually on the beach at Southend-on-Sea, with great views of the estuary and the mile-long pier. It has a great varied menu, with tapas the speciality, including crab claws, sweet chilli prawns and enchiladas (also breakfast and main meals) all fresh and delicious and served by friendly, smiling staff. Billyhundreds is not fine dining but it is fun, with excellent food and an extensive drinks menu. On a bright day, and with your glass of sangria and a selection of delicious tapas dishes in front of you, you could easily believe you were on holiday in Spain.
Fresh scallops, West Bay, Dorset
I still have dreams about the gorgeous seafood stew I ate at Rachel’s seafood kiosk – a lovely mix, perfectly seasoned and with lots of bread and butter. Rachel’s serves beautifully fresh fish, as well as scallops caught daily (reserve on the day so as not to miss out). The kiosk is on the harbour, so on a sunny day you can sit at one of their picnic benches and watch the world go by while waiting for your food. A popular dish is hand-dived scallop and king prawn noodles with Asian slaw (£11).
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Waffle with walkers, Cornwall
The charming Coast Path Cafe is a co-operative run by locals in the unspoilt Cornish village of Gorran Haven. Housed in an old stone reading room right on the South West Coast Path, the cafe serves gorgeous homemade cakes and cream teas (from £4) along with light lunches. The volunteer staff offer the warmest welcome – and seem to love sharing their knowledge of the area. If the weather is rainy you can sit indoors but the most coveted seats are on the deck, which has glorious views of the sea and green hills. The Coast Path Cafe also doubles as a high-quality craft shop supporting local makers. This small social enterprise is a real gem but note that the cafe is only open in season, so do check their opening hours before making the journey.
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Empanada heaven, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear
When Jay Rayner says he has found the eating experience of the year you have to stop and take notice. Riley’s Fish Shack is down a long flight of steps to a sandy beach. Made of a couple of old containers, it is something between a Spanish chiringuito and an Australian beach bar. Adam and Lucy Riley, co-owners, serve whatever is caught locally that day – and when it’s gone, it’s gone, so you have to be quick off the mark to enjoy their sea food. My favourites are the langoustines, the empanadas and their surf and turf, all served in homemade bread with signature vinaigrette salads, with a locally brewed beer if you wish. In winter you can cuddle up indoors in front of the log burner or by the fire pits on the beach. In summer you can chill on deck chairs outside the shack and watch the surfers. Call before you visit because they only serve what is caught that day, but you will agree with Jay that there is no point going any further once you make it there.
Seafood treat, Morecambe, Lancashire
The highlight of a stroll along the seafront at Morecambe, marvelling at the bay whether the tide is in or out, the weather sunny or bracing, is a visit to the Rotunda Bar, part of the art deco Midlands Hotel. From its circular bar and mural (a 2013 homage to the “lost” 1930s original painted by Eric Ravilious), to the plastic “chandelier” ceiling feature, the cafe oozes seaside fun. Sit at a little table with views over the bay and order one of the sharing platters – the seafood is our favourite, with generous portions of smoked fish and prawns. And to drink there are cocktails, champagne or hot drinks.
Locals’ favourite, County Antrim
If you fancy “can’t-decide-it-all-sounds-so-good” brunch options, and high-quality coffee (minus the pretence), at a picturesque seaside location, you’ll find it all at Babushka Kitchen Cafe. This little haven is perfectly positioned at the end of Portrush harbour, offering some of the finest Northern Irish produce and deliciously crafted coffees, with Atlantic views. Resist the urge to upload an idyllic shot of the whole thing on your social media and simply savour the moment.
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Surfers’ haunt, Caswell Bay, Gower peninsula
Surfside Café is aptly named. The sleek surfers bobbing like seals in the breakers of this glorious bay seem close enough to bump in to. Whether you enjoy a warming bacon bap by the log-burner in winter, or a locally made ice-cream on the terrace in summer, the setting of this friendly and unpretentious establishment is unsurpassed. But being so close to the sea can have its disadvantages: in January 2014 the fierce winter storms completely wrecked Surfside. Fortunately, the owner is made of sturdy stuff and refurbished the place, established sea defences and we locals, and holidaymakers, were welcomed back by the following Easter. Choice burgers are a big feature (from £6.10), including a rather splendid wild boar and chorizo number.
Epic flapjacks, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
The Clock Café has been serving refreshments for over a hundred years. Retaining its charm from a bygone era, it overlooks Scarborough’s South Bay, with a lovely view towards the castle and ample outdoor seating on the terrace. The place is famous for awesome flapjacks. On a more reflective note, the row of multi-coloured chalets that frame the vista of cafe have fallen victim to recent cliff subsidence. They are now clad in netting awaiting their fate. But the splendid Clock stands firm, resisting the movement of both time and Mother Nature. Dogs are welcome on the terrace and there is disabled access from the Esplanade.
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