A guide to some of Yorkshire’s best fish restaurants
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 May 2019
Yorkshire has a bountiful catch of quality seafood restaurants, as Jo Haywood discovers.
A great seafood dish doesn't need a lot of fanfare. Slate plates, starched linens and hand-crafted cutlery are perfectly pleasant additions, but they are not what makes a dish from the deep deeply delicious. Fresh produce and a skilled but light touch are the key ingredients. They are what make you fall for a dish hook, line and sinker.
'If the fish is really fresh, you're halfway there already,' said Rob Green, who ran multi award-winning Green's of Whitby for 15 years, is a former Seafood Chef of the Year and is now a chef consultant and ambassador for Seafish, the UK authority on seafood. 'I remember when we used to buy fish from the market that was almost too fresh – we had to give it time to relax before cooking it.
'The second part of the equation is, of course, the cooking. For me, it's about keeping it as simple as possible and letting the product itself shine through. A beautiful fillet of mackerel is ready in moments. Cook it skin side down for a couple of minutes, flip it over and just let the heat kiss the fish. It's not complicated or time-consuming. It's the ultimate fast food.'
The Yorkshire coast offers a plentiful platter of fish and seafood, including fantastic lobsters from Bridlington and king scallops from Scarborough. Oysters have also just been reintroduced to the Humber, soon adding to the already impressive array of fresh produce being hooked, caught and netted along our 100 miles or so of coast.
'I moved to Whitby nearly 30 years ago and just fell in love with the seafood here,' said Rob. 'Using fresh, local produce – something literally lifted from the sea just hours before – feels like the ultimate in cooking. Seafood is so versatile and quick, it's a chef's dream.'
He wonders, however, if enough Yorkshire chefs are living the dream as most of the seafood landed on our shores is actually shipped straight out of the county and, often, out of the country.
'There's such a diverse range of seafood out there and I think it's up to chefs to introduce their customers to it all,' he said. 'The health benefits and sustainability of seafood are vitally important but, basically, all people need to know is it's quick, easy and delicious.
'But that means properly training our young chefs in college. Instead of presenting them with pre-filleted fish to work with, show them how to fillet it themselves. They need to learn the basic skills so they can innovate later.'
If you want to land a delicious dish at home, Rob advises looking for fish with clear, slightly protruding eyes, a gleaming body and deep red gills. And if it smells of fish, don't buy it.
If you're planning on eating out, however, he says 'follow the locals'. 'It's not about who has the fanciest restaurant – there are some great street food places doing amazing work. Look for where the local people eat – if it's packed with locals, it's good. And ask where they source their seafood – good restaurants will tell you because they're knowledgeable and interested.'
So, where should you be following the locals to? To help you in your seafood search, we've baited the hook with a few tasty treats from around the county.
First on the menu is a little place (hands up everyone who said 'plaice' in their heads and then sniggered) that food aficionado Jay Rayner described as 'a small seafood café doing lovely things – so good-natured, such a joyous, simple find'. The Clam & Cork is doing amazing things with the daily catch (mainly from Grimsby) at its simple stainless steel counter in Doncaster Market. The former wet fish stand now serves up super-fresh shucked oysters, tempura crab claws, fat scallops with crispy pork belly, south Indian fish curry and a host of other delicious dishes.
Andrew Pern, who made his name with his Michelin-starred pub, The Star Inn at Harome, added The Star Inn the Harbour at Whitby to his restaurant portfolio in June 2017, serving catch-of-the-day specials alongside game from the North York Moors. He told us at the time that he wanted to create a brasserie-style menu that showcased the very best produce the coast had to offer, referencing his own upbringing on a farm by the River Esk, just a few miles from Whitby.
'My childhood memories are all tied up with comfort food and family favourites,' said Andrew. 'I had a friend who lived in Henrietta Street near Fortune's and we could smell the kippers as they smoked. I absorbed everything around me – the sights, smells and tastes of the sea – and can still see their influence on my menus now.'
For generous, unpretentious, award-winning food, you could pull up a plate at the Crab & Lobster in Asenby, which has been serving acclaimed dishes like its fish pie (with scallops, prawns, mussels, fresh crab and Fortune's kipper mash), Goan fish curry and roast garlic buttered lobster since launching in 1991.
Loch Fyne, which sits beside the River Foss in York, started out as a part-time passion project for oyster enthusiasts Johnny Noble and Andy Lane, who began selling shellfish from a small shack on the west coast of Scotland and now run 24 restaurants offering everything from Hebridean golden shell mussels to Scottish king scallops and, of course, more oysters than you can shuck a stick at.
The Drum & Monkey in the boutique Montpellier Quarter of Harrogate has been serving seafood to satisfied customers for half a century, using seasonal shellfish, deep sea catches and freshwater fish (including Nidderdale trout) to create classics like lobster thermidor, moules marinière and tuna carpaccio.
Despite its landlocked location in Leyburn, The Wensleydale Heifer has a well-won reputation for sensational seafood. For a taste of the very best it has to offer, its house speciality sharing platter is a great place (stop it – it was funny the first time, but now you're just being silly) to start, with its hot crunchy oysters, chilli squid, prawn cocktail, sea bass pakora and sesame king prawns.
Back beside the seaside, Estbek House in Sandsend has racked up a White Rose Award, a four-star AA rating and two coveted AA rosettes for its faultless service and culinary excellence. Its menu reflects its strong geographical links with both the sea and the moors, including Whitby sea trout, whitebait in Black Sheep Ale batter and locally caught lobster with crayfish and brown shrimp in seaweed butter.
Finally, if you're in Leeds and suddenly have a pressing need for crafty plate of seafood, you might want to try Crafthouse on the fifth floor of Trinity, which offers great views across the city from its 144-cover restaurant and outdoor terrace and a seasonal menu that includes fish specially chargrilled at 480 degrees over charcoal. Among its moreish mains are poached red mullet with scallops and king prawns, halibut in a hazelnut and herb crust and whole roast seabass stuffed with Moroccan rice.
If all else fails, of course, you could forgo the niceties of plates, cutlery and linens altogether and just grab a steaming, vinegar-spiked portion of fish and chips. Just don't ask us which chippie to go to. That's a whole different kettle of fish.
Rob Green will be demonstrating his seafood prep and cooking skills at Scarborough Food & Drink Festival on May 11 and 12, Whitby Fish & Ships Festival on May 18 and 19, Bridlington Seafood Festival on June 15 and 16 and Scarborough SeaFest on July 27 and 28. For a full calendar of upcoming events, visit robgreenchef.com.