King Edward’s Bay
Tyne & Wear
0191 257 1371
If I arrive early at a restaurant, I’m usually rather glad of my iPhone. I know I should really be people-watching or menu-checking, but I confess I suffer from the common malaise of smartphone addiction.
Here, however, as I waited for Mrs Diner and her friend to join me, with only a glass of excellent Almasty APA for company, the phone stayed firmly in my pocket. I didn’t need a companion, for I had the view.
Some restaurants have locations so perfect that you wonder why on earth nobody thought of them sooner. Riley’s Fish Shack is one such place: it has one of the most beautiful vistas on the planet. From a perch in the outside seating area, it consumed all of my attention and then some. White peaked waves crashing onto gorgeous beach, illuminated by the last playful rays of evening sunshine – who needs California, or Bondi, or any other seascape on Earth when you’re in the middle of King Edward’s Bay in Tynemouth?
I’m biased, of course, having spent almost every weekend of my childhood in this very place, but, walking down the steps below the Priory, as the noise of the waves quickly drowns out the hum of traffic, it’s still a magical place. Now, as you descend, you also catch the first compelling waft of fish cooked over coals.
All of this lyricism would count for nothing if the cooking weren’t up to snuff, so it’s a pleasure to be able to report that, by and large, it’s excellent.
Over a couple of recent visits I sampled wood-roasted cod in two different guises. The first was a hearty effort involving earthy puy lentils, pancetta and gruyère. The second was a lighter, more spring-like offering of peas, asparagus and that wonderfully self-seasoned coastal vegetable, samphire. Both were delicious, the fish flaking but still dewy inside, imbued with smoke from the cooking fire.
They also offer fishcakes, in which the balance between seafood and spud is right on the money. They make empanadas, stuffed with beef and oyster, or spiced monkfish cheeks. These are superb, benefitting from a crisp yet substantial bready exterior. And, while we’re talking bread, Riley’s is beltingly good. Every main meal comes with a mini-baton, hot from the embers, with a blistered crust and substantial crumb that makes me feel sorry for the growing legions who can’t tolerate the fabulous thing we call gluten.
Main dishes also come with addictive garlicky roast potatoes, salads of punch and verve and sauces that make you instantly crave the recipe. Their aïoli is full-throttled, zesty with lemon and peppery from olive oil. Hepplewhite’s Relish was a new one for me, but its fruit and complex spicing made it an instant favourite.
All of this comes in cardboard boxes with plywood cutlery, which made me feel like I was on a camping holiday. It was somehow apt. I have picnicked in King Edward’s Bay ever since I was four. This was a picnic of champions.
The only glaring clanger was their lobster. Two separate half portions were criminally overcooked, the claw meat having actually fused to the inside of the shell and the tail being chewy. Presumably these are finished in the wood-oven after being pre-boiled. It this was intentional, they need to think again – the noble lobster is worthy of better treatment.
Happily the flat-iron steak on my surf and turf was handled more sensitively: it was medium rare and properly rested. It’s a marvel that our feast was being cooked up from a couple of converted shipping containers.
The aged metal and wood fit-out gave the place a DIY feel. On a chilly evening we were warmed by a wood burning stove and blankets. There are three tables inside, which were at a premium when we visited, but will become less so as the weather finally heats up (huh, that was a joke – they will always be at a premium in Tynemouth). Sail-like awnings optimistically offer shade for our balmy summer evenings. As if.
There is a sense of resourcefulness about the whole operation that betrays its street-food genesis. Adam Riley and his team deserve huge credit for creating such an individual and interesting place to eat excellent seafood.
They work with a veritable Who’s Who of quality local suppliers. Hot chocolate comes from Tynemouth’s own Gareth James, who, incidentally, does as good a salted caramel as I’ve tasted anywhere. Beer is from the aforementioned Almasty, whose output occupies that sweet-spot where unusual meets delicious, as well as from the ubiquitous, but still innovative, Wylam Brewery. Wine is supplied by ambitious local merchant The Wine Chambers and, naturally, the fish is direct from the horizon in front of us, via either North Shields or Blyth.
|Banana and maple cake|
Those who prefer a fake beach to the real deal now have no cause to miss out; even as I tap out these words the team have opened a second outpost on Newcastle’s Quayside, next to NE1’s “beach”. They chose a hell of a weekend to open as sensational weather generated a heaving throng. We took a wander down to see how they were doing. There were some issues with our order, but once it arrived the food was as good as ever.
It’s genuinely heartening to see a local business doing so much right. I’m also delighted to know I can get my fix in the centre of Newcastle. But take my advice: on a nice evening, just as the afternoon slips lazily into evening and the shadows lengthen, head for the original down on King Edward’s Bay. That’s where you’ll find the real magic.