You know what big fans we are of our own Great British coastline here, and it’s not like we need much persuading to dig out our buckets and spades and storm the UK’s best beaches at the first hint of a little weak sunshine.
Part of the pleasure is tucking into that classic beach and on-the-pier fare: potted shrimp, jellied eels, tacky candy floss, sandy sandwiches, vinegary fish ‘n’ chips and pink sticks of rock make our list, but fresh fish and briney seafood are big draws, too.
But just in case you need a little extra incentive to get yourself down there, let us join in with those singing the praises of the wonderful Hive Beach Café in Dorset, which has just scooped Coast magazine’s award for Best Coastal Café, Pub or Restaurant 2009. Which put us in mind of timely spring beach breaks, before Bank Holiday barminess drives droves to the shores and you’re more likely to get a sandy stretch to yourselves. Here’s a few of our favourite beach cafés and seaside snack shacks, and some suggested hidey holes to retire to if the weather turns iffy…
NB this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s more of a top-of-my-head, personal-faves round-up. Please feel free to comment and let us know your own insider secrets and reveal the country’s best-loved beach cafés!
1 Hive Beach Café
Beach Road, Burton Bradstock, Dorset (01308 897070)
Locally loved for its killer breakfasts, and nationally praised for its regional West Country ingredients – including Lovington’s ice-cream at its summer-season parlour, Portesham wine and hand-dived Lulworth scallops – this alfresco café really is a seaside must-visit. They’re taking reservations for a trial period, so if you’ve always fancied going but didn’t want to risk a wasted journey if there were no tables, now’s your perfect chance…
What’s for afters? You’re not far from Bridport here, so check into The Bull Hotel, where Regency elegance is meted out with a modern eye in a relaxed gastropub. Perfect for a relaxing weekend exploring the Jurassic Coast, the Bull is good value and a very family-friendly hotel, too.
[And now read our Postcard from Dorset's Hive Beach Café…]
2 Oscar Road Café
Oscar Road, Broadstairs, Kent (01843 872442)
This adorably tiny tea room and café is a sit-in homage to 1940s Britain, with oodles of romantic nostalgia: floral bunting, vintage trinkets and pretty pastel cushions. BYOB to drink with super lobster sandwiches, Kentish pork pies and piccalilly or buckets of prawns; or take high tea with individual Victoria sponge cakes, fat wedges of fudge brownie, and darling cup cakes – all made with lashings of old-fashioned vip, vim and vigour.
What’s for afters? While you’re in this neck of the wood, after you’ve had a stroll and a paddle on the gorgeous sandy stretch at Viking Bay, check out Morelli’s, a 1930s ice-cream parlour on Broadstairs promenade, for proper, covered-in-sauce-and-nuts knickerbocker glories and banana sundaes, and foamed-to-perfection cappuccinos.
3 East Beach Café
Sea Road, Littlehampton, West Sussex (01903 731903)
At the other end of the aesthetic scale from your average beach-shack caff, this crisp contemporary building at Littlehampton combines state-of-the-art architecture by Thomas Heatherwick with sustainably sourced potted shrimps and kedgeree. Other must-trys on the menu include smoked trout salad with pickles and horseradish, the East Beach Burger and fish pie.
What’s for afters? Drive on through West Sussex to Chichester or Pagham for a harbourside overnight stay: The Crab & Lobster is a charming inn right next to Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve that has – as the name suggests – plenty of delicious fresh fish and seafood on its gastropub menu. Next day, go for a lazy amble round Pagham Harbour, spotting fantastically named birds such as wigeon, ruff, godwits and knots (plus a few common or garden gulls).
4 Jack & Linda Mills
197 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, East Sussex
For a fishy lunch on Brighton’s pebbly beach, head to this traditional fish-smoking shack on the seafront, still run by the eponymous Jack and Linda. You’ll get addictive home-made fish soup and the best grilled-mackerel sandwiches imaginable, for under £3; perfect with a squeeze of lemon.
What’s for afters? Brighton’s B&B scene is thriving if not sophisticated, but there are some tried-and-trusted safe houses for stylish urban weekenders who find frilly valances and pseudo-cool pop-arts surplus to requirement: our favourites are Drakes, Blanch House and Square.
5 The Shed
Porthgain, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire (01348 831518)
Technically pitching itself as a wine bar/restaurant, this darling little Welsh eatery looks out over Porthgain’s quay on the Pembrokeshire coastal path and serves up so-fresh-it-flips seafood. So we’re shoehorning it into our list anyway. Run by a local fisherman, the Shed’s bistro-style menus are perfect for lunch and centre on the patron’s catch of the day; you’ll need reservations.
What’s for afters? Porthgain has a little art gallery, Harbour Lights, well worth peeking into. After that, pootle down the coast and check into splendid weekending hotel Hurst House on the Marsh at Laugharne in Carmarthen Bay. Pass through towering Moroccan hand-carved doors (and there’s plenty more outlandish decor where they came from) into the expansive restaurant to sample star chef Michael Bates’ Modern British cuisine. Local produce’s the thing here: expect lashings of salt marsh lamb and sea trout.
6 The Clockhouse
Southwold Pier, North Parade, Southwold, Suffolk (01502 722105)
A brasserie-style café on Southwold’s pier offering locally caught moules marinières, organic bread, and Leffe Blonde on draught – as well as far-as-the-eye-can-see views of the coast. If you fancy a souvenir, you can take home a bag of Pier Blend Tea made specially for the Clockhouse by Wilkinson’s of Norwich.
What’s for afters? England offers few lovelier vistas than the sight of Southwold’s multicoloured beach huts from the shoreline. When you’ve had a nice long trudge along the beach, dawdled up the pier and regrouped with a spot of lunch, explore the high street’s a hotchpotch of antiques shops, delis, junk emporia and booksellers.