Feeling the sand between your toes while enjoying a meal out must be high up on most people’s wish lists for the summer months. Sucking on a prawn head (or nibbling a charcoal-grilled steak or veg) while watching the waves is always a winner. Combine that with a chilled glass of rosé, and life’s pretty good. But how about taking that up a notch – both on the plate and in the glass? These days, the UK’s seaside restaurant scene offers more refined dishes and wines with something to say – and yes, you can still wear your flipflops. Welcome to the grown-up beach café.
This is where chefs often use tweezers instead of tongs, and a sommelier is on hand (or a wine-savvy server) to guide you through a well-considered list to best match your meal; where the catch of the day is caught that morning by fisherfolk who are on first name terms with chefs; where minerally whites that taste of the sea hail from the Basque country, or where they’re pouring something curious that’s been aged in amphora.
The Hut in Colwell Bay in the Isle of Wight is one such example of this new style of beach restaurant. With its slick plates, smart wine list and sassy merch (it’s hard to leave without a Hut sunhat), it gets more sophisticated as each year passes. ‘Historically, seaside dining in the UK has provoked memories of windy, rainy quayside Cornish pubs.’ says The Hut’s director George Adams. ‘However, The Hut set out to create something altogether more summery and to a really high standard.’ It looks like it’s in good company, then, with the trend of fine dining by the beach reflected at the following first-rate UK restaurants.
Top UK beach restaurants to visit this summer
A stylish, purpose-built restaurant boasting views across Carmarthen Bay to the Gower Peninsula, Coast is just metres from the golden sands of Coppet Hall Beach in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Head chef Fred Clapperton serves up an elegant menu that sings with local ingredients in dishes such as pollock, Black Bomber, coastal leaves, and shrimps. ‘Progressive and sustainable winemakers’ from the UK, Europe and beyond are the focus of an extensive wine list overseen by sommelier Mattia Ivaldi, who offers Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling by the glass and Keigetsu sake by the bottle.
Coppet Hall Beach Centre, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA69 9AJ. coastsaundersfoot.co.uk
Isle of Wight
The Hut has become something of a legend since it came under new ownership in 2011. Once a simple beach caff selling fish and chips, it has grown into a chic South Coast hotspot that attracts both celebrities and yachties. Catalan chef Lucian Romocea knows his fish and serves up thrilling dishes such as crab gnocchi bisque with crisp capers and sea lettuce, which affable GM Iolandin Staicu likes to pair with a Provence pink from a long list of rosés where large format bottles are de rigueur.
Colwell Bay, Isle of Wight, PO40 9NP. thehutcolwell.co.uk
Inver is a small, characterful restaurant with rooms right on the shores of Loch Fyne, on the west coast of Scotland. Pamela and Rob Brunton took over the business in 2015, since winning various accolades – including Good Food Guide 2020 Chef of the Year for Pamela. It’s fair to say that at Inver, she’s raising the bar for Scottish seafood in dishes which include monkfish, sea and shore kale, and seaweed sabayon. There is a short but well-chosen organic and biodynamic wine list to match, including ethereal Burgenland Pinot Blanc from Judith Beck and structured Morgon Gamay from Jean Foillard.
Strathlachlan, Strachur, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, PA27 8BU. inverrestaurant.co.uk
Boasting a prime spot on Exmouth Beach with views across Lyme Bay, Mickeys Beach is the latest opening from Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines. The chef-proprietor of Lympstone Manor just down the road (one of the spots on our list of the world’s 50 best wine hotels) – with its new sparkling wine-producing vineyard – offers his own-label Champagne here too, from a 60-bin, mostly European list. It’s the perfect match for Mickeys’ lobster thermidor. Meat eaters won’t be disappointed, with dishes such as barbecued pork belly often paired with a juicy Lisbon red.
Unit 1, Sideshore, Queen’s Dr, Exmouth, Devon, EX8 2GD. mickeysbeach.co.uk
Outlaw’s New Road
The pandemic prompted a complete turnaround for one of the UK’s best chefs, Nathan Outlaw, when he transformed his Two-Michelin-Starred Port Isaac restaurant into something far simpler. Overlooking the dramatic North Cornwall Coast and just a five-minute walk to the cutest beach at Port Gaverne, each dish from the set menu at Outlaw’s New Road now offers no more than four ingredients on the plate and credits the fisherfolk responsible for each catch. The much smaller but perfectly formed wine list jumps from Camel Valley fizz from down the road to Swartland star Chris Mullineux’s classy Old Vines White Blend.
Outlaw’s, 6 New Rd, Port Isaac, Cornwall, PL29 3SB. outlaws.co.uk
Riddle & Finns The Beach
When Riddle & Finns Champagne and oyster bar opened in The Lanes in 2006, it quickly became an institution. Then last year it opened in a prime location on the beach: in the Rotunda on Brighton’s Promenade, with views over the famous Palace and West Piers. Go classic with potted shrimp and the catch of the day slathered in a caper butter, or opt for modern dishes such as Brighton scallops, burnt apple, crispy morcilla and parsley oil. It might be Brighton Seafront, but you’ll dine from marble-topped tables clutching a glass of Trimbach Pinot Blanc from Alsace or one of the many fizzes on offer, a special section of the list dedicated to sparkling wines from Sussex.
65 Kings Rd, Brighton, Sussex, BN1 1NA. riddleandfinns.co.uk
This restaurant, bar and occasional music venue opened last summer on Margate’s Harbour Arm and is run by Hackney chef Ed Wilson (of Brawn) and his wife Josie Stead, in partnership with electronic music producer Matthew Herbert. It’s about as Ibiza as it gets in Britain. Diners sip orange wine (definitely a thing here) from a thrilling all-natural list, and nibble on elegant dishes such as raw scallop, peas, cucumber, and sorrel, while gazing across the harbour to Margate’s sandy beach beyond.
Stone Pier, Margate, Kent, CT9 1AP. sargasso.bar
Seaside Boarding House
Perched on a cliff overlooking dramatic Chesil Beach, the Seaside Boarding House is owned by the creators of London’s infamous Groucho Club. The restaurant, with its large terrace, is the heart and soul of the place, where head chef Seldon Curry makes much of the local produce, focusing mainly on seafood, with stand-out dishes including whole John Dory, charred lemon, and green herb butter. To wash it all down, a small but nicely formed wine list stays in Europe and the UK, leaping from Bride Valley Dorset fizz to Albariño from Terras Gauda and Alsace Pinot Noir from Mader.
Cliff Rd, Burton Bradstock, Bridport, Dorset, DT6 4RB. theseasideboardinghouse.com