At the Eat Me Café in Scarborough, Amanda Wragg finds a slice of what the Great British seaside should be all about.
With our love of the re-booted British Seaside, surely it’s time for Scarborough’s star to be in the ascendant? There are signs it’s starting to happen; strong money’s been thrown at the Spa – it’s no longer swirly-carpet hell, the more attractive architectural features have been enhanced and it’s drawing class acts.
Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre goes from strength to strength and even the previously dog-eared front has smartened its act up. The blue flag beaches are a real pleasure to stroll on.
So you’d think the town would be bristling with good cafés. The magnificent Harbour Bar is still strutting its stuff; the genuine Fifties Formica heaven of it continues to thrill hardcore fans, many of whom sport non-ironic quiffs. Mojos Music Café and Bonnets are worth a visit, and the Francis Tea Rooms are a lovely dip into another, more genteel era.
So there’s no shortage of caffs, just great ones. Which is why, on a wet Wednesday in February, Eat Me Café is stuffed to the gunnels by eleven; by twelve there are queues down the street. This prompts a head-scratch, but as my friend (and local) Barbara observes “there must be a reason everyone’s here”.
There are several.
First off, the décor. It’s not sea-sidey (a blessing in my book, there’s way too much badly painted driftwood in coastal cafes) nor does it suffer from a Cath Kidston overload (ditto); instead, an eclectic, kitsch collection of mis-matching furniture with Tretchikoffs and silver stags heads on the walls. Background tunes are cool and the vibe is friendly, if slightly chaotic in a rabbit-in-the-headlights “I can’t believe how busy we are” way.
Second off, the menu, which is instantly appealing. It reaches from breakfast (“served til 11am daily”) through lunch to dinner three nights a week when the choices become a bit more Mediterranean (think Lebanese spinach pie and chicken Saltimboca) – although there’s a fair amount of pan-Asian influence during the day.
Owners Martyn and Stephen have brought their considerable life-experiences to the table; Martyn hails from Sheffield and has run restaurants all over the world, most recently the splendid sounding Drunken Monkey in Thailand whilst Stephen’s Scottish isles background is the reason you’ll find Shetland Pie on the board (also Puffin and Seagull, though no ponies or seabirds were harmed in the making of these dishes...)
The manifesto on the front of the menu tells us that there might be a delay in your food arriving since it’s all cooked to order (“so if you’re in a rush for the theatre let us know”) and that the kitchen contains nuts (“of both kinds”). There’s also an undertaking to support local businesses, and as many ingredients as possible are local, free range and outdoor reared. As it says on the wall by the kitchen “many people have eaten in this kitchen and gone on to lead normal, healthy lives”.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that pretty much all food fads are catered for; the only issue I have with the menu is its breadth – so hard to choose! Burgers are “handpacked” and served on toasted “doorstep” bread. Chips are skin-on and the slaw is made in-house. Melts come in two flavours, chicken and tofu, and the divine quiche (great pastry) comes with a carrot and nigella seed salad.
‘Tin plate lunches’ are just that: lunch in a tin – one of those white enamel ones edged in blue that you’d expect to see in a period drama. Choices include Thai green curry, falafel and Eat Me Chilli Joseph and for me today, chorizo and chicken, succulent strips of which arrive on top of fragrant brown rice.
The mighty Ramen noodle bowl follows. Bursting with Chinese cabbage, pak choi, and spring onion floating in a broth so aromatic it makes you blush, with strips of succulent roast duck and a coriander garnish. And terrific value at £5.30.
Then there’s the pie. Oh the pie. Today it’s Shetland shin and I can’t stop myself making the obvious bad but topical horsemeat-related joke which goes down about as well as you’d expect. But it’s a winner. Succulent shin meat in a complete short crust pastry shell. Yep, not one of those poor excuses for a pie with a puff pastry top that is not a pie at all. Mash and green beans accompany along with mahogany gravy so deeply flavored I could’ve slurped from the plate. How do they do this for £5.50?
Elsewhere, homemade fish finger sarnies (with homemade tartare sauce), toasties built on ciabatta, croques messieurs and wraps. See what I mean about choice? This is healthy eating by stealth; you feel as though you’re spoiling yourself but in fact the food’s wholesome, if moreish. Intelligent, unpretentious cooking with a certain verve.
Cutlery sits in Golden Syrup tins, condiments in vintage Hovis bread tins and teapots wear knitted cosies. What with that, Camp coffee, Cream Soda and Dandelion & Burdock you might think it’s a bit heavy on the nostalgia front, but you can also get a very good macchiato from the gleaming, hissing state of the art Italian espresso machine.
In the evenings, bring your own wine and pay a pound corkage which goes to the Stephen Joseph Theatre across the road. I fully intend to return, if only to revel in the Round the Horne recordings played in the loo at night.
Their original location, about three doors down, is now a smart deli selling local stuff – chutney, Seamer Fayre sausages and their own pies. It has the feel of an old-fashioned grocer’s store and I mean that in a good way.
My only beef is that because their success has sneaked up on them they haven’t recruited enough waiting staff .
Martyn and Stephen may have unconsciously kick-started a bit of a renaissance in Scarborough.
• 1 Hanover Road, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1LS. 01723 373256,
Open Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm, Saturday, 9am to 3pm, Thursday to Saturday evenings 5.30pm to last orders at 8pm.
Full breakfast £5.80, burger with chips and coleslaw £6.00, quiche with salad £4.80, sausage and mash £5.20, wraps £4.20, espresso £1.60, Mad Hatters tea £1.50 per person.