Restaurant Review: Moon & Sixpence, Whitby

Somerset Maugham explained the title of his book The Moon and Sixpence by saying that “if you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon”.

There a message there for the owners of this restaurant. It’s in a prime waterside spot on Marine Parade in Whitby with lovely views and is an unpretentious, cheery bar and brasserie that offers similarly unpretentious, cheery food.

It’s popular with tourists and locals alike and (judging by the number of office parties and courting couples present on the Friday night we visited) is the sort of place that you would class as “pretty good and not too dear”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Just below the surface, though, there might just be a restaurant that, with only a few simple tweaks, could be very good indeed and not too dear.

The Moon & Sixpence offers a fish dominated menu with burger or sausage and mash type dishes for the carnivores and mushroom and pepper dishes for veggies. Starters are between £4-£7, mains £10-15 and desserts about a fiver.

All very reasonable and the three-courses for £12.95 set menu represents very good value indeed.

The layout and décor are perfectly decent. The front bar has seating for 18 with a rear area seating about 30, decorated in a sort of retro style with pictures of Bobby Moore, Easy Rider, the New York skyline and so on. It certainly appeals to the Whitby fraternity because the place was pretty much full and pleasantly buzzing.

We were seated by one of the very friendly staff and started with herb battered king prawns with sweet chilli mayo and a ham, pea and mint terrine with red onion chutney and toast.

They arrived promptly. The terrine had a good chunky texture but lacked seasoning. It was also too small and the rocket salad that came with it was drowning in oil. We also ordered an olives, bread, oil and vinegar dipping plate to share and the good news was that the breads were all locally baked, temptingly varied and delicious. But the olives were of the pitted every-olive kind that you would buy in a jar from the supermarket and they let the dish down.

Although it didn’t say so in the menu, we were expecting the prawns we chose to come in some sort of light tempura-style batter. In fact they were served in a smooth, herb-free, hard batter that had expanded on frying so that the prawns rattled around inside like the toy in a greasy Kinder egg. It was a shame because these were clearly good prawns and the dip was tangy.

Inspecting other diners’ meals as they passed us in waiters’ hands – fish and chips, onion rings and other fried dishes – they appeared to have the same batter. A one-size-fits-all approach may be right for fish and chip shops but this food deserved bespoke batters for differing dishes.

Things improved with the mains. There was poached smoked haddock on a Fortunes smoked bacon and Savoy cabbage chowder. The fish was moist and meaty and the juicy corn in the chowder had been cut directly from the cob. It’s good to see local produce named on the menu as well and this was the stand-out dish of the night.

Not far below it was a whole roast sea bass stuffed with rosemary and lemon. This was a good looking fish, well cooked, with nicely al dente vegetables served on the side.

What it really needed as well was a sauce. A romesco, a Bordelaise or even a simple garlic sauce would have really lifted it, but none was offered. When I asked if any were available, “I don’t think so” was the only reply that arrived before the desserts. A real pity because the fish was lovely, a Whitby treat.

Desserts were a fairly average lemon meringue cheesecake and a perfectly serviceable crème brulee. Both needed something to bring them to life, and what do you know? When we popped back a couple of days later, the crème brulee was served with summer fruit garnish and the cheesecake decorated with spun sugar.

It seemed to underline my general feeling that there is a kitchen here which can produce more attractive-looking dishes when it chooses to.

We paid just over £70 for three courses each, a couple of side dishes and a bottle of wine – an okay price for an okay meal. This seems to be very close to being an excellent restaurant but on this visit, only one dish lived up to its potential. Perhaps if they re-jigged some of the dishes and concentrated on consistency of presentation, they would have a restaurant with a much improved offering.

Open: 10am to midnight every day

The Moon & Sixpence Bar & Brasserie, Marine Parade, Whitby. YO21 3PR. Tel: 01947 604416