What could be better than a great little bistro right next to the sea serving up fish dishes fresh as you like? Nothing, in my book, so all hail Alex Perkins and his posse at Bridge Cottage café in Sandsend.
Not that it is a new idea – he’s been in this long, low, smartly whitewashed pan-tiled cottage for six summers but it/he had a bit of an identity crisis (something to do with the boutique hotel a bit further up the lane having the same old name, Woodlands) so it’s been re-named and had a bit of a refurb, and the menu’s been rebooted. The blurb reads: ‘Woodlands Café Bar is changing its name. But don’t worry, everything else is the same ..’ well, sort of. It looks different and the food is several notches better than I remember.
On a warm summer night with the seagulls wheeling and that iridescent pink sky over the turquoise sea that coaxed David Hockney back from California to paint, there’s no finer place than the Yorkshire Coast.
Inside, a light, airy space with contemporary design – this is properly stylish, with Verner Panton chairs, walls made up of distressed mirror tiles and stags antlers lights. Tables are beaten metal and the floor is Iroko wood – the ‘shop’ end at the front is a really attractive space too, with white marble counters, hung glasses and white rectangular tiles.
During the day it’s a café – there’s a very pleasant patio garden out front with sturdy furniture and parasols, and your canine chum is welcome. Tuck into a Reuben sandwich or chicken liver brulee; the baking is effortlessly artisan, with the likes of cardamom, rose water and polenta cake. There are views up to the leafy Mulgrave Estate (keep your eyes peeled for Kate Moss, apparently a regular visitor) and down to the sea – Whitby shimmers in the distance.
Despite his youthful boy-band looks, Perkins has been round the block a time or two. I remember him shuffling round his parent’s pub, the White Horse & Griffin in Whitby. He had a short spell running an out-of-the-way place near Pickering (the food was fine; the location was just too remote). He’s done some serious stripe-earning at the Blue Bicycle in York, but the coast called and he’s come home in every sense.
His mission statement “Our close relationship with local fishermen and farmers ensures that the freshest and most sustainable produce is on your plate” isn’t just a bit of fluffy public relations-speak but appears to be absolutely on the money.
Whilst the plates that end up on the table are as simple as they sound, don’t for a minute imagine that the making and presentation is without skill and care. It’s clear that Perkins has a deep understanding of his produce and his thoughtful way with ingredients shines through.
Take for example Whitby sea trout – beetroot cure – fennel. If a prettier plate of food exists I don’t know where to find it – Copenhagen perhaps? I’ve only ever seen photos of the food at NOMA but this would grace Rene Redzepi’s table in one of the world’s top restaurants.
North Sea brown shrimps are as close to the Morecambe Bay classics as it’s possible to get without extracting the recipe out of the makers at knife point. I think one of the “secret” spices is mace – whatever, they’re seething with flavour and the pickled cucumber is the perfect foil for the extreme butteriness and the toasted sourdough, a good scooper-upper.
Hake tempura arrives and it’s, er, battered hake. Beautifully battered mind, but what’s with the “tempura”? It sits winsomely on a borlotti bean, pancetta and tomato broth and is a deeply satisfying, rustic dish. We have more sea trout, roast this time, with “violet” potatoes, samphire and hollandaise. The colours! The texture! The taste! There’s a pause whilst purple potatoes are contemplated – of course they taste just as you’d expect, but the simple act of bothering to co-ordinate the dish gives an indication of the creativity in the kitchen.
It’s not all fish; chalked up is ricotta gnocchi with sage butter, Heritage tomatoes and pesto salad and poached pork with pickled summer vegetables. But with the soft slap of the sea in your ears ..
Friends had told me that service was patchy. Up to this point it’s been fine but now there’s an uneasy wait for table-clearing and a pudding menu. On and on it goes. I’m wearing an expression for which the term “long suffering” was invented but nobody notices. Finally I go to the counter to find the waitresses chatting. Come on girls, sharpen up!
Slackness is all but forgiven when Desserts of the Year arrive. Chocolate mousse is a messy Jackson Pollock of a thing with added interest in the form of sea salt popcorn pieces and is thrillingly light. Lemon posset is the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of – just the right amount of wince as it hits your back teeth and accompanied by the thinnest, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits – made for Borrowers but scoffed by me. Fairy dust is liberally sprinkled on everything. Or it might be icing sugar.
This kind of eating in this kind of place is as good as it gets. Even if I have to fetch my own pudding.
Bridge Cottage Café Bar, Sandsend, Whitby, YO21 3SU. 01947 893438, www.bridgecottagebistro.com. Dinner for two (three courses each) with wine and tip: £82. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday, 10am-5pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 10am-9pm.