Robin Hood’s Bay is a small seaside gem. Smuggling thrived in this inaccessible spot which a visitor in 1753 warned was not a place for ladies. He said once they had recovered from the discomfort of the journey here, they would be shocked by what the local womenfolk had in their petticoats. It seems it was a favourite place to hide contraband.
Today the winding alleyways and quaint fishermen’s houses have a romantic charm. You could imagine a French lieutenant’s woman in a cape wandering along the beach towards Ravenscar with waves crashing behind.
The Wayfarer Bistro and Guest House sits at the top of the steep hill. The origin of a bistro comes out of basement kitchens of Parisian apartments where tenants paid for both room and board.
Chris and Lucy Hutchinson (no relation to this writer) who own The Wayfarer readily agree that having rooms has made the business successful.
What’s appealing is that it feels like you’ve come home. As soon as you open the door to go upstairs you are in a place that is focused on what’s happening in the open kitchen, where Matt and his apprentice sous chef Nicole prepare the food.
Lucy is half Dutch and has a Vermeer-like calmness which comes in handy in a dining room. Her mother Penny taught her everything. “Her technique was to make gorgeous food that was never mundane,” says Lucy. “We were at Lucy’s Kitchen in Grosmont and the Postgate in Egton Bridge together. Every week she tells me how proud she is and asks how many covers we do.”
Chris grew up on Low Laithes farm in Hawsker, the next village, and comes from a family of farmers who still work the land.
The dining room is spacious, warm and inviting. You feel comfortable and relaxed immediately. The tables are solid and handmade.
The menu has bistro staples such as goats’ cheese, garlic mushrooms cooked in French brandy, scallops and, of course, garlic bread. There are mains such as pork loin and black pudding, rib eye and fillet steak, duck breast with blueberry and port sauce cover the remit of hearty and robust.
But it was the specials board that stole the show. Appropriately, since we were beside the sea, it was filled with fish dishes. What Dennis Crooks, the local fishmonger, delivers helps decide what makes it on the board, along with what the local fishermen bring home.
For starters we had a healthy portion of mussels, a bargain for £7, in a delicious sauce and served with a soft and doughy tomato bread.
The queen scallop and crab crumble was a dish with a different spin. You wouldn’t normally put crab and scallop in the same bed. But sometimes opposites do attract and the chef managed to pull this off. The crumble was light and had a pleasing brown texture.
For a main course the halibut and smoked haddock served with mussels and a sauce Albert revealed a snowy white halibut rich in texture. The flavour hit just the right note – off-the-sea-bed salty.
The rib eye steak was something you would like to take home to have again. This, and all the meat at the bistro, came from one of the best local butchers, Jacksons of Ruswarp.
But the star of the evening was a plaice that looked simply beautiful. Presented whole on the plate, it shone, china white, and the table fell silent for a moment out of respect.
The main courses were served with Dauphinoise potatoes, delicately multi- layered and stacked high in a way which made me think of frilly petticoats. It was sufficiently elegant to grace a table in Paris.
The chips were industrial-sized and the salad and roast vegetables were generous.
For dessert, Baileys crème brulee seemed to shout 70s bistro. When it arrived with spun sugar blackcurrants, raspberries and cranberries, all of a sudden it felt like Christmas. The brulee was silky, the Baileys subtle. The berries, plump and scrumptious, came from Phill Trian of Harwood Dale.
The velvety Belgian chocolate brownies served with home-made ice cream begged the question: “Is that the best dessert you’ve ever had?” They were, indeed, perfect.
We had the house white Sauvignon Blanc from the Bellefontaine estate, good value at £13.95.
All the while Chris and Lucy gave excellent, unobtrusive service. The restaurant was busy but the way they managed it was smooth and relaxed.
Memorable evenings can be about a place, the company or great food. This was about all three.
The locals, who are not particularly excitable, have been raving about this restaurant, and it deserves it.
A three course meal with wine was £31.35 each.
Winter opening times Thursday-Sunday from 6pm.
The Wayfarer, Station Road, Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire. Tel 01947880240.
From January 2, it is closed for six weeks.