Just when you think Whitby has hit a cafe peak up pops another vintage tea shop. But I’d be a fool to dismiss a recommendation made by Lisa Chapman, one-time chef/owner of the esteemed Endeavour restaurant in Staithes, and now a private dining chef. “You haven’t been?” she says, inferring that my foodie radar is off-kilter if not altogether broken. I admit to walking past Rusty Shears a couple of times and dismissing it as just another kitsch caff. Just goes to show, never judge a book etc.
Blink and you miss it. “Tucked away” doesn’t quite cover its location just off Flowergate on Silver Street which is more of a back alley than a thoroughfare. It’s smartly whitewashed and a doorway leads through a pretty stone-flagged courtyard full of vines, shrubs and garden furniture to the unexpectedly spacious cafe.
Prepare to be completely charmed, and not just by the delightfully chatty staff. There’s just enough vintage to not drive you mad – taxidermy, exotic bird wallpaper, vintage crockery etc. We’ve all been to those rather dreary places where it feels like the style has been grafted on, but here it looks and feels comfortable, and right. There’s plenty to catch your eye, not least the cake cabinet. There’s a board outside bearing the legend “licensed to sell amazing cakes” and it’s not an empty boast.
Lisa had flagged up their gin menu. Faced with a choice of 90, the day suddenly got a lot more interesting. This isn’t a caff, it’s a gin palace. The only question was how can I get myself, the dog and the shopping home and will the car be all right overnight on Skinner Street. After a Bats**t Mental Ideas Bathtub followed by a Moonshine Kid Dog’s Nose Hop and Fever-Tree tonic, I didn’t care. I wrote down the tasting notes for the Moonshine. “Fairly light with coriander, a hint of hops and some minerality. Approachable, lemon straight from the fridge, juniper, borage and perhaps a little spicy onion bhaji (that’s a good thing).” I was drawn to a measure of The Bitter Truth (“with a smell like Harris Tweed”) but I stopped at two. Honest.
But this is a restaurant review and you want to know about the food. Owners Russell and Kirstie are the cooks; he’s from a family of south London bakers and seems to have inherited cool hands – the pastry is very good indeed. The menu describes wholesome and rustic food (sandwiches include rare roast beef, open salmon and a Reuben) and it’s both those things but a bit more besides. Two soup choices are roast Jerusalem artichoke with chestnut, and sweet potato, puy lentil and coconut, which is smooth, luxurious and curious.
Savouries are on show on the counter and I’m a kid in a sweet shop, fizzing with pleasure and the agony of choosing. There’s a mushroom, chestnut, tarragon and ricotta pasty, sausage and black pudding plait and an epic cauliflower cake (tortilla) which grabs my attention along with the Moroccan lamb parcels. They arrive oven-warmed with nicely dressed leaves and edible flowers, home-made slaw and sweet, nutty cous cous. The lamb parcels are freighted with meat made piquant with their own Massaman curry paste and a hint of mint.
The fat cauliflower cake, made with eggs, parmesan, basil and rosemary, has a sesame seed crust and is delightfully moist, packed with flavour and has great texture too. Vegetarians will do well here; Kirstie, bored with poor, predictable choices for non-meat-eaters, has devised a really interesting veggie menu that includes a beetroot and sweet potato burger (served with pickled carrot and chipotle mayo) which arrives at the next table and clearly goes down a storm.
Time to choose an “amazing” cake and all our good intentions about one between us fly out of the window. Faced with a range that includes treacle tart, London spiced bread pudding and brown and white chocolate brownie, there’s only one for me: key lime pie, an utter indulgence and every bit as good as it looks. A flat white from the gleaming Gaggia machine is barista grade, a rare thing in this town.
There’s something for everyone: a decent wine list that isn’t going to break the bank, 30 varieties of loose leaf tea and a menu for kids. With a bit of notice, they’ll make you an afternoon tea made up of “dainty” sandwiches, home-made miniature cakes and a glass of prosecco. There are a couple of daft ideas; I’m all for canine-friendly but I draw the line at a “Doggychino” and the crockery “graveyard” in the garden is unnecessary but I’m nitpicking; this is a seriously good place, and its Narnia quality is enchanting. I caught a glimpse of a poster advertising an After Five Gin Club, which presages a lost afternoon and a pre-booked taxi.
Rusty Shears, 4 Silver Street, Whitby, YO21 3BU 01947 605383. Open seven days a week, 9.30am- 5pm. Soup is a fiver, sandwiches around £8, savouries with salad around £7 and cakes around £3.