Beach dining is customarily a seasonal affair. Think of all those seafront restaurants in Italy and the south of France, which are bustling in mid-summer, shuttered come November. The northeast of England, however, is not often associated with fine seaside dining (or fine seaside weather for that matter), but in the town of Tynemouth – a short train ride from the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and down what feels like 10,000 steps to the sand of King Edward’s Bay – Riley’s Fish Shack commands epic waiting times in July for a spot overlooking the sea. But personally, I think this place is better in autumn and winter, and not just for the ease with which you can bag a seat in the main shack to eat the freshest fish on the coast (although that’s definitely a bonus). I love the out-of-season ambience; the beach itself is so quiet, meaning you can focus on the sunset without distraction.
If the setting is perfect, the food is nothing short of remarkable. The locals of Tynemouth have been blessed with one of the finest dining experiences in the UK – albeit one that involves everything being served in cardboard boxes. On a recent visit I had six Lindisfarne oysters (£14), which were the richest, creamiest, most substantial I’ve ever eaten. They were accompanied by a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc (£19.50) and followed by crispy skin halibut with caper butter, potatoes, salad and a freshly fired sourdough roll (from £19). I sat for an hour sipping my wine, watching the horizon turn pink and the light fade. It was one of my favourite meals of the year.
Everything about Riley’s Fish Shack is a delight – and when the weather does get too cold to sit outside on a stool or deckchair (even when wrapped in a blanket), there are some indoor tables; it really is a year-round business. And for dog owners there’s an additional bonus to autumn and winter visits: canines are allowed on the beach from October 1 until the end of April, making it a perfect spot to end a long walk with man’s best friend.