Riley’s Fish Shack is a highly regarded seafood restaurant at King Edward’s Bay in Tynemouth. It’s one of the stars of north-east England’s culinary scene. I’ve long wanted to dine there and, on Friday evening, finally took the time to find out whether the food lives up to the hype.
The food served at the beachfront restaurant has won glowing praise from the renowned critic Jay Rayner. It has featured on Hidden Restaurants with Michael Roux Jr, a television series broadcast on Channel Four. Riley’s Fish Shack is no longer a place that can be described as ‘a hidden gem’ — it has very much been discovered. Standing in the queue I heard accents from Yorkshire and south-east England. People go out of their way to visit.
This business has operated since 2012. It occupies converted shipping containers overlooking the beach beneath Tynemouth Priory and Castle. Three times previously I’ve stood in the queue to dine at Riley’s Fish Shack but, due to a combination of hunger and lack of patience (okay — hands up — it was mainly the latter), ended up eating elsewhere. Twice I waited for half-an-hour before heading off, frustrated at my lack of progress in the slow-moving line, failing even to reach the ramp that leads up to the kitchen.
Eaten at Riley’s Fish Shack?
It’s a place that has managed to generate a buzz. “What? You’ve never eaten there?” was invariably the response if I admitted I hadn’t dined at Riley’s Fish Shack. I could tell that people were looking at me, judging, thinking something along the lines of “you can’t really be from the north-east of England and interested in good food without having been there.”
This time I was determined to wait it out and try the food. Just as well. Despite the line being significantly shorter than on the previous occasions I’d queued, it took 45 minutes just to reach the till and place an order. From the point in time that the order was taken, it was a further 35 minutes before the food was eventually served.
The menu was presented on a chalkboard below the open kitchen, in which food was being pulled intermittently from a wood-fired oven. It included oysters from Lindisfarne and temptations such as crispy skin halibut with caper butter. Some of the prices shocked me: £38 for the surf and turf option and £32 for the wood roast salmon steak with red halibut sauce and wild samphire. I’d expected the prices to be more modest, particularly given the simplicity of the venue’s décor. I opted for the monkfish kebab, served with potatoes, priced at £17.50.
Disposable cups, plates and cutlery
While waiting to place my order I watched as dishes were prepared on a countertop just out of arm’s reach. Invariably they looked good. That said, most of the food was served on disposable plates, to be eaten with throw away wooden knives and forks. Not what I was expecting.
To my disappointment, it appeared that beer was being served in plastic cups (a pet hate — no pun intended). That struck me as incongruous. At a time when there’s so much discussion and awareness about our oceans holding masses of polluting plastic waste, surely a beachfront dining venue specialising in fish and seafood could look to an alternative? Yet, from my high horse, I still ordered a pint of coffee stout.
[Edit: Riley’s Fish Shack clarified that although the cups look like plastic they are, in fact, made from eco-friendly Vegware (see the Vegware website to find out more about its products.) In fact, none of their packaging is plastic, nor has it been since opening. “We are proud to haven played a large part in helping Tynemouth become one of the country’s first plastic free coastal towns,” commented Riley’s Fish Shack on Twitter. Kudos to them for playing a role in that initiative.]
By the time the food was served, only the last mouthful of my beer remained. Frankly, I hadn’t been positively impressed, thus far, by my visit to Riley’s Fish Shack. Finally, 80 minutes after joining the back of the queue, the food was served. It was outstanding. Biting into my kebab, I could finally understand why so many people rave about the place.
The texture of both the monkfish and the flatbread it was on was spot on. Topped with a sprinkling of salad, the dish looked good and was notable for its depth of flavours. Each mouthful seemed to be revealing more. The potatoes were heavily seasoned and very good. The food was a joy to eat.
Realistically, the queuing means it’s unlikely I’ll be hurrying back to Riley’s Fish Shack but the food certainly warrants another visit.
The Riley’s Fish Shack (King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth, NE30 4BY; tel. 0191 257 1371) website has information about opening times, restaurant’s suppliers and examples from the menu.
The Visit England website also has information about things to do in the country’s North East.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning journalist based in the north-east of England. Want to commission a feature? Please get in touch.
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