It’s Whitby’s worst kept secret. Pretty much everyone who has visited the ancient fishing port has sought out legendary The Magpie Cafe to sample some of its famous fare.
Rick Stein voted it the best place to eat fish and chips in the country and it has featured in the Good Food Guide for 35 consecutive years. But it’s not all about the British favourite – it does killer seafood too.
Growing up in the town, I decided to rely on my local knowledge and visit mid-week out of season. In summer the queues outside the iconic black and white building snake along the harbour-side and, after a hard day’s graft, I wasn’t willing to wait for my dinner.
After climbing the second most famous steps in Whitby, we were given a friendly Yorkshire welcome and shown to our table. Six years ago the Magpie added its own takeaway and also bought the building next door so that it could expand the restaurant. We were seated in the extension, which boasted views over the town’s picturesque harbour. Who wouldn’t want to eat their dinner in the shadow of the majestic abbey?
To start we chose seared scallops with butternut squash puree, artichoke and capers (£7.95) and deep fried local squid (from Scarborough) with garlic mayonnaise (£7.95) from the specials board. The scallops were plump and injected with the rich flavour of its accompaniment, which had a salty kick, mimicking the sea. Light, crispy batter embraced rings of fresh, succulent squid, which we happily dunked into the mayo.
It took a while for us to choose our main course from the vast 12-page menu that essentially contained all the edible contents of the North Sea. We went for creamy lobster carbonara (£13.95) and obviously we had to try the haddock and chips (£12.25) – it would have been sacrilege not to.
The locally-caught chunks of lobster were complemented with a punchy sauce infused with Parmesan and sprinkled with crispy pancetta. It was an opulent twist on the classic Italian dish.
As the haddock and chips was served in ‘Yorkshire portions’, we chose the regular size, with a side of mushy peas, washed down with a mug of tea. It lived up to its reputation; delicate flakes of pearly white fish encased in a golden crunchy batter, accompanied by thick chip shop chips – crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. The temptation was too strong to resist making a chip butty, it would have been rude not to.
Despite being full to bursting, the desserts were just too enticing. We chose jam roly poly because it was a traditional suet pudding – a rarity these days. Each mouthful transported me back to my school years, the only difference being that it was extremely light and it came with a jug of lump-free vanilla custard.
As the sticky toffee pudding has been on the menu for more than 30 years, it is obviously popular. Again it wasn’t heavy, and the oozy toffee sauce was plate-lickingly moreish. Pudding perfection.
The Magpie is as synonymous with Whitby as Captain Cook and Dracula, but despite its fame, it has failed to lose any of its charm and undoubtedly lives up to the hype.
If you do decide to make the pilgrimage during a busy period, don’t be put off by the queues. This one’s worth waiting for.
Menu choice 9