What should Valentine’s be all about? Setting aside saddo garage bunches of daffodils and 2-4-£10 M&S meals, shouldn’t it simply be about doing something you love, whether with someone special, with pals or on your own? As long as whatever it is makes you happy. I’ve had some smashing Feb 14th’s in recent memory but felt a bit down this week. Love is all about lifting someone up when they’re down. He lifted me right up to Newcastle.Now, Newcastle in February isn’t most people’s idea of a romantic day out but as a couple, we have previous. We spent one Valentine’s weekend off the south coast of Ireland on Sherkin Island. Think Craggy Island, only Sherkin has 106 inhabitants and none are comedians. One of the most bizarre experiences of my life. If you ever go, please go on Feb 14th and eat at the Jolly Roger. Our experience included 3 kids locked in a car, a dog peeing on our table, a drunken midget asleep at the bar, an ex-con and a pub quiz which started at 11.45pm. But I digress.
Back to Newcastle. I’d been wittering on to him about some fish shack I’d seen. It looked amazing. I hadn’t seen that Jay Rayner had been, eaten and waxed lyrical. I’d just fallen for a pretty cool Insta-grid. Riley’s Fish Shack, just north of Newcastle, sits in St Edward’s Bay, a small cove under the very pretty Tynemouth village. Quite the place to go on a freezing cold, blustery February lunchtime eh, why the heck not. Breakfast and coffees start at 9.30 but we’ve not managed to leave Manchester by then so the 12-4 lunch sitting is our aim, M62 willing.
We arrive in the pretty town of Tynemouth and the shack evades us for a while, until the realisation of our own stupidity leads us toward the sea and left a bit. Peering over the railings down to the cove below, there it is, literally on the edge of the sand. It reminds me of a beach hut we once ate at on Crete, only without the sun and bikini, and with the Force 10 gale.
Hardy locals are supping pints and scoffing mackerel wraps on the open air terrace. Non-Geordies are wrapped around the outdoor heater or behind the huge glass doors on one of the three cosy scaffolding board high tables. We bag a table next to the indoor wood burner and squish up next to a family from Kent – and we thought we’d traveled the furthest! The kitchen is buzzing at the far end of the shack, compact, hectic, but clearly well organised. The queue to order is busy when we pitch up, but having read some reviews since, our 20 or so minutes wait is nothing compared to peak summer periods. That Riley’s produces food of such incredible standards for 12hrs a day, six days a week in what’s effectively a street food van is testament to their talents.
So, about that food…The fish and shellfish is locally & sustainably caught, landed early in the morning and on Adam and Lucy’s grill before lunch. This is how they sum themselves up:
Our chargrilled seasonal fish wraps and seasonal seafood are served in a handmade wood fired flatbread with our signature vinaigrette salads and Hepplewhite’s Chipotle Chilli Relish and our crispy hot-plate garlic potatoes.
The menu typically features oysters (R in the month willing), monkfish, red mullet, turbot and hake, with firm favourites regularly appearing and seasonal appearances as they’re landed.
How could we go for lunch on Valentine’s and not have oysters?! Six beautifully sweet Rockefellers to Riley’s own recipe – there’s a great article here about this way to cook oysters. The only issue with them is that I didn’t order 12. They’re an absolute dream.
The huge tandoori monkfish kebab is succulent and wrapped in flatbread cooked in the searing hot wood oven, smothered in piquant sauce then sprinkled with fresh chillis and coriander. It’s messy and designed to rip apart and share, which is exactly what we do, snuggled next to the stove with a Shiraz warming in the bottle.Let’s blame the Shiraz for a slightly blurry shot of the fat slab of crispy skin hake. My favourite way to cook fish at home is always with piles of veg or crispy raw greens and it’s almost impossible to find this when eating ‘out’. Riley’s nails it to perfection, heaping crunchy white salad with al dente samphire, hot plate charred potatoes, aioli and freshly baked bread. A big paper box full of finger lickin’ goodness.I’d like to say that this gigantic hunk of buttered turbot with capers is also ours to share but it actually belongs to the family squished in next to us, visiting their Durham Uni going son. This is one of the things I love about mucking-in eating, this kind of anti-restaurant experience. We’ve been chatting away for ages and the mum positively insists I nick a forkful of her turbot.
Next time, we’re having the turbot.After our meal we pull on several more layers and head out for a wind whipping walk across the bay, sinking into vivid coloured sand and finding some terrazzo boulder treasure to take home. I don’t feel so smug when we head back and a giant bloody seagull has opened my doggie box of hake leftovers cleverly* hidden near the shack.
It’s wild weather and getting near 4pm but the high street still looks temptingly pretty. We promise to revisit when the days are longer, and to set off earlier, to make the most of everything around the shack. We even manage to find two salvage shops and a chocolatiers, so we’re definitely heading back soon.
Tynemouth, you were a brilliant Valentine’s afternoon. If you love your food and fancy a road trip treat, Riley’s Fish Shack is a fresh take on and a fun experience. I wish it were closer to Manchester, I’d be there every month. Mind you they might struggle to find turbot like that in the Ship Canal.
NB Just to be on the safe side, the website says to check in to ensure fish has been landed and the shack will be open. With a 300 mile round trip, we made sure we did that, but they tell me it doesn’t happen very often. Always best to check though!
Our bill: oysters, hake, monkfish and red wine (£22) came to £74. Worth every penny, especially ’cause we swerved any shop bought cards & garage flowers and used those pennies towards lunch. You can eat at Riley’s for far less without the wine & shellfish, there are wraps, empanadas and snacks as opposed to the full monty meals.
Snacks schmacks though, I’m going to end with a smug picture of us next to a fire, all wrapped up, with wine and oysters. You’ll feel smug too, when you visit, I promise x