AS a fairly regular visitor to Whitby, I’m not sure how I missed this but it’s a fact nevertheless – the place has gone a bit posh.
I always thought part of the harbour town’s charm was its rough-and-ready tattiness – the sort of thing one associates with a working port and while Whitby is nominally still a working port, it is a shadow of its former self. Only 30 years ago more than 20 trawlers sailed from Whitby. Now they are gone and the fish quay’s regular auctions with it.
The quayside has changed as a result. No working fishermen means a reduced market for spit and sawdust pubs and greasy spoon cafes. One by one these places have been converted into wine bars, restaurants and hotels, some of them decidedly upmarket – trendy even. Once a trip to the Magpie cafe was the height of sophistication; today it seems rather dull (and there are better fish and chips to be had elsewhere is our controversial opinion).
I’m not saying this gentrification is a bad thing.
Spending Saturday evening in the town on the recent regatta weekend was extremely pleasant even if the weather did do its best to spoil the show. The visitor mix has definitely changed with the relatively well heeled filling these aforesaid establishments. It never used to be like this.
Perhaps no other place sums up this new Whitby than The Marine, formerly The Marine Hotel, which until 2008 was one of those spit-and-sawdust pubs serving the fishermen and then, immediately before its conversion to the boutique hotel, restaurant and bar it is today, a rather tatty cafe.
They have done a cracking job on the interior, making it modern, bright but also cosy.
Partly the cosiness is because it is small and rammed (pleasantly it should be said) with diners and drinkers. It was also pretty noisy, to a degree drowning out the resident pianist Well it was regatta weekend.
We were in a party of eight booked in a prime position between the bar and front windows with views over the quayside (excellent for people watching), the harbour and the abbey above.
Even the most cursory of glances at the menu reveals that The Marine, appropriately of course, is all about fish. If you want to be really perverse and eat something else, there’s a couple of steaks (8ox sirloin – £18 – and 14oz ribeye – £24 – see what I mean about Whitby going upmarket) and rack of lamb for £19, plus a couple of veggie dishes (deep fried halloumi or ricotta and asparagus salad – both £11) but that’s it. Everything else is fish or seafood.
And boy, do these people know what they are doing with it.
The Marine’s modern rear dining room
Firstly, they get it from the right place. Well, the right place would be Whitby but for the reasons already mentioned that’s just not possible. Some of the seafood (the crab, scallops, and lobster) is still landed in the port but almost everything else comes from up the coast and the incomparable Hodgson’s of Hartlepool (funnily enough based in Whitby Street).
It’s a long time since I’ve lauded praise on this concern but they do supply simply the best fresh fish, a lot of it landed from their own boats. It’s almost a given these days that if I eat an excellent piece of fish in a restaurant it is sourced from Hodgson’s.
Although fresh it may be, anyone can so easily ruin the finest fish. But that certainly wasn’t the case here. My main course was the largest whole lemon sole (£16) I’d seen in a long time, served in a prawn, lemon and parsley butter sauce. The sole was spot-on, the fillets coming off the bone so easily but still holding their structure. There must have been a mugful of good-sized tender and juicy prawns.
Perhaps there could have been a little more lemon to counter and cut through the richness of all the butter but maybe not. It was a great dish served simply with no other garnish (Jersey Royals and buttered spinach were side dishes – £3 each).
Sylvia’s main was the Marine royal fish pie (£14), served as an individual pie. A crispy-topped layer of mashed potato sat atop a pile of cod, smoked haddock and prawns held together with a classic, creamy, smooth and rich Mornay sauce. Whole scallops were liberally scattered around the sides.
And we had fish to start, of course. Some earthy wild sea trout (£7) for me simply served on some salad leaves with a nicely sharp salad cream, while Sylvia rated her classic prawn cocktail (£7) for its good sized prawns and light Marie Rose.
It was no surprise there was no room for dessert, despite the lure of, for example, chocolate and dark ale cake, malt cream, meringue, raspberries and ice cream (£6).
Service was surprisingly good considering the numbers in, the noise (am I getting old?) and the crowded conditions.
The bar/dining area with views over the harbour
We found it hard to fault anything about the food, the surroundings – or the view – but some might quibble at the pricing which, notwithstanding the cost of the best quality fish these days, is top end-ish. If we not been on soft drinks and had a bottle of half-decent wine and desserts, the bill would have been heading for the £100 mark.
Food Quality: 10/10