There aren’t many places that I know of where you can relax in a deck chair on the beach with a glass of prosecco, and be served the most delicious grilled lobster, cooked in the handmade, wood-fired ovens of a small shack. The image I’ve created here epitomises Riley’s Fish Shack: fresh, locally-sourced seafood and a fantastic atmosphere to match.
Starting off selling seafood from a bicycle at Tynemouth food festival back in 2012, co-owners Adam and Lucy Riley have managed to create something quite special in the wonderful seaside town of Tynemouth. Set on the sand of the small but picturesque King Edward’s Bay, the shack offers an ever-changing menu depending on what is fresh that day. The absence of the clamour of Tynemouth Longsands and the presence of luxuries such as lobster, crab, kippers, local ales and a selection of wines gives off an air of unpretentious sophistication.
I know what you’re thinking: this is a great option for a sunny, summer day. However, the very first time I visited Riley’s was in the middle of February on a day with gusty winds and less than pleasant temperatures. As you can imagine, there aren’t many deck chairs set out at this time of year, but the cosy albeit limited indoor seating at the shack makes for an intimate setting to enjoy the delights of our local seafood. The heat from the wood-fired ovens at the entrance to the shack gave the visit an almost festive feel too. A bit of wind and rain didn’t stop the Riley’s team from organising a New Year’s Eve party at the shack this year. It’s definitely something that I’d consider attending this coming NYE – I’m dying to try the fish curry they advertised last time!
Whilst it is plain to see why many adults would have a fantastic experience at the fish shack, there are many options for kids to enjoy too, after a tiring day of building sandcastles and dipping their toes into the chilly sea! Soft drinks and hot chocolates are available, as well as some less adventurous (but just as tasty) food options including shack-made bread, wraps and crispy garlic potatoes. Those who don’t eat fish, don’t worry, you’re most certainly catered for too! I would personally recommend the chargrilled vegetable empanada, which had the delicious surprise of what tasted like chunks of feta cheese inside. Upon my last visit, I had a trio of treats from Riley’s, one of which was the vegetable empanada, with the addition of a chilli fish empanada and a gorgeous fishcake, all served on a tangy slaw and a bed of salad leaves with a creamy mayonnaise-style accompaniment.
It is not surprising that this fish shack by the sea has caught the attention of food critics, writers and prominent chefs such as Michel Roux Jnr, who featured Riley’s Fish Shack on his recent Channel 4 series, ‘Hidden Restaurants’. It is both quaint and sophisticated, with elements of both fine-dining and a picnic experience. Make sure you don’t leave your visit until too late on in the day, otherwise your favourite fish may have swum off the menu after a long day of queues and hungry customers. But these queues are testament to the quality of Riley’s Fish Shack; think the chiringuitos of Barcelona, but better.
Overall rating: ****
Pro(s): Fantastic seafood paired with a surprisingly good drinks selection. Friendly and cool atmosphere.
Con(s): Often long queues due to the limited space inside the shack. Not as cheap as the fish and chip restaurants in Tynemouth, but well worth the extra couple of pounds for the quality you get!