Driving from Pickering across the North Yorkshire Moors, somewhere just past Fylingdales, the A169 drops away then rises steeply, at the summit. This is the first view of the sea and the seaside town of Whitby in all its glory. As kids, we would be beside ourselves in anticipation of who would see this first. Today I feel just as exhilarated that I am the one.
Whitby is the seaside town of my childhood summers and its promise of ice cream. Of my Mum buying me cockles doused in vinegar served in little pots on the harbourside while I gazed longingly at the clairvoyant’s beach hut hoping we might go in. How well I remember the quiver of fear at the mention of Dracula and the darker, mythical side of the otherwise bright-and-breezy town. Little has changed. There’s the usual coastal kitsch but also so much fun to be had. From bracing walks on the pier to penny arcades and, of course, the glorious sandy beaches.
Whitby is still a working town. There is a strong sense of itself and its traditions here, and there is none more significant than the fishing industry, the harbour and shoals of fabulous seafood it lands each year. Whitby had managed another major catch recently when renowned Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern returned to his roots and opened The Star in the Harbour, a 160-seater restaurant complete with bar and the cutest ice cream parlour.
Andrew brings his impressive reputation and a considerable following to Whitby, which, undoubtedly, sent a shudder of fear through the independent restaurants and chippies worrying this behemoth would pull diners away from them. I can say, the sunny midweek afternoon I strolled through the town heading for the harbour; that is not happening. Queues continue to snake outside the chips shops with cafes and bars packed to the gunnels; there’s a pleasant sunny-seaside-holiday feeling in the air, and even the seagulls looked happy.
The Star in the Harbour is a busy and buzzy place at lunchtime; it is not full, but numbers swell as the day progresses and continue long after the day-trippers have left. I have the best seat in the house I feel with a magnificent view over the fishing boats, up and over the seeming piles of higgledy-piggledy houses to the ruins of the abbey. It would be hard to find a better view from a restaurant that so well sums up its location and all that is wonderful about it.
Dragging my eyes back into the Star, I see kitsch was indeed left outside. There are light nautical touches everywhere including a gigantic lobster from Whitby Sculptor Emma Stothard. Local designer Rachel McClane may be responsible for putting all of this together, but it is the magpie-like collector in Andrew Pern to thank for the rest of the charming and sometimes-whacky ephemera scattered about the place.
Andrew comes from Whitby and like a stick of rock has Yorkshire running through him. His menus are the same, they groan under the weight of local provenance. Andrew has been buying from the boats, fish merchants and markets up and down the coast for years. They know he demands the best. So, it is no surprise that the menu teems with fresh fish, lobster, and seafood. There is local rare breed meats made into pies, roasts and even a Schnitzel as well.
Andrew is cooking today,and I happily tuck into a chunk of fresh lobster nestled into a pool of seafood and bathed in velvety Bisque. A special of the day brought a meaty Halibut Steak landed just that morning from The Victory Rose trawler. The dish was freshness at its best. The precision of the dish was as thorough as the cooking with tiny potato scales lined up neatly on the top of the Halibut and topped off by delicious aromas of herbs, garlic and butter wafting from the plate. At the seaside, a must for dessert has to be a Knickerbocker Glory, and this one is a thing of beauty to behold and to eat, heaven in a glass.
Meandering back through the town that seems just as busy as when I arrived several hours ago. I realise, though I thought my love of Whitby could not grow anymore, it has. I still will come for those cockles, to wander the tiny streets, wrap up on a chilly day and battle the winds out on the pier. I’ll climb the steps to the abbey, sit on a bench and eat fish and chips or snuggle up in one in a cosy pub. Who knows, I may even make it into the clairvoyant? What Andrew and his team have added to the delights of this lovely town is another layer of deliciousness and a breath of fresh air to the food. We should all be happy.
This feature appeared in the Y Magazine from Welcome to Yorkshire.