Magpie Cafe, 14 Pier Road, Whitby. Tel +44 (0) 1947 602058
When we told people that we were going to spend a weekend in Whitby, almost everybody said the same thing: "Are you going to visit the best fish and chip shop in Britain"? The fame of the Magpie Café can be partly attributed to Rick Stein, who found that the Magpie had, "opened my eyes to how good a chip shop could be". By telling Britain that they could get the best fish and chips in the world in Whitby, he created the longest queue in Britain at the same time!
We must have been mad - we had been on the motorway for hours, it was 7.30pm, our Whitby landlady said, "well, it's nice enough, but there are lots of other good fish and chips in Whitby". Nevertheless, we found ourselves queuing in the rainy dusk outside the Magpie. The queue was cheerful and friendly. A local lady just ahead of us in the queue told us that once we were past the outside menu board, we would not have to wait longer than 30 minutes - and her acceptance of this waiting time encouraged us to believe that it would all be worthwhile. The queues for the Magpie are notorious and have even led to other shopkeepers taking legal action to stop the pavements becoming blocked. Yet people still wait for hours to get in, day and night, day after day.
The café is located in an ancient black and white building, dating from 1750. It stands opposite Whitby fish market, enforcing the statement on the menu that all the fish is fresh off the Whitby boats. As the queue moves up the worn stone steps, you can look inside, through the lovely bay windows to see laughing customers with huge plates of food in front of them, which only serves to increase your determination to get inside.
The Magpie has been serving since 1939 and since that time has scooped up numerous awards for the quality of its food. As you wait in the queue the smell of fried fish alternates with the delicious smell of wine sauce - the Magpie serves everything from basic fish and chips to lobster and moules mariniere. By this stage we were actually dribbling!
Near the front of the queue we were asked if we minded sharing our table, and as we would have killed for food by that stage, we readily agreed. Inside the atmosphere was warm and lively, and our window looked out onto the now darkened Whitby Abbey and the harbour. The menu offered us starters of Whitby crab or Whitby kippers for around £5, as well as oysters, mussels, salmon, goats cheese and much more - but we just wanted the fish and chips - and soon!
We both chose basic haddock and chips for £8.95 - the small size, as the menu warned that the larger size was for Yorkshire portions, and would not leave room for pudding! A regular size fish was available for £10.95 and cod was a pound extra on both sizes. Woof, plaice, halibut, skate were also available, but quickly crossed off the blackboard as supplies ran low. Mushy peas were £1.30.
As well as the fish and chips that most people were ordering, Lobster Thermidor was available for £20.95, and many other dishes such as chowder, fish pie, and monkfish skewers were on offer. For the vegetarian there was pasta bake, vegetarian shepherds pie, or vegetables en croute. Those watching their weight could order their fish poached or grilled. A crab salad was another option. There was just too much choice!
The availability of beer was disappointing - my husband tried to order a Polish Zywiec beer, but it had sold out. He then asked for Newcastle Brown Ale but this was also not available. In the end he finally opted for a bottle of Scoresby Stout, brewed in honour of the local Scoresby family - whalers who lived in the building around 1800. Perhaps this was the best choice after all! My first request for a bottle of Peroni was more successful.
The food arrived very quickly, with a pot of home made tartar sauce. The fish was very fresh and totally delicious, and even the small portions were very large indeed. The chips were big and moist, like most Yorkshire chips - a cut above the rest! Like most northern chips, the flavour has been achieved through frying in lard. As the main menu choices are fish in the café, I would not think this would be a problem for vegetarians, but the café will offer to fry in oil if this is preferred.
Hot and cold deserts were all £4.95. I chose treacle sponge with vanilla custard, my husband had apple and blackcurrant pie with ice cream. Both were beautiful.
The entire meal came to around £35, which some may think is a lot to pay for fish and chips. However, I can assure you that it was well worth it. The service was friendly and efficient, the food was excellent quality and the portions were large. In other words, the Magpie Café totally lived up to its reputation!
The customers were obviously a mix of both tourists and locals, and I overheard one of the waitresses receiving a bunch of flowers as thanks from a local customer. It was very reassuring to know that this was not a tourist trap.
Would I queue again to have a meal in the Magpie? Absolutely! It was very much worth the wait.
The Magpie Café is open every day of the week between 11.30am and 9pm.
Next door is a takeaway fish and chip shop, which also has the most enormous queues coming out of the door. I have tried this in the past and can confirm that the takeaway is just a delicious as the sit down version!
The Magpie Cafe in Whitby is one of the most famous restaurants in England, outside of London of course, where such things are two a penny. Unlike the majority of these other famous restaurants however the Magpie does noes deliver fancy haute cuisine, instead it is famous for its fish and chips.
I am a regular visitor to Whitby, a small quaint little fishing town in the north east of England and each time that I visit here I never cease to be amazed at the length of the queues outside. Even if it is pouring down with rain, and it does quite frequently in Whitby, you can still guarantee that that there will be anything up to a hundred people that will have formed an orderly queue outside waiting for the doors to open.
The success of this place is little short of a phenomenon. Having quickly won over the locals and regular visitors to the town with its quality fish and chips, the final surge in popularity came when the famous food critic, Rick Stein announced that this place served the best fish and chips in Britain. This saw people flocking here from all over the country and indeed from other parts of the World too, and this placed the Magpie, within the market of fish and chips at least, into a league of its own.
In many ways the Magpie has become a victim of its own success and other local traders are now complaining that the daily queues outside are obstructing their shop entrances and their trade is suffering. The local Council here first looked into this matter, before the trading standards agency become involved and now it is being investigated at the highest level. It does seem unlikely that this Cafe will be forced to close, as it is one of the town's most popular tourist attraction and serves as a magnet for visitors. It is however clear that something has to be done if the other local businesses are to survive.
I visited here for the first time last weekend and we arrived at just after 11am, aware that it opened at 11.30. True to form there was already a very long queue outside but at least the sun was shining. I was part of a group of ten people, all adults. Two of our party had been here before and assured us that despite the size of the queue we would get in for the first sitting as it was deceptively large inside.
From the outside the building is quite distinctive. It is painted black and white, the colours of a magpie bird, from where I assume this place derived its name. The location is right on the edge of the harbour. It is not however apparent just how wonderful this location is until you are inside the building since the water is not visible from the front of the building. There are also views of St Mary's Church and the Abbey on the hillside above. The Abbey is perhaps the most well known landmark in the town and its eerie shape, which is said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula, dominates the town.
The history of this building dates back to 1750 when it was originally a merchant's house. It became the Magpie Cafe in 1939. In between this time a prominent member of the Scoresby whaling family owned it for many years and it was also used a shipping office and a pilot's office. There is a ghost here, called Albert that puts in regular appearances.
The menu is very seaside orientated and you will find little else other than fish and seafood. I chose fish and chips, the dish that has made this place famous and being the greedy sort of person that I am opted for a regular 12oz (340g) portion rather than a smaller 7/8oz (240g) portion. This cost £9.45 (14 Euros) compared with £7.45 (11 Euros) for the smaller version. I chose Haddock but Cod and Plaice was also available. It is also possible to request that the fish be poached or grilled rather than fried and served with or without batter.
My meal arrived on a huge place and the fish itself was over 10 inches (25cm) long in length. There were also a huge pile of thick cut chips and a side salad as well as lemon and tartare sauce. Just from the initial smell of the fish I knew that this was going to be a very enjoyable meal and as I tucked into it I was not disappointed. The fish was cooked to perfection and the batter peeled away from the skin of the fish effortlessly. The chips were also very tasty and full of flavour.
The magpie makes no secret in the fact that it uses lard to cook its products in and this is without doubt one of the main contributing factors to the rich taste. It is however possible to request that your food not be fried in lard and the menu does contain a small selection of dishes that would be suitable for vegetarians, but for non fish or seafood eaters this is somewhat limited.
The majority of our party opted for fish and chips in one form or another and looking around this was certainly the most popular choice of dish. The greediest member amongst us also requested additional bread and butter. This looked delicious and is apparently made by the local bakery just down the road. Locally sourced food is a strong theme here and the majority of the seafood that is served has been caught here in Whitby. I did however spot the small print at the bottom of the menu, which pointed out that this can not always be guaranteed.
The Magpie Cafe is licensed to sell alcohol and there is quite an extensive wine list. Due to excessive amounts of alcohol the previous evening however the majority of us opted for soft drinks. I had a pot of tea, which I thought to be an appropriate compliment to my traditional fish and chips. This arrived in a large pot that actually contained real tealeaves as opposed to the ubiquitous teabags that are now more or less considered to be acceptable.
Overall I was very impressed with the quality of my meal and I am pleased that I can now say that this is a place that I have visited. Due to the length of the queues however and the price it is not the sort of place that I would probably visit again.
One of the best places to eat I have come across is The Magpie Cafe in Whitby, it is situated down thepier and has a world wide following, in fact it has had awards from Egon Ronay and les Routiers, plus more. It really specialises in fish dishes but there are a lot more on offer. You can choose from an extensive menu, that covers cod, Haddock, Plaice, Lobster, shellfish etc to Salads which come with The Magpies homemade pickles and coleslaws. Or a homemade pie.It really is a huge menu and they even cater for children, with specially made to order meals such as "smiley face sausage and mash". The fish is gorgeous and you can choose small, medium or large!, medium is sufficient for me and costs around £5.Also on offer is an extensive wine list,which allows you to have even one glass of many varieties. The sweets are also out of this world, everyone made to order and all homemade-none of your frozen gateaux here!!, these range from Banoffi tartlets, to cheesecakes, to hot chocolate brownie, to homemade fruitcakes.And once again the kids get their own sweets,teddy icecreams or smartie etc. The plus side to The Magpie is the menu- it tells you on each and every dish and sweet, whether its high or low in fat, whether its suitable for diabetics,or nut allergy sufferers,So you have no need to worry! You may also catch a celeb here as it is so well known that famous footballers, actors, TV stars and hosts all dine here if in the Whitby area.I would say that if you come here then do not miss The Magpie!!, its only closed Christmas day. Expect to pay around £12 per person but this included main, drink and sweet.