The Magpie Cafe - Yorkshire's best fish & chips? Discuss!
The Magpie Café in Whitby is a bit of a Yorkshire Institution and its popularity can be seen by the queues which form outside most lunchtimes and teatimes. For most restaurants this would put people off, but with the Magpie it has become part of the experience – even when its pouring with rain people come with their umbrellas and bottles of white wine to share a drink and chat with their fellow diners.
There are over 50 Fish and Chip shops and restaurants in Whitby offering local fresh fish and chips but with a patronage from celebrity chefs and food critics such as Rick Stein and A.A. Gill, The Magpie is perhaps the most well-known. Rick Stein even did one of his Food Heroes programmes from the restaurant.
I’ve been going to the Magpie for years and was saddened when two fires within 24 hours in 2017 caused the restaurant to shut for 7 months for a £450,000 refurbishment in 2017. It was great to eventually see that the refurbishment had been done sympathetically and the restaurant had lost none of its character and the food was still of top notch quality.
My latest visit in early February 2022, was with 5 Dads’ who I had first got to know over 20 years ago when our kids started school and who I have been heading to Staithes and Whitby with for a number of years on our annual walking weekend.
Before I talk about the food – I need to mention the staff. I don’t think I have ever been to a restaurant where the waitresses shine as much as The Magpie. Every year we go we are met with happy, friendly staff who all seem to love working there. They have fun with each other and always have a laugh with you when taking orders. My celiac friend is always looked after well and accommodated with a selection of gluten free options.
The menu is comprehensive, there is a lot of choice, not just Cod or Haddock, but 4 sizes of fish and chips (Small, Regular, Large, Extra-large) and a wide choice of seafood dishes. There is also a superb selection of specials every time we go too.
As we had walked the 13 miles from Staithes to Whitby, we were ravenous and starters and mains were needed to replace burnt calories.
For starters I went for the Firecracker King Prawns – succulent king prawns in a chilli and sriracha sauce – it really was fiery and just what the doctor ordered being a chilli fiend.
My pal had the Garlic King prawns which he also rated and I swapped a firecracker one for a garlic one and can back that up.
I also sampled the calamari one of my other friends ordered which again came with a spicy sauce – this time Cajun. It was tender, not chewy like you find in some restaurants and the Cajun dip was a change from garlic mayo.
Over the years scallops has been a favourite for starters – we had them served with chorizo, white pudding and black pudding and they have been superb. This time one of my pals went for the Pan Seared King Scallops on bruschetta with goats curd and red pepper pesto. It looked great but my friend thought that one of the more classic combinations with black pudding or chorizo would have been preferable.
On to the mains. We all went down the classic fish and chips route. I always prefer haddock which is served with skin on as I think it just shades cod when it comes to a stronger flavour. Some of the lads went for cod, but I don’t think there is much between the two.
It is worth mentioning something that I tell many of my US visitors when I bring them to Whitby to sample Fish and Chips – some for the first time. In Yorkshire at many fish and chip restaurants including The Magpie cook their fish and chips in beef dripping.
Beef dripping is key to a great fish and chip supper. Firstly with chips it adds flavour and because it get to a higher temperature than vegetable oil the chips have a crispier coating and fluffier textured inside. Beef dripping also key to the cooking of the fish. Many restaurants now mix beer into the batter for extra flavour but the extra hot beef dripping immediately seals the fish inside the batter quicker than vegetable oil. This leads to the fish actually being steamed inside the batter so it ends up being far tender and flaky.
We have made the mistake before of going for the extra-large fish & chips and have been beaten every time. We were a bit more sensible this time and went for Regular size. It was still huge.
We also shared some mushy peas. I don’t know what the secret ingredient is with the Magpie but they are the best I have found. Maybe it’s just some sugar as they definitely seem to be sweeter than elsewhere.
I was stuffed but a couple of the lads shared a jam roly-poly with custard. It wasn’t quite as roly as we expected based on what we remembered from school dinners, but still delicious.
There was also a lemon sundae ordered – which looked a proper seaside treat in the style of a knickerbocker-glory. Looked good and was a good palette cleanser.
It was a great meal and with three bottles of wine – a crisp Chablis and a nice sancerre the bill came to £250 for the 6 of us.
The Magpie Café is often copied but never bettered and we will be back again on next year's walking trip.
Here are a few shots of dishes from previous visits...