The Magpie Café is housed in a distinctive black and white building overlooking the harbour in the historic port of Whitby. The building was originally a merchant’s house built in 1750. It became a café in 1939, and has been running continuously ever since. Its large multi-roomed upstairs dining area has a view directly out over the boats and the other side of the bay. The cafe can seat 155 diners at any one time, and around a dozen staff work in the kitchen at any one time serving them. The room has a red carpet and nautical paintings on the walls, and small, closely packed tables.
This is known for fish and chips but there is a lengty menu, with no fewer than two dozen starters, priced from £4.50 to £7.95. Twenty different fish are available, so as well as cod and haddock you can have turbot and even “woof” (catfish). Fish are offered grilled or poached as well as deep-fried, with haddock and chips priced at £11.95. There was even a selection of meat and vegetarian dishes too.
There was a wine list with 38 labels, ranging in price from £14.95 to £44.95; there were even three dessert wines. The wines were not listed with vintages but did have brief tasting notes. Examples were Torres Vian Sol at £14.95 for a wine that costs £6 in the high street, Joseph Cattin Gewurtztraminer at £22.95 for a wine you can find in a shop for £12, and Pol Roger Brut NV at £44.95 comapred to a retail price of £37.
My salmon fishcakes were pleasant, having a respectable amount of fish, properly seasoned and served on a decent beetroot salad (12/20). I sampled a dish of local crab with brown bread that seemed simple and good, though a crab pate that I tried was far too buttery and lacked much crab flavour.
The haddock and chips had crisp batter made with beef dripping and fish that was cooked through properly (effectively steamed within its protective batter casing), alongside chips that were nothing special but avoided sogginess (13/20). On the side, garden peas appeared to be frozen, and tartare sauce lacked bite. However I did like the mushy peas, which were made with marrowfat peas, as they should be. So the fish and chips themselves were good, some other dishes less so, but overall it was hard to get excited about the food here. For all its reputation, the fish and chips seemed to me not obviously better than those at the very best places in London. Perhaps The Magpie was operating at a higher level in the past.
Service was friendly and I didn't expect anyone working in a fish and chip shop to remember who ordered what dish (nor did they), though actually getting attention for an extra drink proved quite problematic. The bill came to £26 for two courses apiece and a bottle of wine to share between four plus a couple of beers, and certainly this seemed very cheap by London standards. This was a perfectly pleasant, though hardly memorable, experience.