As far as I know there is not a period drama set in Sandsend, Yorkshire, but there should be. Not much has changed over the centuries in this picturesque seaside village, situated on the edge of the North York Moors National Park coastline.
Overlooking the sandy beach is Estbek House, a grade II listed regency building, built of stone in c.1760 to accommodate the manager of the local Alum works. Today it is home to one of the best fish restaurants I know, which also has 5 comfortable rooms for overnight guests.
When I first made the 6 hour drive to Estbek House from my home in Southeast England, I was not in search of outstanding hospitality. I certainly did not expect fine dining. Far from it. I was making the journey to re-unite with a school friend who I had not seen or heard from since we were seven years old. When Tim Lawrence’s mother relocated her family in the 1970s, in an unconnected, pre-digital world, she, and my best friend, Tim, simply disappeared. So you can imagine my excitement to receive a message from him on social media 35 years later. I suggested meeting up in London, but it turned out Tim and his life and business partner, David Cross, were fully committed to the daily demands of running the Restaurant with rooms they had founded in Sandsend, Yorkshire. So, I happily accepted Tim’s invitation to stay.
When we were very young boys, Tim and I had played for hours in the garden, imagining elves and witches and lion cubs. One summer, we’d even tried to dig a hole to Australia to see some kangaroos. So, naturally the main attraction for me of Sandsend -a place I’d never heard of, let alone visited- was the chance of a childhood reunion. After the joy of seeing Tim again, and meeting David, had they served us a standard pub meal, and shown me to a bed made up with polyester sheets, I would not have been disappointed. Well, perhaps I’d have been a little diappointed, but it was more or less what I was expecting.
I reminisced with Tim in the kitchen with granite walls, highly polished copper pans, and large cooking range. As chef-patron, this is his work station, and after a couple of hours chatting, he had to get cooking. David, whose role is front of house, showed me upstairs to the understated dining room, where the only flourish on the white linen-clad tables were thenapkins, folded to resemble dinner jackets.
To start with I opted for the exquisite Zucchini & Quinoa Dill Bisque, prepared with using Estbek’s home-grown courgettes, with freshly baked bread. Next upEstbak’s fresh wild cod, served off the bone with its delicate flavours preserved by pan searing, until the flesh has a pearl appearance - just as it should be, but seldom is. This was accompanied by parmentier potatoes and mixed vegetables, again from the Estbek garden.
Quite apart from the sheer joy of being served such perfectly prepared fish, in a Georgian dining room so close to the sea, I couldn’t help feeling pride and satisfaction at the accomplishment of my childhood friend.
Like I said, I would have been happy with standard pub-fare. Estbek’s culinary output is more refined than many of the world’s best restaurants. On subsequent visits (when I was certain Tim and Dave would not feel obliged to host) I ordered the whole locally caught lobster with crayfish & brown shrimp and served with Seaweed butter and chunky chips. And I can hardly remember ever tasting anything so delicious.
Before founding Estbek House together with David, Tim was Head Chef at Trenchers Restaurant in Whitby for 25 years with its original founder and now friend of Estbek, Terry Foster. It turns out Tim’s cooking has earned Estbek House a unique place as The Yorkshire coast's first Two AA Rosette Restaurant. Having held an AA rosette since September 2004 they gained a second rosette in April 2009. Their changing menu is focused on the their position, with the sea and moorland on the doorstep, Tim uses only the finest fresh local ingredients with flavours all too often lost in contemporary restaurants.
In a post-brexit Britain, plagued by a crisis of staffing, especially in the hospitality business, co-owner David Cross is in charge of the friendly and unobtrusive service at Estbek House. Qualifying as a food scientist at university level, and having subsequently worked within the food industry developing food hygiene and safety standards for a number of years,, David runs a seamless operation in the restaurant each evening. In addition to this, David has a keen interest in wines and close friendships with many winemakers, having undertaken several diploma examinations in wines and spirits, helps Estbek House further expand their cellar.
By the time I was ready for bed, any room would have done. And, like the restaurant, and Tim and Dave themselves, the five bedrooms at Estbek are all easy, comfortable and understated: Everything you need and nothing more. The beds were covered in charming local patchwork quilts and work by local artists hangs on the walls.
We stayed in Alum, which has views through Georgian windows overlooking the East Beck, Sandsend beach and Mulgrave Woods.’ There are paintings by Local artist Linda Lupton and the room is fitted with light wooden furniture and a king-size wooden sleigh bed.
There is nothing here that is ‘fancy,’ institutional or pretentious. Given my childhood friendship with Tim, it’s not surprising that it felt to me just like staying with old friends - but I can’t help feeling that it will seem just that way to you too.
On subsequent visits, I have used Estbek House as a wonderfully situated base from which to explore the Yorkshire coast and dales. The beach is busy in summer and is a mix of sand and pebbles. A stream runs down to the sea from Mulgrave Woods, located in a steep ravine above the village. It's a great place for the kids to paddle! Discover the remains of the alum industry that was once important here. The mounds of shale waste at nearby Sandsend Ness are the legacy of quarrying lasting over 260 years. You can walk along the disused coastal railway through the heart of this quarried landscape and an excellent guide to the Sandsend Trail has been published by the National Park Authority.
Mulgrave Woods are a great place to explore and there are many pleasant walks available. You can access the woods on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday all year, except in May. If you fancy a longer walk, why not try part of The Cleveland Way National Trail (North Sea Trail) that hugs the edge of the dramatic coastline.
The most popular walks can be found walking along the beach to Whitby, Mulgrave woods and also the Cleveland way stretching north , which takes you along the old railway track.
Being directly on the Cleveland way, Estbek is surrounded by some of North Yorkshire's most dramatic and rugged scenery, Ideal for working up an appetite.