Driving home from Cornwall, through Dorset a couple of years ago we found ourselves in seemingly endless summer holiday traffic, as we followed motorways and A-roads home. And so we took a right turn and not the left and headed away from the jams down a coast road and as we passed through a picturesque little village called Burton Bradstock I saw a sign that triggered a memory of something I’d read in a paper a while ago. Something about hidden gems.
The sign said Hive Beach Cafe and the clock and the tummy were both telling me it was lunchtime so we parked up (handily free given the National Trust Member sticker in the back window) and so began my love affair with this little seaside, seafood spot.
I’ll give you the bad news first: the Hive Beach Cafe isn’t cheap, it gets busy and you have to queue up to place your order. Oh and it sometimes gets a bit windy, what with the location. That’s pretty much it.
Ok, the good stuff.
The location. Right on the Jurassic coast (a UNESCO World Heritage site) you can walk for a mile or two in either direction along the beach or take the beautiful coast path, although a section was closed on our last visit following a rock fall.
The Hive Beach Cafe itself is about as on the beach as you can get, as the picture shows, and the layout is simple with chrome tables and chairs spread out mostly within a tent-like structure and a few more outside for those who wish to brave the elements.
Menus are printed daily, depending on what fresh seafood has been bought on that day, and much of it is hauled in locally, from Lyme Bay itself.
For the most part dishes are simple, with little other than chips or new potatoes and salad as accompaniments. But the sides are largely unimportant. You’ve come for the fish and the fish doesn’t disappoint.
Having been tempted back to the Hive Beach Cafe on more than one occasion, these are some of the delicious dishes i’ve had the pleasure of eating:
The crab sandwiches, which you can also get to go, are exquisite. Local, fresh and delicious as they are generous the photo does not do it justice. I will contend (based on admittedly little research) that these are the finest crab sandwiches in the world.
I had the scallops and chorizo last time, served with samphire. The scallops were big, fat, juicy, tender things and the samphire crisp and salty. Chorizo is always good, you don’t need me to tell you that.
The ‘kids’ option was each time battered (or tempura as the menu had it) hake or cod and chips. Each time superb and each time generous enough portions that my son couldn’t finish it. Enter Dad…
We lunched there on the last day of our holiday last summer. I had what was probably the nicest fish or seafood dish I have ever had. Whole roasted Brill with sea salt and herbs. The new potatoes and side salad barely got a look in (salad dodger that I am) because the fish was huge and fresh and utterly, utterly delicious.
They also have a range of cakes for if you have a sweet tooth and the fish has not quite filled you up and there is a little ice cream place next door too, for something lighter and more palate-cleansing.
There is much here to make you happy, and its popularity is no accident. Get here at twelve to avoid a long wait for a seat and when you leave take the right turn up along the coast road for some incredible views, or the road up through Shipton Gorge back to the A35 for a more rural, picturesque drive. But there will be no mistaking the highlight of a trip here.
It is a cafe, not a restaurant hence the name Hive Beach Cafe, and so the fight for a table and the twenty minute queue to order and the fetching of your own drinks are all part of the experience, and frankly, no big deal. If its maitre d’s and sommeliers and clean crisp linen you want, don’t come here. But for fresh fish, fresh air and some fossil hunting to follow this is a hell of a find.
by Rob Young
Rob has recently written and published his first book ‘Gatecrasher’. It’s a cracking read and available through Amazon.