The new spacious, modern pier at Hastings is definitely worth a visit but, for us, the main attraction is the town’s thriving food scene – especially if you like fish. Read on for our recommended restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlours and places to stay
Looking for the best restaurants in Hastings? We’ve found the top places to eat in Hastings, a coastal town in East Sussex, for fish and chips, Italian gelato and plenty of artisan food and drink shops…
The Thai café at Boulevard Books
No trip to Hastings is complete without an amble down George Street. It links the Old Town to the seafront and is lined with independent coffee bars, sweet shops, vintage emporiums and quirky little restaurants – our favourite being the Thai café at Boulevard Books, owned by husband-and-wife team Graham and Natthawan (aka June) Frost.
During the day it’s a higgledy-piggledy secondhand bookshop, with creaking floorboards and a maze of narrow corridors. But come 6:30pm and those same corridors are crammed with tiny tables (the cosiest of which is in the ‘political books’ section), laden with Thai food cooked by June. Ingredients are imported from Thailand to create as genuine a menu as possible (£13 for a starter and main), and it’s great for vegetarians – you can substitute the meat for tofu in almost every dish. Plus they’ll even provide a cooler for your wine (it’s bring your own).
Also on George Street is Hastings’ favourite ice cream parlour – Di Polas. The Italian owners make all their gelato on site, and regularly changing flavours include passionfruit; honeycomb; apple and ginger; sea salt caramel; and, our favourite, Oreo. It’s particularly milky ice cream, distinctively whippy and smooth in texture.
A. G. Hendy & Co.
Step back in time with a visit to food journalist and photographer Alastair Hendy’s Georgian shop and kitchen. He spent three years restoring the High Street building to its original state, and the result is so utterly convincing – symmetrical window displays, heavy dark wooden-panelled rooms, enamel factory lights and a front desk mahogany counter that hides the electric till – as to leave visitors spellbound.
The dining room and outdoor courtyard is out the back, and to get there you have to walk through an irresistible shop stocked with vintage crockery, Denby teacups, rolling pins, Kilner jars and even enamel buckets. Food is simple sharing plates with a focus on (you guessed it) fresh fish landed by the local fleet – skate wing and capers; fish, crab and shellfish pot; and juicy brown shrimps with kohlrabi and tarragon. A word of warning: you can only eat lunch at the weekend here, with last orders at 4pm.
A charming little deli, with smart golden signage and an old-fashioned bay window piled high with artisan cheeses, wine, Trealy farm cured meats and Monmouth coffee. It’s a great place for a picnic lunch – try one of their hickory-smoked sausage rolls, or a Bombay potato bomb. There’s also a tasting room at the back that serves deli platters and craft ales for lunch.
Another great Hastings Old Town spot, this time set away from the crowds on All Saints Street. It’s an independent pub, contemporary in style with local art on the walls and a dog-friendly attitude. It’s less “cosy fireside pint” and more “lively dining room”, with a sophisticated menu that makes the most of produce from over 20 local suppliers.
The Stade, a shingle beach near the town’s funicular railway, captures the essence of Hastings. It’s lined with colourful fishing fleets, wooden huts that sell the former’s catch every day, and stacks of famous ‘net shops’ – tall, tarred wooden sheds that were built to provide shelter for fishing equipment.
Just past the net shops is an upturned boat hull, which locals Tush and Pat use as a base to cook and sell their fishermen’s rolls. They take whatever fish is fresh that day, fillet it, fry it in olive oil, and stick it in between a bap. The pearly white fish is delicate and flaky enough to eat with your fingers.
Another must-visit if you’re in The Stade area. Hungry humans and seagulls alike form a queue at this place, their beady eyes on the mounds of fresh cockles at the front of the shop. It’s a family business over 30 years old that specialises in smoked fish (especially salmon, kippers, conger eels and prawns) – in fact, the family smokes nearly 300kg of fish a week.
If you’ve only space for one thing, let it be the hot-smoked salmon – it was invented by accident when, one Christmas, the sawdust that keeps fish cool during smoking caught fire… the punters loved it so much that it’s now made on purpose.
Sit in the café of the handsome Jerwood Gallery and sip excellent cappuccino while admiring a seascape that includes Hastings’ unmistakeable black wood fishermen’s net huts, tall and eerie even in the blazing sunshine. Some are now fishmongers, selling a transfixing selection of fresh fish and seafood, bright of eye and gleaming of fin on their icy beds.
This fish and chips café, set among the net shops, permanently sports a ‘fully booked’ sign at the bottom of its rickety stairs, and no wonder: the vast, pearly fish in its light batter escapes from the confines of its plate; the chips – crisp and floury, always double-fried – are some of the best we’ve tried. Cod and haddock comes from the fish market directly underneath it. We exit stuffed, our coats fragranced with frying and vinegar, happy as clams.
(Fishmarket, Rock A Nore Rd, 01424 430205)
Food and drink shops in Hastings
Unlike many slightly sadder British seaside towns (I know – I live in one), Hastings is lucky enough to have been colonised by people who care about food. The Old Town bristles with intriguing, independent stores: pioneering Judges organic bakery, for instance, or neighbouring cheese and wine specialists, Penbuckles.
Two Bulls Steakhouse
Over at clever Two Bulls Steakhouse gelato from Di Polas is served as part of the unabashedly calorific dessert offering. This former pub has become very close to locals’ hearts thanks to some very fine Irish steak – mine, a 28-day dry-aged Angus point end (aka ‘butcher’s secret’) is as good a piece of meat as we’ve had outside the spendy London steak temples at a fraction of the price.
Where to stay in Hastings…
It calls itself a guest house, but with its mix of high comfort and the kind of mildly distressed chic, it’s like staying with a stylish pal. That pal is owner, Brendan McDonagh, whose breakfasts are legendary: kippers from Rock-A-NoreFisheries, maybe, or green bacon and fat sausages from Archers of Westfield. It’s in the heart of Hastings Old Town, which has grown into its beauty, with clapboard houses, tiny twittens (alleyways) and designer shops. But it’s over in St Leonards’ that the edgier kids are coming out to play.
We knew we were in for a treat when, despite arriving at an unsociable hour, hosts Sara and Jon brought up a tray of posh welcome snacks: homemade pitta chips, hummus, olives and – as long as you quote ‘olive magazine’ when booking – a mini bottle of ice cold prosecco. Talk about making a good impression.
But it’s more than nibbles that makes The Laindons a favourite B&B in Hastings. Location-wise, it’s ideal – right in the heart of the Old Town, with both the First In Last Out pub (which brews its own ales) and the Electric Palace arthouse cinema a stone’s throw away. The rest of the High Street is a jumble of vintage shops, delis and Georgian Grade II listed buildings, including The Laindons itself, which sits above a coffee bar, No. 23, also owned by Sara and Jon. That means good aromas filling the building every morning.
Rooms are Scandi coastal in design – greys, white and blues, influenced by the time Sara and Jon spent living in Sweden – and the beds are made from recycled wood, crafted by local carpenters. We loved the original fireplace in our room and giant crossword poster in the bathroom, designed around Hastings and its attractions. Extra personal touches include earplugs for those guests bothered by seagulls; a wicker basket full of treats on the landing (just pay for what you eat); and a converted loft that acts as a bar – help yourself to a chilled glass of local sparkling wine.
Breakfast is taken at the back of the house in a sort of suspended conservatory that overlooks the tufty East Hill nature park. The room is cheerily bright, being so flooded with sunlight, and perfectly matched to bedrooms: there are chunky wooden tables and squashy couches for post-breakfast lounging.
Food is elegant and delicious – toasted fruit bread is topped with ricotta, nectarine slithers and almonds; muesli is homemade and packed with coconut, caramelised bananas and lime zest; vibrant jams are made locally by Martha & Ed’s Kitchen; and pear and apple juice comes from Ringden Farm, less than 20 miles away. Don’t miss the coffee – Jon roasts it downstairs and, if you’re interested, he can tell you about the origin of that day’s bean.