An eye-opening food and drink tour of Cleethorpes, from the world’s smallest pub to cutting-edge cooking (it’s not all kiss-me-quick round these parts anymore)
- Rob Crossan finds that Cleethorpes is an alluring mix of trendy bars and restaurants and traditional offerings
- He pays a visit to extremely popular Signal Box Inn, which at 64 sq ft, is the smallest pub in the world
- For the ‘hands down freshest haddock and chips in town’ visit Steel’s, a defiantly old-school cafe
- Healing Manor Hotel offers an 8-course tasting menu using products sourced exclusively within Lincolnshire
For piers that stretch into the far horizon you should head to Southport or Southend.
But for a pier that is the ultimate hardy survivor, there is none to match Cleethorpes.
Walking to the end of the 355ft promontory doesn’t take long; it juts out like a child’s thumb over biscuit-coloured sands and the North Sea. But that it’s still here at all is a remarkable testament to a structure which, in its 147-year history, has had about 90 per cent of its original length destroyed (by fires and by deliberate destruction — to stop it becoming a landing pad for German aircraft) and has gone through many bankruptcies.
The ultimate hardy survivor: Cleethorpes’ 147-year-old pier has had about 90 per cent of its original length destroyed
These days the pier is home to Papa’s fish and chips. Their fayre is thoroughly decent but, admittedly, there are finer eating and drinking spots, hidden discreetly in the side streets of this charming Lincolnshire town.
I head to The Signal Box Inn, a pub that doesn’t boast too much about what it has to offer. If you’re after a pool table, a fruit machine, dining area or even a chair then you’ll be disappointed. Though its lack of amenities have done nothing to dampen this boozer’s popularity.
‘We can get through a whole barrel of beer in two hours on a sunny day,’ says landlord Alan, squeezed behind the counter of what is, officially, at 64 sq ft, the smallest pub in the world.
On my visit there’s a takeaway service, meaning that, even standing outside, I’m still almost close enough for Alan to hand over my beer while he’s behind the pumps. While some British seaside towns have stuck stubbornly to tradition (hello Skegness) and others have tried a little too hard to expunge all the old-school charms that a bucket-and-spade trip to the coast can bring (hello Margate), Cleethorpes has struck a well-balanced middle ground.
The Signal Box Inn: If you’re after a pub with a pool table, a fruit machine, a dining area or even a chair, then look elsewhere…
The customary and the cutting edge are rubbing along together nicely at Cleethorpes, declares Rob
Tradition is a word taken seriously at Steel’s, a defiantly old-school cafe with net curtains, cosy booths, a Frank Sinatra soundtrack and, hands down, the freshest haddock and chips in town.
But discreetly placed around the further fringes of the promenade and around narrow Seaview Street are a cluster of movers and shakers quietly giving the town a subtle spit and polish.
Message In A Bottle offers up a colossal range of obscure craft ales and spirits (including the Lincolnshire-made Pin Gin), while Riverhead Coffee serves outstanding flat whites, homemade cakes and smoothies amid local art pieces and a committed band of coffee lovers, dog walkers and families.
Leading the culinary charge in these parts are Tom Bell and Steven Bennett, two chefs who are embracing the Lincolnshire larder to dazzling effect. Bell heads up the kitchen at Petit Delight in the centre of town. Once you get past the dreadful name, there’s no buzzier place of a weekend than this Parisian style cafe with marble floors, loopback chairs and locally sourced dishes.
Over at Healing Manor Hotel, Bennett has created an eight-course tasting menu using products sourced exclusively from the county. This is a three-and-a-half-hour performance with matching wines including inventive takes on oyster mushrooms, pea and goat’s cheese and Snickers.
With its very own swan (called Sid) who wanders the grounds and occasionally taps on guests’ doors for a bit of room service, Healing Manor, which dates back to the 1700s, offers superior slumbers.
Come morning, I overhear one young couple wandering into an arcade on the seafront, rattling a handful of two-pence pieces as they head for the slots.
‘You have the truffle arancini for lunch and I’ll have the sausage and mash,’ says the woman to her partner. Clearly, this is a seaside town where the customary and the cutting edge are rubbing along together nicely.