The last restaurant I visited in early March 2020 was Riley's Fish Shack in Tynemouth. It was so brilliant that I knew it would be the first place I wanted to re-visit this summer when restaurants re-opened after the nationwide lockdown was lifted. When Riley's announced they would now be taking reservations via a deckchair booking system I was very intrigued about what this would entail. I took a deep breath and booked a slot, hoping that the open-air location on a beach and the fact you could book a table would mean it felt as safe as possible for a first trip out for a meal.
For those who aren't familiar with the area, Riley's Fish Shack is situated on King Edward's Bay in Tynemouth. Tynemouth is a stunning seaside town not far from Newcastle upon Tyne. King Edward's Bay is overlooked by Tynemouth Priory and Castle which give an absolutely stunning backdrop for Riley's Fish Shack who serve fresh, mouthwatering seafood on the bay.
Of course with delicious food comes popularity, and the downside of Riley's has always been that it takes a lengthy queue to get your hands on their delicious dishes. I'm British so obviously don't mind a good queue too much, but I must admit I was keen to get booked in this time knowing that I could reserve a set slot and have a guaranteed 'socially distanced' spot to enjoy my meal.
Riley's Deckchair Booking Process
The price to reserve a deckchair is £25 per person which is redeemable against your bill. It's not a cheap place and you definitely get what you pay for. This price is about right for the minimum you'd expect to spend on food and drink.
If you go on the website you can book a slot online and there seems to be pretty good availability if you're happy to choose a date in advance. You may be worried about the weather but one of the best parts of the new procedure is the ability to reschedule your booking within 24 hours of arrival. This enables you to check the forecast and shift your plans to suit. We really appreciated this as the weather was looking quite wet for the afternoon we had selected, but the staff were extremely helpful over email and allowed us to shift it back by two hours. Thank goodness they did - look at the amazing weather we were treated to!
Arriving at Riley's and the Service
When you arrive at Riley's Fish Shack, there are clear signs showing you where to go. You check in with the host near where the queue used to be and they will take you to your waiter or waitress who will look after you from there. The staff were wearing masks and kept their distance which made it feel very safe. They give you a flag with your number on and then get you set up at a pitch like this with a windbreaker, parasol and fire pit if required, but it was warm when we visited so we didn't get one.
I loved the fact we were allowed to choose our table and managed to grab this one right at the front with such a beautiful clear view of the sea. I couldn't bring myself to edit this photo at all as the sky is just so perfect. Can you think of a nicer place to enjoy a meal? We felt very spoilt.
I feel like I can't write about days out in the current context without touching on toilet facilities as I know this can be the deal breaker for social plans now. This may be too much info but this is the first time I have felt comfortable enough to use a public loo rather than just cutting my days out short and it was honestly fine. There is a clear queuing system on the beach and only one person is allowed anywhere near the cubicle at a time. Plenty of hand soap and sanitiser is there to use as well.
The Amazing Food
It's all table service now at Riley's, with food and drink delivered directly to your deckchair so you can truly relax. We were given menus promptly after being seated which I've attempted to photograph below although they aren't too clear to make out. The fish dishes vary each day depending on what has been caught and this is one of the reasons Riley's is truly special - you always get to try something different and it is guaranteed to be fresh and tasty.
I opted for the turbot dish and my boyfriend chose the monk fish skewers. They were both outstanding in terms of quality and flavour and really decent portions - I had to have a lie down when I got home! He also sampled the lager on draught and it was delicious, very smooth and drinkable. I was designated driver for the evening so brought my own bottle of water and nobody seemed to mind.
The highlights of Riley's
I have to say that overall I definitely preferred the deckchair booking to the old system of queuing. Of course it takes away the spontaneity of popping out for a meal on a sunny evening, but I am sure if you called Riley's on the day you may get lucky and find a cancellation.
I really appreciated the fact you could re-schedule and the communication I had prior to our visit was just lovely. This is a local business with heart, they have really thought about how to run things in a safe and enjoyable manner and continue to serve their amazing food with no change in quality.
I'd highly recommend a deckchair booking at Riley's, and if you are still feeling a little cautious about dining out and about then I think you will struggle to find a more safe and friendly option for your first venture outside. I cannot wait to go back and just want to thank Riley's so much for this wonderful experience!