Right on the beachfront with wide-angle views of the sea, East Beach Café serves uncomplicated food using excellent local ingredients. On the promenade of Littlehampton – a classic English seaside town on the Sussex coast – this now-famous restaurant has rejected traditional seaside interiors such as white sails, nautical stripes and wooden decking in favour of something a little cooler.
East Beach Café opened in 2005 and was one of the first buildings to be designed by Thomas Heatherwick – the man and studio responsible for the 2012 Olympic Cauldron and velodrome, Google King’s Cross HQ and the most recent London Routemaster buses. He and his team created an enduring, distinctive space that resembles a real element of the British coastline – driftwood. The structure is made from rusted steel shutter boxes and long undulating ribbons of raw steel. The result is an angular, sculptural and eye-catching venue that brings tourists down to this south-coast town and makes a meal here all the more interesting.
There’s always something special about eating fresh seafood right by the sea, and East Beach Café makes the most of its location: there are floor-to-ceiling views right onto the beach and the stark white interiors ripple like the waves outside to mirror the exterior of the building. On sunny days, a decked terrace opens up right on the pebbles and the restaurant also throws open the hatch of its kiosk, which serves breaded scampi and chips and fish finger sandwiches to those wanting to eat their meal while walking along the promenade. Inside, modern beech furniture and a neutral palette combine to give the space an ahead-of-its-time Scandi/Japandi feel – ideal for a relaxed lunch or romantic dinner once the sun sets – while the low-rise, bubble-like structure of the restaurant makes this a cosy and atmospheric spot should the weather turn.
Café is an understatement for a place that offers such great food, but it reflects the unpretentious ambiance. The kitchen serves a menu of classic British dishes cooked perfectly – think locally caught fish and chips with pea purée, day-boat fish soup, and fishcakes with charred broccoli and lemon butter – alongside a popular brunch menu at weekends. On our visit, we began with delicate deep-fried soft-shell crab served with Tabasco mayo and melt-in-the-mouth tempura oysters, which went beautifully with a glass of Tinwood sparkling rosé. Unfussy yet flavoursome mains came in the form of a generous fillet of well-cooked huss with crab, pea and chilli risotto, and spicy prawn, tomato and nduja tagliatelle. With the sun streaming through the windows and a bottle of chilled Italian rosé, we really did feel like we were on holiday. A strong dessert menu featured rhubarb, ginger and custard tart, and Biscoff and caramel cheesecake, which were both light yet wonderfully flavoured.
When it comes to drinks, the restaurant celebrates Sussex’s rich wine scene, with plenty of local English sparkling wine from vineyards such as Nutbourne, Rathfinny, Tinwood and Storrington Priory – alongside a lovely selection of European bottles, all designed to pair with the seafood-focused menu. Bottles from Sussex breweries Longman and Arundel will please craft beer fans and there are a couple of local ciders too.
We came for the architecture and a nice day out by the seaside, and left vowing to come back just so we could try more of the menu. Expect unfussy yet friendly service and a truly affordable meal: starters begin at £6.50, mains from £12.50 and puddings from £6. Whether you’re looking to book a celebratory family outing – the children’s menu is excellent too – or are just after an easy day trip with a fantastic meal at the end, East Beach Café demands consideration.
HOW TO GET THERE
Littlehampton train station is a 20-minute walk from East Beach Café, and trains take 1 hour 50 minutes direct from London Victoria. Driving takes just under two-and-a-half hours from central London.
The Promenade, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN17 5GB