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East Beach Cafe, Littlehampton

An iconic, design-led cafe serving simple seaside classics and gastronomic delights, with a sociable, busy and joyful atmosphere and fabulous beach views.

A day at the beach never fails – even a dull October day when the sea is ‘bracing’ and the sky has the definite tint of gunmetal. Muddy and the Mudlets coincided a chilly autumnal swim with lunch at the unmistakeable and iconic East Beach Cafe, a feat of architectural design perched neatly right on the seafront. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who was discovered by Sir Terence Conran straight out of the Royal College of Art, the cafe was created as ‘both a prospect and a refuge’ – both of which were much needed, so how would it measure up?

THE VIBE

You can’t help but feel a bit special walking into East Beach Cafe, the design gives it an indulgent, holiday feel – think walking into a gorgeous cafe in the South of France ready for feather-light frites and croque monsieur. Sorry, where was I? Littlehampton? Are you sure?

The inside is as design-led as the outer, with a whitewashed roof imitating the shape of waves, and clean, fresh, coastal decor – the fishing ropes holding up the specials boards are a lovely touch. It’s a versatile space, the glass front overlooks the beach itself and on sunny days, windows are thrown wide open. At the moment, to comply with Covid procedures, tables are well spaced out but it feels like the cafe could take a decent-sized crowd, without feeling like everybody’s piled on top of each other.

The decor and furniture is fairly stripped-back and minimal, and this adds to the spacious and sociable feeling. The bright yellow walls and doors of the toilets are a fun, sunny touch. This is definitely the kind of place you could have a great time with a big rowdy bunch of friends or families – government guidelines permitting. Bustling, sociable and a bit spontaneous – happiness in cafe form.

SCOFF AND QUAFF

Seaside fare is the order of the day here, and in true cafe style there’s an all-day brunch menu featuring eggs Benedict and Royale, a full English, the ubiquitous avocado on toast, and a breakfast bap. But there’s also plenty of gastro clout – the relatively compact menu of lighter bites including the famed salt and pepper squid with chilli and seaside classics like fish and chips along with more unusual numbers like mixed fish Goan curry is complemented with daily specials.

We kicked off with drinks, a latte for me, a raspberry milkshake for Violet and an orange juice for Cherry. The milkshake was the undisputed highlight, topped with whipped cream, a little (or big) girl’s dream and it tasted divinely fruity and creamy without the slightest hint of any artificial nonsense or E-numbers.

I couldn’t go past the garlic and chilli tiger prawns, which came with toasted sourdough for dipping, and I added a tomato and olive salad to get in a few of my five a day. The prawns were the usual messy affair of tearing off heads and tails with my fingers, and a pile of devastation quickly built up in the bowl thoughtfully supplied to catch the collateral damage. There’s something very primal about making an enormous mess eating with one’s hands and the prawns themselves were absolutely sensational, huge and flavoursome, and dripping in garlic and chilli butter without being heavy or greasy. I recommended them to a fellow diner perusing the menu and they actually thanked me afterwards, saying they hadn’t had such good prawns in years.

Violet chose fish and chips from the kids’ menu and it was high class – the fish beautifully crisp on the outside and moist and tasty in the middle, and the chips were as tasty as chip-shop numbers and as light as frites. Cherry went off-menu and requested a cheese sandwich – a request the team were happy to grant with a proper doorstep with flavoursome mature cheddar. Worlds apart from the average limp Kingsmill and rubbery cheese that passes for a kids sandwich in many eateries.

The dessert menu was equally simple and equally tricky to choose from. In the end I went for a chilli and lime cheesecake out of curiosity more than anything else, and the Mudlets agreed to share an apple and blackberry crumble and a chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream. The cheesecake was divinely creamy and textured, and the lime and chilli was an interesting combination with a genuine kick. It was so rich I couldn’t finish it – it’s rare I’m defeated by a pudding. The crumble and brownie also bested the Mudlets, an even rarer feat, but both were delicious and the portions more than substantial.

AROUND AND ABOUT

Well, the beach is literally just outside. East Beach is a great place to come with kids, there’s no traffic to worry about and you can see for miles so you can sit back and relax. During peak season the beach is lifeguarded. On sunny days, you can base yourself on the beach and wander up to the cafe’s takeaway kiosk for snacks, lunch and drinks as and when you fancy – the kiosk is serviced by the main kitchen so the quality of takeaway dishes is identical to those eaten in-house.

If that’s not exciting enough, there’s also Harbour Park, full of arcade amusements, soft play and rides, and a crabbing pool with boats for hire. Or check out the Look and Sea Visitor Centre to learn about the history of the River Arun, the harbour and the seaside town itself.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Families, friends, big groups, couples – East Beach is joyful and a bit special, classy enough for a date by the sea, welcoming enough for a cosy and sociable lunch, big enough for a birthday party.

Not for: Fido can’t come in, although he can wait outside and there’s outdoor seating. It’s not the most intimate venue, so possibly do the gazing into each other’s eyes over candlelight somewhere else.

East Beach Cafe, Sea Road, Littlehampton BN17 5GB, 01903 731903 eastbeachcafe.co.uk

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