Woodlands Eat, East Row, Sandsend, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Let the crowds head to nearby Whitby – all the more space for you to discover this bijou jewel for yourself

Sandsend is the new Southwold. You heard it here first – unless, of course, you live in the north-east of England and are now sighing impatiently, in which case please forgive my ignorance. So, Sandsend. This little seaside town is a couple of miles north of Whitby in North Yorkshire and has a charm and freshly scrubbed appeal missing from many of our more, shall we say "developed", resorts. The local shop sells great coffee and locally made jam. The coffee bar on the promenade has vibrant hanging baskets and good lunchtime surfers' fuel.

Any more bijou and I'd expect to see a Disney animal frolicking on the village green. Oh, hang on, there are three winsome rescue goats tethered under a tree with a little box for contributions to the winter-feed fund.

It's adorable, I get it. But what I didn't expect to find is a restaurant that feels so young, so clever so – to use a ghastly but apposite phrase – now. Woodlands Eat is the faintly tricksy but accurate name of the food offshoot of a little hotel around the corner, Woodlands Sleep. They do what they say on the tin, if the tin is Farrow and Ball "Mouse's Back" paint. That is to say, very stylish versions of places where you eat and sleep.

The hotel is run by mother and daughter Lizzie and Natasha Clarke, and the restaurant's chef, Alex Perkins, is Natasha's fiancé – which might cut down on the wages bill but in no way diminishes the quality of the food. Alex is a star in the ascendant.

The Markwell brigade rock up on a Thursday night in August, in wellies and anoraks after an afternoon on the beach – well, this is England. We're in need of hearty food and no pretensions. Woodlands Eat is tucked back from the seafront, with seats outside and a small but tempting deli counter at the front. Inside, there are just seven tables and quirky touches such as clusters of antlers, a postmodern grandfather clock and a feature wall of tartan – but this is about as far from hunting lodge as it's possible to get: José González is on the soundtrack.

Specials chalked up include monkfish cheek, fennel and cockle pie, mussels with Yorkshire cider, and some halibut that's just been landed. Since we're at the seaside, we eat all of the above, plus some potted shrimps and Dover sole. All the plates are thoughtfully and prettily presented; the pan-fried halibut comes with pea purée, a tartar hollandaise and some excellent chips (I'd expect nothing less). If the kids are disappointed not to have battered fish, they fall silent and polish off their plates soon enough.

We're on a fishy mission, but otherwise the roast pork belly with black pudding, mustard mash and Ampleforth cider gravy or confit duck with pan haggerty (a Northern potato gratin-style dish), bacon and dandelion salad both sound like wet-weather comforters.

Meanwhile, my Dover sole is wonderful; small but flavour-packed with a punchy caper-y brown butter, served correctly on the bone with some good boiled potatoes. It's "as nature intended" looks work well as a foil to the pie, which is elegance itself. Only the slightly less than meltingly tender cheeks let it down, but I dunno, maybe monkfish have Botox.

Through the porthole I can see Perkins skittering about the tiny kitchen – Woodlands Eat closes at 9pm but at 10 minutes to, a table of six piles in, fellow hungry wellie-wearers, all intent on three courses. Luckily, quality doesn't dip and pudding, especially Yorkshire parkin on rhubarb with vanilla ice-cream, is very good. (The man at the next table, back for a second visit with his wife, confesses guiltily that it's better than his mum's, and he's a Yorkshireman.)

There's an airy modernity about Woodlands Eat which is very appealing, although Perkins is savvy enough to understand that twiddly nouvelle foams and gels won't cut it up here. What have vexed a few visitors (and these niggardly folk are always the first to comment to Trip Advisor, which is why I never use it) are the prices: starters are £7-£8, mains all north of £17 and puddings £7. But why should fresh, seasonal and local produce, intelligently cooked and served in a delightful setting by eager, knowledgeable staff be cheap as the chips in Whitby?

8/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

Woodlands Eat, East Row, Sandsend, Whitby, North Yorkshire, tel: 01947 893 438. Tues-Sat 9am to 9pm; Sun 9am to 4pm. About £35 a head for three courses, with drinks

More coastal gems

Fistral Blu

Fistral Beach, Headland Road, Newquay, Cornwall, tel: 01637 879 444

Good food in a romantic setting, with a wonderful sunset over the Atlantic; this large beach-side operation is known for its delicious fresh seafood

The Shed

Porthgain, Pembrokeshire, tel: 01348 831 518

Imaginative fish dishes in a rustic and cosy setting have made a big name for this quirky and lively seaside spot

The Jolly Fisherman

Craster, Alnwick, Northumberland, tel: 01665 576 461

A coastal boozer whose continuing popularity may account for its sometimes iffy service; even critics, though, tip it for its excellent crab sandwiches, and its lovely sea views

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'. www.hardens.co.uk

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