Zest Harbourside, Whitehaven

WHITEHAVEN is famous for many things - not least its links to the slave trade and for being the scene of the near-demise of Coronation Street villain Pat Phelan - but culinary excellence is perhaps not one of them.

Fish and chips is the meal Whitehaven has become relatively best known for, which is hardly surprising given its harbour and fishing history. Today, the town has a mixture of eateries and, while few are widely known as temples of gastronomy, Whitehaven is far from being a dining out desert.

Having said that, it's no Cartmel or Padstow - and I can't quite imagine Simon Rogan or RickStein rushing up here on an empire-expanding insurgence any time soon.

My husband and I visited a couple of weeks ago and headed to the harbour in search of food, if not of Pat Phelan who, as all Corrie watchers know, survived his dunking in the waters of Whitehaven.

The harbour is large, attractive and crying out for a buzzy waterside cafe culture. What it's got is a cafe at the Beacon museum and Zest Harbourside, which we opted for - a modern British establishment which, while providing great views of the waterfront, is nothing much to look at itself.

We arrived at the start of the teatime rush, wondering how to get in - as the harbourside door appeared firmly closed, although there were plenty of people sitting inside.

The entrance is round the corner, and you go through an outdoor smoking area to approach the door. Inside, it's deceptively large, with a bar area leading to plenty of seating.

Not surprisingly, the area overlooking the harbour was full of customers, while the darker, main section was nearly empty. We were seated in this part by the pleasant woman behind the bar; and we didn't mind, as we had already taken a leisurely stroll around the harbour (me chanelling my inner Eileen Grimshaw and wondering how long my husband would survive if I pushed him in) to work up an appetite.

The menu at Zest Harbourside is eclectic - with British classics, Amercian burgers and a touch of the Orient. We chose deep fried crispy squid for £7.95 which for a starter seemed pricey to me. It wasn't the most expensive dish on the starter menu, though - that was £8.95 for king prawns with chorizo.

Our second choice was from the "bowls to share" section of the menu: "Zest Harbourside's signature wok chicken", sweet chilli chicken breast with spring onion, coriander and creme fraiche - £9.50.

We had asked for the dishes to arrive together - and they did. And very, very quickly, too. The squid was served in a wire basket and was strips of the fish, rather than rings. Well-spiced and just on the right side of chewy, it was a decent dish, with a side salad and two paper pots of sauces.

For the price, however, it was disappointing on the whole, the only "wow!" factor being that £8 price tag. The chicken sharing bowl was tasty and spicy, with a lovely chilli hit, a rich sauce and lashings of fresh coriander.

The chicken, unfortunately, was overcooked and tough - and we were both at a loss as to how this dish could be described as a sharing bowl: it was simply one portion of chicken in a sauce.

And it was absolutely crying out for something to soak up that large amount of sauce - why it didn't come with rice or noodles for the price, I cannot imagine.

All dishes of that style need a carbs element - this one certainly did, no matter how tasty it was.

The service was very friendly and attentive, and as our visit progressed more and more customers were coming in.

Zest Harbourside is clearly very popular with the locals. While the food was good (apart from the overdone chicken), I felt it was expensive for what we had actually eaten; although there are many good value items on offer, including Cumberland sausage and mash and fish and chips, both for just £6.95 as a main course. Other dishes head up to £13.95 for beef and ale pie or a salmon fillet.

Zest Harbourside delivers a lot more than it promises from the exterior and it's great to see a local business thriving. Some tweaks to the presentation of the dishes we sampled would be welcome but on the whole this was an enjoyable visit to a popular establishment.


Food 3

Value 2.5

Service 3.5

Atmosphere 3


Serves all day

Varied menu

Friendly staff


Lacks kerb appeal

Shame there's no harbourside outdoor seating area