Less than two hours by train from London, a weekend trip to St. Leonards-on-Sea —the lower-key sister to popular seaside town Hastings — is almost designed to be planned on a whim. Warmer months may make a hike in Hastings Country Park more pleasant, and the area’s boardwalks more postcard-like, but this pastel-hued, gallery-filled corner of East Sussex has food worth enduring blustery weather for, well beyond the obvious, incredibly fresh, locally caught seafood. This includes Europe’s only Thai restaurant in a book shop, and nutty Lebanese pastries in a movie theatre. It’s an artistic place, where grey weather is more poetic than depressing, and folks are just friendly enough.Read More
Where to Eat in Hastings and St Leonard’s
Europe’s only Thai restaurant in a bookshop, incredibly fresh seafood, and Syrian cooking in a theatre on the East Sussex coast
A just-short-of-technicolor shack by the water, Goat Ledge offers local fish in baps or salad in boxes. The lettuce isn’t advertised as local, but it’s noticeably tasty. The Hastings Roll, with homemade pickle, plenty of dill, and garlic-lemon mayonnaise, is particularly good, especially alongside pencil-thin chips and a glass of Horlicks — weird but it works. Look for the winter special: a creamy and unforgettable fresh-and-smoked fish pie that’s worth taking a long walk after.
St Clement's Restaurant
St. Clement’s, a formal-ish bistro, deserves its Michelin star. The prix-fixe menus, which change daily, don’t just centre on Hastings-caught seafood. Meat terrines and seasonal vegetables — in early December, it was pork and green peppercorn and chicory with Stilton — feature prominently too. If there’s a posset on the pudding menu, order it, as it’s something of a house specialty. Reservations, made a few days in advance and not the day of, are wise.
The Oak Bakery
The Oak Bakery demands two orders per person: a sandwich to eat then and there and a loaf to take back home. Over twenty types of bread sit in baskets behind the counter, most notably “Our Amazing Sour Dough”, though the sage and onion and seeded bloomer deserve equal credit. The deli case of doughnuts and danishes also makes for great take-away items to eat on the beach, or midnight snacks. Don’t expect crunchy Parisian loaves; the dough here has a bit of bounce, ideal for bacon, eggs, or something mayonnaise-coated, like coronation chicken or tuna and sweetcorn.
First In Last Out
True to its name — more affectionately known as the FILO — this lively pub, behind East Hill in Hastings, is far enough from the ocean that most tourists don’t seem to bother with it. The restaurant has six house ales —brewed in a green-doored cottage down the street — from pale to dark, among which the ginger-infused Old Town Tom particularly stands out. The Sunday roast is proper, but it’s the not-as-proper Thursday night Indian thali that’s worth skipping work on Friday for. The garam masala is made from scratch, which adds a lot of flair to the vegetable or Nilgiri korma, Kerala fish molee, or Parsee red chicken curry, surrounded by the usual suspects: basmati rice, raita, poppadum.
Petit Fi meets the standards of warm, friendly service and something-for-everyone menu people expect from a cute, awning-ed cafe on a coastal town’s scenic busy road. It’s the rotating menu that proves the owners are the kind to be overjoyed at the sight of locally foraged mushrooms and what they could do with them. Kedgerees, kormas, and various brunchy egg dishes are scrawled on a blackboard; it’s likely there will be a filo tart that changes with the seasons — carrot, caraway and feta; Stilton, apples and walnut — while five or six cakes sit pretty on plates by the counter, nice for an in-between-reservations snack.
Liban @ Kino
A Syrian family’s recipe for falafel wrapped in Lebanese paninnete bread is the perfect emblem for this Lebanese and Syrian restaurant housed in a high-ceilinged movie theatre/gallery. Liban is especially lively during weekend brunch or before a show, and there’s a homemade touch to all the food, be it the tea cakes and cookies at the counter — laced with date, rose, or tahini — or the pomegranate-strewn lentil soup, all of which plays well with the menu’s Lebanese wine. Liban is a very St. Leonard’s restaurant: arty but not pretentious, house-proud, and friendly.
Graze on Grand
The ocean-facing Graze on Grand forgoes a cosy English country atmosphere for more of a bold, modern Italian design — industrial-looking tables and chairs, with brilliant pops of yellow and an attention-catching paper chandelier. The food leans but doesn’t tip completely into continental: artichoke croquettes come with kimchi sauce, mushroom pie comes with dauphinoise potatoes, and the seafood is locally sourced. Food this carefully and articulately flavoured could stand on its own, but the wine does elevate it. Because Graze on Grand is also a bottle shop, the staff is excellent at food-wine pairing. It’s one of those rare menus where the wine notes actually taste like the fruits and flavours described, probably because it’s curated as tightly as the wall art. Graze on Grand is also a gallery —that’s St. Leonard’s life.
Boulevard bookshop and Thai Cafe
Cafes and bookstores don’t seem like an unusual pairing: see the nearby Hanushka, also on George Street. But a Thai restaurant — with co-owner June using the Thai home recipes she grew up with — and bookstore hybrid is particularly rare, which is why this is the only one in Europe, possibly the world. It’s no gimmick. The tiny joint has about three tables, so making a reservation is smart, and the bookstore is only open when dinner is, so there’s no non-dining foot traffic. Chef June pairs chicken with green curry, pork with red, and beef with panang, according to what she thinks is best. Dishes like chicken stir-fried with pineapples, the presence of krachai root — a kind of ginger slightly more medicinal in taste — and the accompaniment of dried chilli, meant to be crushed over food, bring far-from-home vibes, a gap bridged by taste. This is very good Thai food.