‘It’s like Cornwall 50 years ago’ is something James Robb, founder of the East Pier Smokehouse & Cafe at St Monans, often hears visitors say about the uncrowded East Neuk. The re-opening of this Fife restaurant means that the pretty harbour is now bookended by two high quality eating places with Craig Miller’s seafood restaurant at the other end. If you are walking the popular Fife Coastal path, the East Pier is the only cafe between Elie and Pittenweem. New Mexico and North Berwick were the inspirations for East Pier. The prawn shack in New Mexico that James visited on holiday where customers are handed a box of shellfish, a bib and a beer – has the same informal atmosphere as the Lobster Shack at North Berwick, literally a hut on the pier. James says, ‘It’s a bit like Nandos – you place your order, wait to collect your food and then find yourself a seat’.
Keeping things simple extends to the menu as well as the decor. The short menu is mainly shellfish and seafood although there’s also soup, chips, cheese and oatcakes or cake and coffee. East Pier also sells langoustines – local produce that French visitors to Scotland can’t believe we take for granted. James explains why shellfish from Scotland is so good: ‘The colder the water, the sweeter the meat – that’s why it fetches such high prices in Spain and France’. Lobsters are bought from Ian Linton and the FMA, the fishing cooperative at Pittenweem. Anster Cheese is on the cheese and oatcakes plate and the wine is from the ‘most unsupermarkety wine merchant’ , Sandy at the Markinch Wine Gallery in Glenrothes. Bread is from East Neuk baker, Barnets the Bakers and includes their much feted cheese and leek bread. The mackerel James catches himself – his small boat sits in the harbour right next to the cafe. You can see why James who, alongside Martin Wishart notched up a Glenfiddich nomination for his smoked fish in 2011, thought the harbour location of his smokehouse cried out for a cafe. It’s also the perfect spot if you want to work up an appetite by walking, in one direction, past salt pans, a windmill and outdoor swimming pools to the fishing village of Pittenweem or, if you head in the opposite direction, along the slightly longer but very beautiful beach route to upmarket Elie. It’s also worth taking a stroll round St Monans itself with its pastel painted cottages, twisting narrow streets and pretty church. Walkers note that dogs are welcome on the open air upstairs terrace of the Cafe or at the tables and chairs set out on the harbourside. Water bowls are also provided. This is not cheap snack territory but the quality is good: a crab salad is £9.50, the delicious lentil and sorrel soup with bread £3.50, chocolate cake £2.50 and a portion of chips is £1.50. From Saturday 1 June, East Pier opened 7 days a week for the summer. Open till 9pm at weekends. Licensed.