On your bike

He calls it his eye-catchingly outlandish Heath Robinson food bike. It sums up the look of the weird and wonderful fish shack, if not the fabulous seafood Adam Riley cooks there, says Rosie McGlade

Adam Riley can’t be the only one who’s taken to the North East coast with their loved one, looked out to sea, and wondered, ‘how the hell do I get hold of the fish out there?’ 

Too much of what we buy here, he says, comes from Atlantic waters and a good deal of what comes in from our North Sea is sold elsewhere.

So Adam has built himself a fish shack powered by a bicycle – like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – to serve as a vehicle for serving fresh fish, locally caught and landed at North Shields’ wonderful Fish Quay.

It all began at the first Tynemouth Food Festival last year, though its origins, as we shall see, grew up alongside Adam.

“It was made as a one-off,” he explains. “I fancied doing something for the food festival and my wife and I were always moaning about local fish going abroad, so the idea was to take fish landed here and make it accessible.”

Adam has been involved in food from the age of 12 when, growing up on the Isle of Man, he worked at a Swiss restaurant prepping lobsters, drawing pheasants and the like, until he was 18.

He’s the son of Ozzie Riley, founding member of the innovative Dodgy Clutch outdoor events and theatre company. As such, he moved from the Swiss restaurant on the Isle of Man to art and design, making animated sculptures and structures for outdoor events and touring theatre.

There were the Enchanted Parks Christmas installations at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, where Adam created Medusa-like figures whose eyes lit up when you walked past. There were the life-sized puppets in Elephant, not a million miles away from the horses of War Horse, which toured internationally, including a stint on Broadway in 2010.

“I’ve always enjoyed something quirky, and I love good food and cooking,” he says. “The month before the Tynemouth Festival, I’d been making sculptures and puppets from bicycle parts for a Jubilee parade, and I had this idea of getting a bike and fitting it with a fish mobile that turns around as you cycle. It progressed from there.”

The fish shack contains a charcoal-fired BBQ and monkfish wraps are a particular favourite, as is Thai curry and barbequed lobster, the barbecueing concentrating the juices in the shell.

“We concentrate on a local, really small menu, but it seems to be working, and this year I’ve been able to juggle things to try and make a success of it.”

He does a lot of weddings and events and is increasingly securing regular slots for the summer in and around the Tynemouth area. From July 13, the shack will be on the beach in King Edward’s Bay every fine weekend from noon, with live music, braziers and an invitation to bring your own on a Saturday night. In August, there’s a Heaven on the Haven weekend on the roof of Tynemouth Sailing Club, with an Argy Bhaji Night, a Kedgeree Breakfast, and a Lobster Night.

There’s also the Boiler Shop Steamer at the Stephenson Works in Newcastle on the first weekend of each month, which Adam helped create and organise.

“The idea came from a guy I was working with in London, who had put together a little event in a warehouse there with a few food shacks and music, and which became really popular.

“It was partly to help get the Fish Shack a regular gig, but it’s threatened to take over. We’ve booked the venue through until December. We’re teaming up with the EAT! Festival in September, then there’s the Urban Night Feast, and we’re doing an Oktober Fest after that. There are some really great street food operators in Newcastle. I think we must be one of the best cities in the country for this sort
of thing.”

In the long term, he hankers after a rustic fish restaurant, with the same locally caught, simply cooked philosophy. “Almost on the beach, maybe in a shipping container or something like that, but with shelter and warmth. I’ve seen the sort of thing in Scotland, just a wooden shack on the beach. You could do cullen skink or chowders in winter and make it work all year round.”

And with fish this good, it’ll work, whatever the weather.

Sign up to our news
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us.