Something Fishy on Donegal's Food Coast
Learning to Love the ‘Weed in Malin Caifé
At long last, Ireland seems to have realised the good things in our seas (and coasts) and chefs up and down the country are leading the way. Take these three very different places that I came across in a short visit to Donegal last month: Wild Strands Caifé in Malin, Fisk in Downings, and Johnny’s Ranch Truck in Ramelton. The first two may be described loosely as cutting edge while Johnny, committed to serving fresh, tasty local food, is no doubt more traditional.
Wild Strands Caifé
You’ll find the Wild Strands Caifé in the Community Centre at Malin. The distinguishing factor here is seaweed. I didn't see it when my dish arrived and asked the server. She explained they use it in the cooking, in the sauces and in the dressings. It was an element in my Fish (haddock on the day) with Abernethy Black Garlic Butter on a flatbread with a small side salad.
Fish (haddock on the day) with Abernethy Black Garlic Butter on a flatbread with a small side salad
William McElhinney is the man leading the quiet revolution here and not just with the seaweed. Convinced that our ancestors used some kind of hot stone to make their bread, he is trying to replicate the method with a special oven.
His Ineuran wood-fired oven is used to make beautiful and versatile flatbreads that are the base on which many of the dishes are served. Their Vegan Ineuran Flatbread are all cooked in the wood fired oven using local, seasonal or organic produce with the wonders of seaweed. Here, on the stone, he also cooks his local meats (from Boggs Butchers) “with our own seaweed spice mix along with Carraigín moss”.
We had a lovely chat with his enthusiastic daughter, Réaltín, and she filled us in. Not alone that, we finished up with two of the loveliest cakes that we’ve ever tasted. Couldn't get over the amazing Coffee Cake and Carrot Cake as we devoured the slices before taking on the steps at Fanad Lighthouse a couple of hours later.
|In Downings, you’ll see a blue sign with the word Fisk on it, but your eyes may well be drawn to the splendid view of Sheephaven Bay in the opposite direction. Take that in and then look towards Fisk and more than likely you’ll see lots of people around. “Will we ever get in here?” you ask. It takes a bit of persistence, we had to come back the following night.|
Fisk is all about fish, is tiny and is hugely popular because of the innovative way in which the fish is cooked and presented. Cutting edge in a hole in the wall. Fisk (guessing it may be Swedish for fish) has room for about 15 people and takes no bookings. But they do start a waiting list each evening and you can pass the time in the adjoining Harbour Bar, another popular spot here.
|Sardines with pickled veg|
The menu keeps changing and there’s always a specials board on the white wall. Also inside it is a bit higgledy piggledy with a few tables of various sizes, even a shelf on the wall where four guests on high stools may be accommodated.
The place may not be the most comfortable but the fish is different class. Different fish too - you don’t often see sardines and mackerel offered in Irish restaurants. Certainly not sardines with pickled veg. Virtually all small plates here and some delicious wines to pair with them. No point in giving you their phone number so get in early and be prepared to wait a pleasant hour or so in the bar.
Johnny’s Ranch Truck
|Johnny's Fish 'n Chips|
You’ll have to wait a wee while too at Johnny’s Ranch Food Truck by the quayside in Ramelton. Johnny Patterson apologises for our very short delay: “Your order is cooked from scratch, no precook here.” He opens most evenings here and you could check his Facebook page to make sure or maybe ring in your order to 083 8399305.
What surprises first timers to this food truck is the long menu, not just fish but meat too from the butcher about fifty yards down the street. That butcher provides the meat for “Ulster’s Best Burger 2019”. There’s even a Lennonside Beef Stroganoff with rice or chips. The local meat finds it way into tasty baguettes and tacos and more.
And the Fish ’n Chips from Ulster’s Best Takeaway 2019 is the stuff of legends. For just €8.50, I got three large pieces of battered haddock and a big box of chips. Took the package over to a rickety quay-side seat and took my delicious time with that fresh fish and superb chips. Well worth seeking out of an evening, early or late!
Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro
Malin Head, Fanad and Rosguill Peninsulas
Downings. A Great Base for Donegal Visit