Life

Eating Out: Seaweed-tastic Wild Strands Caife might yet put Carnmalin on the map

The Wild Strands Caife – William McIlhiney is at the centre of operations and at the heart of each and every dish he produces is seaweed. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Dominic Kearney

Wild Strands Caife

Malin Head Community Centre

Carnmalin

Malin Head

@dulamanfada

IT WAS my wedding anniversary last weekend. As chance would have it, it was my wife’s as well, so we thought we might as well celebrate it together.

A quick internet search revealed something of a dispute regarding the traditional sixth anniversary gift. One site said sugar, while another said either iron or wood. We covered all the bases in our exchange of presents – a chair leg for her, some chocolate-coated musket balls for me – and then set out for a trip to Malin Head, to include a bite to eat at the recently opened Wild Strands Caife.

Now, being honest, Wild Strands isn’t the first place you’d think of if you’re looking to celebrate an important date on the calendar. You certainly wouldn’t haul your best sports jacket and slacks out of the wardrobe for a visit there. But it’s a little bit different, and it is full of charm.

And, all joking aside, any drive through Inishowen is always a reason in itself for celebration, and never more so than on a day like this. A clear sky sharpened the silhouettes of the hills, the sun cut shimmering strips on the Atlantic, and the late autumn light coated the day in a cold gold. We often idly talk about moving to the country. While there’s much we’d miss about Derry, one thing you’d have to say about Inishowen is that the grass is genuinely greener.

The satnav refused to recognise Carnmalin, so we just decided to point the car towards Malin Head and hope to spot Wild Strands before driving off a cliff. As it turned out, the café is on Google Maps, so there was no need to risk hitting the ocean, but we spotted it anyway, tucked inside the community centre, next door to Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church, which may soon become Stella Alga Alligata, if Wild Strands takes off.

The café is a very much a family business, with a fleet of McIlhennys cooking, serving, taking orders, clearing tables, and greeting new and old customers alike with genuine warmth. At the heart of it all is William, who cooks, and at the heart of each and every dish he produces is seaweed.

Considering the peculiar geographic economic entity that Ireland is – surrounded by water – I’m always surprised by how few coastal vegetables there are to be found on menus and in the shops. Plenty of fish, yes, but maybe just the odd bit of samphire, if you’re lucky. Not so at Wild Strands, where the cook’s finger is very firmly on the dulse. Everything is cooked with seaweed, the blackboard menu announces.

Of course, the problem so often with super foods is the taste. Knowing something that’s hard to stomach is doing you wonders only works for so long. That’s not a problem here. The seaweed never overpowers – it merely informs the textures and flavours of the food on offer, subtly and cleverly.

There’s not a whole lot of choice – apart from the soup, which was a mild and wholesome vegetable broth, it’s flatbreads all the way. But they’re very good indeed. Mine was loaded with white crabmeat, which was both sweet and savoury, blending beautifully with the tomato glaze and smoky butter.

As good as it was, it didn’t match up to the seriously lovely goats’ cheese and beetroot flatbread. This was rich, sweet, deep, and delicious, the true flavours of the beetroot coaxed out slowly by plenty of time in the wood-fired oven, a perfect marriage with the creamy, tangy cheese.

And the flatbreads – a welcome change from your usual café sandwich – were a perfect vehicle: warm, crispy on the outside, soft and yielding behind the crunch.

I was a bit disappointed by the scone, which was just too chewy. If you like your brownies all grown-up and gooey, though, this is the place to come.

And you should come. Malin Head is a wonderful place to visit, and, with the old Marconi Wireless Station there, the message should go out that Wild Strands is a great place to call in at. When all’s said and done. everyone needs a little kelp along the way.

THE BILL

Vegetable soup and wheaten bread €4.95

Flatbread with Abernethy smoked butter, crab, and tomato glaze €10.95

Flatbread with goats’ cheese and beetroot hummus €9

Scone €2.50

Chocolate brownie €2.50

Total: €29.90 (£26.57)

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