Food & Drink

Cúl a’ Tí is keeping Inishowen in front - Eating Out

Culdaff’s charming Cúl a Tí is full of surprise and delight

Cul a Ti at Culdaff in Co-Donegal. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  19-6-2024 / please by-line
Cúl a’ Tí,
Main Street,
Co Donegal
087 100 9771

I’ve never much been one for Father’s Day, and it’s not simply because I don’t know where to put the apostrophe, if anywhere. I just don’t see the point. Mother’s Day, yes. It’s the mums that do all the graft, who endure the pain.

I don’t need a designated day, because every day for me is Father’s Day, full of joy and laughter, and it’s me who should be giving thanks. Yes, there are the constant terrors and fears, lurking unseen like a U-boat beneath the surface, but they’re dismissed by depth charges of delight.

Nevertheless, this Father’s Day just gone was special. It would have been anyway, of course, no matter what we did, but this was particularly so.

Things kicked off with a cup of tea in bed and a plate of toast and marmalade, with the toast cut into heart shapes. And then we were off across the border to a Camogie Blitz, where my daughter lined up alongside the city girls of Na Magha to take on and beat the rural pride of Muff, Burt, and beyond.

My daughter has taken a long time to enjoy the sport, but, thanks to the patient support and encouragement of the coaches, she not only joined in but actually got stuck in, accidentally injuring one opponent and even more accidentally clocking one of her teammates on the noggin with her hurl.

If there’s one thing playing or watching camogie does, it’s give you an appetite (and a headache, in the case of my girl’s teammate). So, after picking up my brother and wife, we headed back into Inishowen, the road rising into the cloud, the rain intensifying the palate of greens, and up to Culdaff, to Cúl a’ Tí, a café I’ve wanted to try for a while.

It’s a funny old place, Cúl a’ Tí – not much to look at from the outside and, to be fair, not from the inside, either. Splendidly glossy tree-carved counter apart, the rest of the furniture is an eclectic mix of pine and formica, the chairs something of a mish-mash, the walls pretty bare, the slightly – and not deliberately – distressed dresser lined with odd pots filled with plucky geraniums.

Cul a Ti at Culdaff in Co-Donegal. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  19-6-2024 / please by-line
If you find yourself in Inishowen and Culdaff, Cúl a’ Tí is worth a visit... (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

But it has real charm, and not quirky, confected charm either. Cúl a’ Tí is clearly evolving steadily and organically.

The name of the place suggests as much. It means Out the Back, which is where things started, in a caravan selling tea, coffee, and traybakes.

It’s a gentle, perhaps idiosyncratic place, where the food is special, different, a challenge to make and a different kind of pleasure to eat.

In truth, it’s not the place to go if you’re ravenous, in the daytime, at least. The weekend evenings carry three-course menus showing thought and imagination, while the daytime menu features only light dishes. But they are full of delightful surprises, and demonstrate just as much thought as the night-time offerings.

My wife’s soup was a case in point, a beautiful broth – light, sweet, savoury, hot, sharp, with the zing of lemon grass, the freshness of coriander, the warming richness of coconut, and sturdy, meaty mushrooms. An absolute knockout.

My brother’s fish burger was a treat, too. A crisp crumb encased the perfectly cooked hake, while a sharp tartare sauce was complemented by sweet pea and earthy hummus. And there was a beautifully balanced blend of flavours in my halloumi burger, with the firm and salty cheese matched by a sweet, deep satay, and a lively citrus mayonnaise. Even my daughter’s simple toastie was beautifully done.

We took traybakes home. None of us was overly impressed by the lemon polenta cake. Nice icing, but the sponge tended towards the dry and lacked any sharpness. The brownie was lovely, though, deeply chocolatey and gooey. And the pear and almond tart was gorgeous, with the pear sweet and firm and sinking gently into a delicious frangipane.

We ate them on the couch, with a pot of tea, watching Frozen 2. I say watching. I fell asleep after the opening scene and woke up when the credits were rolling. A perfect end to a perfect – and perfectly unnecessary – Father’s Day.

The bill
Tom Kha soup - €6.50
Panko-crumbed hake burger - €9.50
Satay halloumi burger - €8.50
Child’s cheese toastie, potato rosti - €8.50
Traybakes – Normandy pear and almond tart; sea salt chocolate; lemon polenta cake - €4.50 each
Total: €46.50