Eating out: Destined serves the taste of hope
The Whistlestop Café,
1 Foyle Road,
028 7136 2424
DESTINED is a Derry charity which aims to address the needs of people with learning disabilities. It empowers people with such disabilities, enhancing their lives by promoting social inclusion, getting them out and about in the community, teaching them useful life skills - generally just being on their side.
Founded in 2002, the hub of the project is a bright, warm, modern and welcoming building on the west bank of the Foyle, close by the Craigavon Bridge. The charity moved here from cramped quarters in Great James Street in September 2019. No more than five months later, the building was wrecked by vandals and arsonists.
As is so often the case, the worst in some people brought out the best in others. Dozens of volunteers helped get the building looking something like it did when it first opened. Except for the kitchen and café.
The kitchen needed to be completely re-fitted, and the café's needs were well were beyond the capabilities of any number of volunteers with willing hands and a few hours to spare. Money was found to get in the new equipment, as well as the expertise and know-how to install it. The kitchen is back up-and-running, and the café is once again open.
My brother Jamie and I went there for lunch, and we were delighted to find we had to wait for a table. It's a popular place, and it's easy to see why.
Whether swelling and rushing, or calm and placid, the Foyle is a beautiful sight, and the floor-to-ceiling windows give a close-up view of the river.
Nicely sited along the river path, it's a draw for walkers keen to get some respite from the cold winds and driving rain that can make exercise in the city such a challenge. Jamie and I had only walked from the car park, but we still felt like we deserved a bit of a treat.
Look, I'm not going to pretend this is fine dining or high-class fare. But it is good, honest, filling grub. My vegetable soup was rich and hearty, packed with flavour, full of delicious barley, soft and chewy. The tuna sandwich was just a tuna sandwich, but it did the trick.
Jamie's chicken curry and chips didn't stand a chance. I managed to snatch a forkful and it was lovely - tender chicken in a warming, spicy sauce that carried a nice kick.
And for dessert? Well, the other week I was in a rather posh restaurant which charged me £7 for a flavour-free, rubbery Bakewell tart that had come out of the freezer a matter of seconds before the single scoop of ice cream that came with it.
Here, I paid a pound for a crisp wafer encased in thick milk chocolate. Okay, a Kit-Kat, but at least it didn't bounce like the boing-boing Bakewell I paid through the nose for. So don't laugh, but do feel free to scoff.
A couple of days after we were there, Destined launched a new book, Invisible Lives, which tells the stories of the men and women who benefit from the services Destined provides.
One of those invisible lives that Destined works with is my brother, albeit he's seen more clearly in Derry than anywhere else he's ever been. He's here three times a week, an hour a time, studying for his driving theory test. For many reasons, he'll likely never take the test, because, for many reasons, he'll never drive a car.
That's not the point, though. The youngest of six, he's watched his brothers and sisters go to grammar school and wonder why he couldn't. He's seen them off to university and questioned why he couldn't go, too.
He's sat in the back of the car while our mum taught each of us to drive and cried because he could never get behind the wheel himself.
But when he comes out of Destined having studied for his driving theory, he can boast to his five-year-old niece about his high scores, and text his sisters and brothers with news of how well he's doing.
He comes out taller than when he went in, smiling broadly, proud of himself. Because as well as curry and chips, Destined serves hope, which makes everything taste better.
Chicken curry and chips £2.95
Tuna and mayonnaise sandwich £2.95
Vegetable soup £3.75
Tunnock's Tea Cake £0.50