Cafe is starting to make waves
AN ISLAND cafe is making waves in the food industry after receiving three nominations for awards at one ceremony.
Mull’s Cafe Fish, based upstairs in the former MacBrayne’s building, is where a small staff team deliver exceptionally prepared food with flavours from all over the world. And they have been nominated at the Scottish Food Awards and Academy on May 7.
Owners Jane Gill (one of the renowned MacDonald sisters from Tarbert) and food curator and head chef Liz MacGoughin invited The
Oban Times to Mull and take part in a busy shift.
I was duly presented with a bright pink Cafe Fish T-shirt (XL – not XXL) and I was quickly let loose on an unsuspecting public. There were lots of codes to use on my little set of order pads. So I ignored those codes completely and wrote out every single order in longhand.
I’d like to paint you a little picture of the scene of the size of space available. I am a robust woman and Liz the chef is a robust woman. Together we would be a good avert for healthy living. The kitchen is basically no bigger than a large letter's postage stamp. So it was a tight squeeze every time we wanted to move past each other.
Yet something amazing happens in that little space. Liz seems to be amazing with her culinary art.
This fresh and locally sourced foods draws people from all over the world to eat freshly caught fish and shellfish cooked in amazing ways.
If I said it was relaxed, I would be over-emphasising the urgency in which these women run their business.
Everything is perfect. I suppose when you are working in a small preparation space, it has to be.
But so are the customers. One man asks me to recommend a dish from the menu and I instantly talk through the many delicious meals I have had in the past.
He wants something that is a bit different and freshly caught.
He settles on a skate wing with lemon and caper butter. His partner, who is feeling way more adventurous, goes for the roasted fish platter.
It is a privilege to carry the plates to the table some 30 minutes later – freshly cooked, looking amazing and tasting, as they said, ‘wonderful’.
It is at this point that I see Kenneth Weir, a lovely man who has so much energy and vitality, take a pair of binoculars and step out onto the balcony to look for the fishing boat coming in. It is so cute it looks contrived – but it isn’t: he is waiting for lobster to be brought in. Kenneth has customers waiting.
And here is something I didn’t know: lobsters are blue when they come out the sea and pink when they are cooked. That is the last time I trust Disney for my seafish information.
Friend of the business and singer Robert Crumlish (who works at the biscuit factory by day) explains the shellfish fridge to me. There are velvet crabs, little sweet fresh queenies, langoustine (or big prawns as I had previously called them) and oysters.
Three Londoners have come to Mull on a whim to visit the cafe. By the second day of their trip, their livers are poorly.
I see them quaffing champagne and eating oysters in the window seat, table number four for anyone interested, and it looks idyllic.
Where Cafe Fish excels is at being relaxed and hugely generous with food, but also seeing their customers as friends and learning to thriving on them.
By the end of my five-hour shift, I was frankly exhausted but Kenneth was still on the merry(ish) go around – sorting things, talking to the stragglers at the tail end of remains of the busy service.
But he still had time for some front-of-house wisdom. ‘It is a welloiled machine at Cafe Fish. If you miss anything, everything else will fall out of place.
‘We have built up a reputation by being who we are – not by pretending to be something we are not. And people seem to like it.’
After serving 89 people for lunch, he is right.
PS: I’ve kept my Cafe Fish T-shirt, and I am determined to get a space at the Christmas night out.
Rita Gartner samples the culinary delights.