Cuil cafe is moving from London to Skye – young owner Clare Coghill tells us she’s brought her cafe home

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Café Cùil was a “little Scottish restaurant”, as the sign above the door said, on a busy Dalston road in London.

Named after the Gaelic word for nook or nest, for three years it brought a slice of Scotland to the homesick as well as the inhabitants of this east London postcode.

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Now it’s crossed the border, as owner Clare Coghill, 29, who won Sky Television’s My Kitchen Rules in 2017, has recently transplanted her gem venue to the Isle of Skye.

Claire Coghill

“After years of living and working in London, it has always been my dream to one day return home to Skye and open my own restaurant,” the chef explains.

Coghill grew up on the island as his family owns the Sligachan Hotel, which is just a ten minute drive from the location of the new cafe in the village of Carbost.

“Although we grew up on an island, which some might think is relatively cut off from society, from a young age I met people from all over the world who came to work a season at the hotel, and often met very friendly guests. interesting,” she says. “Growing up in a hotel taught me the ins and outs of hospitality and how to work really hard.”

This experience may explain how Coghill managed to transform his new commercial property in just six weeks, painting it dark blue – “to reflect the ever-changing landscapes outside” – filling the walls with works by local artists, adding fur seat cushions from Skyeskyns and making the space look as appealing as its name might suggest.

Cafe Cuil outside

The three-year-old building has Cuillin Ridge behind it, overlooks Loch Harport and is close to popular destinations such as the Fairy Pools, Talisker Brewery and Glenbrittle Beach.

Since Coghill last lived on the island, there has been an explosion of visitors. Apparently 180,000 people visited the Fairy Pools before the lockdown, in 2019, and the numbers are rising again.

“Skye is Scotland’s second most popular tourist destination after Edinburgh,” she says. “It’s great to see that it’s being recognized for its rugged beauty and that tourists from around the world are contributing to the island’s revenue, although that attention can also have its downsides. As the infrastructure was built with a small population in mind, single-lane roads and public amenities struggle to keep up with the influx of annual visitors. The Skye lockdown was particularly special for locals, as it felt like we had the island all to ourselves again for the first time.”

Now the peace has been broken and they must share it again.

Interior Cuil

There is no shortage of gourmet places for tourists and residents to visit these days. Coghill also reviews Birch’s Cafe in Portree, the fine dining restaurant Scorrybreac and Edinbane Lodge, and she went to school with all the owners of these places.

To maintain work-life balance, Coghill only offers brunch and lunch at the cafe, and sticks to local produce. You won’t see an avocado, with all the airline miles that goes with it, on the menu. She has also subtly tweaked her offerings from London, as there seem to be different tastes among customers here and there.

“I was really surprised when I opened the cafe in London to see the choices the average East Londoner was making,” she says. “The pile of tattie scones has become a favourite, just because I don’t think many people there have tried the tattie scones or the square sausages. I think it was a total novelty. Here I noticed that the people of Skye are big meat eaters and prefer the heartier dishes and local shellfish. It’s nice to see them choosing products from the island”.

The most popular dish in the Skye iteration of the cafe is the Lochalsh rarebit beef brisket with poached egg and onion jam, which includes Cuillin Brewery Ale in Orkney Cheddar sauce. The spring menu also features poached eggs on toast with veggie haggis, caramelized leeks and peppercorn sauce, as well as this stack of tattie scone, with square sausage, Isle of Skye black pudding, fried egg and sriracha. It’s exactly what you’d want to eat, after facing the Cuillins.

Dishes Coffee Cuil

As well as using local producers, she hopes to continue to employ Gaelic speakers from surrounding areas.

“It’s so important to me to be able to champion the Gaelic language and culture through my cafe. I want to be able to create a safe space where people can speak and enjoy the language,” she says. “I am fluent in Gaidhlig and I grew up speaking it with my peers. As I got older, I noticed it needed a revival. I want to make sure I’m doing my part to keep it alive, so I have a fully bilingual Gaelic menu and handwritten signs on the wall that say “bruidhinn Gaelic” (speak Gaelic) and “tha Gaelic beo” (the Gaelic is alive!)”.

This is all quite different from his previous lifestyle in the Big Smoke, but Coghill felt coming home was the right decision.

“There are definitely elements of London that I miss. There was something so nice about having access to any type of cuisine at any time of the day, and being surrounded by multicultural dining options was very inspiring,” she says. “After a while, though, the desire to be back in a rural space with access to local produce was really appealing, and I’m so glad we took the plunge.” .

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