Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Food & Travel: Skinny's Diner & Ballycotton, Co. Cork - Of Hake & Sea Kale

Considering my fear of open water I find it more than a little ironic that I seem to be drawn to the coast when out for a drive. If I believed in reincarnation I'd swear that I was a sailor who was lost at sea - forever soaked into my soul both the need to see the sea and the mortal fear of being under it.

Our recent trip to Midleton took a diversion by way of Ballycotton for no reasons other than that magnetic attraction and also because the kids wanted to get to the sea, as it's not classed as a real holiday unless they do seemingly.

Ballycotton is a pretty, neat village dominated by The Star of the Sea church on the hill overlooking this side of the headland and the 19th century lighthouse on one of the islands that are set adrift just off the coast.

With lunch time approaching and having promised everyone we'd find some fish and chips, I spotted a small whitewashed building with some oil clothed picnic tables out front and a chalk board announcing, 'Fresh Ballycotton Fish of the Day with Chips and a Tub' with the name 'Skinny's Diner' crudely written on the top. We parked a little up the road and wandered back down curious to find out what the fish was and what would be in the important sounding tub.

The place seemed quirky and interesting so we decided to stay. It was a showery, cool morning so we opted to sit inside after ordering our two fish and chips for herself and I, and two fish goujons for the smaller people from the guy behind the counter. The tubs by the way were small sides from a selection of eight or so - we chose mushy peas and coleslaw. Seating inside consisted of four tables and an assortment of chairs and benching giving the place a certain charming, homely feel. The window at the back looked out across Ballycotton Bay to Knockadoon head, with the sun making a fleeting appearance just to tease us as we sat waiting for our food.

We sat down and admired the view while we waited for our meals. Some kids came and went - belonging to the owner we assumed from the conversations we overheard - and a few more people came and ordered different things from the large menu that made me think that the small cooking area must have tardis-like properties.

Our food arrived pretty quickly and looked great - I have to confess that I was so excited and hungry I forgot to take a photo of it! The fish was cooked with the skin still on the fillet in a nice light, crispy batter with loads of carmelised crunchy bits and served with chips that at first I thought were frozen. Eating them I wasn't so sure, as they tasted great and didn't have that frozen chip quality. They fish itself certainly wasn't frozen, it was fresh caught hake that had been collected from the pier down the road that morning and reaffirmed my thoughts that every second and mile counts when getting fish from net to pan.

We devoured our lunch in record time and my oldest declared it the best fish ... ever! More than satisfied, we paid our bill and headed back outside, where the clouds appeared to be clearing away. By the side of the building was a gate that lead to steps running down to a kid's play area and some extra seating - plus 'Misty' the dog, who belongs to the owners. She was a friendly little terrier who was hoping against hope that we'd stay and talk to her, which we did for a few minutes.

Needing to walk off our lunch, we decided to take a stroll along the main street, past a giant clump of asters on a bank overlooking the coast guard station and down to the harbour, which was packed full of boats, ropes, crates and monstrous seagulls. This was obviously a very busy port and the large lifeboat bobbing within the pier's shelter was proof of how valuable a position the harbour held on this coast.

Beyond the pier wall were two islands and on the furthest sits the striking Ballycotton lighthouse built in the mid 1800s, you can take tours out to it but that wasn't something we fancied today - I certainly didn't anyway. Steps led down from the pier to the rocky, shingled shore, a clump of rock samphire clinging to the side of them.

The headland and beach were covered in a bewildering array of plants and there was even a large clump of seakale on the top of the foreshore at the end of the cliffs. Seakale is a pretty, plastic-like plant and one I'd love to try to grow back home in my gravel-strewn back garden. I was tempted to harvest some seeds or take a little piece but I had the feeling I was being watched, although that might have just been by the huge, circling gulls.

We wandered around the shore for a while, the kids playing on the rocks and their mother looking on, while I studied the local flora a little more, spotting hebes, sea thrift and a host of other plants dotted on the banks, and cast a wary eye out to sea, hypnotized by the waves.

But eventually it was time to get back on the road, so we said our goodbyes to the plants and the gulls, the boats and the lighthouse, and with a special wave to Skinny's - and to Misty - as we drove past, we headed inland ...

Away from the sea and my love/hate feelings for it.

Visited 7th July 2015

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