After years of searching for a location to run a seafood restaurant together, Rebekah and Stevie McCarry eventually found a suitable premises in January 2020 at the Coleraine marina, in the form of an old boat club building, and the journey of Native Seafood and Scran began. The vision of the restaurant; to offer sustainably sourced wild Irish seafood conceptualised after noticing a void between the public and local fishing community
However, unfortunately with the emergence of the global pandemic, they found themselves jobless with a young family and rent to pay. Due to the imminent lockdown and everyone cooking from home, Native was forced to get creative and take a slightly unconventional route starting as a Fish Mongers. This involved selling online and delivering door to door, using zero plastic only twine and paper for packaging, with a goal of providing direct access to the abundance of incredible local seafood. This became a hit with the people of the North Coast resulting in every day sell outs and finally as restrictions eased the doors were able to open and the cooking commence.
The menu changed every day and was dictated by what the boats brought in each morning, although, the kitchen size wasn’t ideal and not dissimilar to that of a food truck.. coincidently resulting in a theme of street food inspired seafood dishes; Monkfish corn dogs, Lobster Rolls, Squid Shawarma, Lobster sesame toast, Ling and lang fish dogs, monkfish pad thai and conger eel casseroles to name a few.
Outside of service, Stevie and Rebekah engaged with the public and attended local primary schools to give talks and interactive experiences on using sustainably sourced fish.
As the business grew it became clear that renovation work was urgently needed as 50% of the building was taken up with old shower blocks and the restaurant floor resembled a 1970’s disco function room. Ending on a high, Native was awarded ‘Best Restaurant in Northern Ireland’ by the Slow Food awards 2020 and the following week diggers arrived on site to begin what would, unknowingly at the time, take 2.5 years to be completed.
A pod was placed outside the front doors to keep the hot food and fish mongers alive, offering high quality takeaway food sold in compostable boxes. This 10ft by 6ft box with a ‘drive thru’ quickly became infamous around the north resulting in queues out the car park and Native writing a fish recipe published in The Guardians ‘Food Observer Monthly’.
Meanwhile with the cost of supplies starting to rocket and finding tradesmen near impossible once again the course was altered and a change of location was crucial to keep up with demand. The two table top fryers and household oven used in the pod deserve war medals however the small working space combined with such high volumes of customers wasn’t the most comfortable for the team.
Then came the iconic …The Pool midway through 2021, a nostalgic premises for Rebekah and Stevie who had spent both their youths here during summer located 10meters away from the sea in Portstewart. This location transformed the business into what it is today with space for a full fish counter, live music, events, parties, tasting menus and breathtaking sunsets.
The Pool won multiple awards including:
‘Best sustainable practices’, ‘Best casual dining’ and ‘Local food heroes’ for Derry and overall ‘Food Heros’ for Ulster by The Restaurant Association of Ireland, ‘Best Casual Dining’ by The Food and Wine Awards, and ‘Best Fish Mongers in NI 2021 + 2022’ by Slow Food UK, McKennas guides plaques and high praise from restaurant critics such as Corinna Hardgrave,Joris Minne, Dominic Kearney, Sally and John McKenna and lastly ‘Best Seafood Restaurant in Ireland’ by the Georgina Campbell 2022 awards.
However this all came with one downside, the property was open to the elements with shutters instead of walls.. this didn’t stop loyal customers returning in the winter months but also didn’t prevent the place from flooding during storm times.
One particular storm wiped out the entire contents of the building and if it hadn’t of been for the support of the customers, local business’s and friends from the hospitlaity community like Dave Loughran, Paula McIntyre, Chris McClurg and Tara Gartlan collaborating on food events the doors would have never reopened.
Fast forward a few months later and the growth continues with word spreading further down the south and across the sea. Alongside the menu changing everyday at The Pool to reflect the mornings catch, what wasnt used for the menu and sold in the fish counter was used up when trialling fish sausages, fish stock and fish charcuterie which are in the final stages of production and packaging tests in collaboration with NRC Foodovation. The point of these products are not only to offer a fish alternative to the everyday classics but also to use up every single component of the fish, adopting a zero waste policy and usage of more underrated catch or those which are considered ‘bi-catch’ like conger eel or ling keeping in with a truly sustainable approach rather than using the sometimes over fished species like cod.
In order to use all parts of the fish; the cheeks, livers and throat are extracted and used for more complex dishes, the trimmings and bones used for stock and the heads for tomato fertiliser and fish head soups.
With strict rules being placed on the provenance and quality of the fish, the same principles are practiced with all ingredients. Native have paired up with a local organic veg grower along the Rhee river and together have installed two 100ft poly tunnels. The waste from the restaurant is fed back into the farm, using fish waste for fertiliser and coffee ground for slug repellent. Not only is the veg grown for the menu but also is offered through the fish mongers on a deli counter. When it comes to Native the quality of the produce means everything, which is reflected in the standard of suppliers used including Vittle Bakeshop, Ursa Minor, Foyle Bia Mara, Rhee River organics, Fidela Coffee, Broighter Gold Rapeseed oil, Ballymakenny potatoes, Corndale Farm, Glenballyeamon eggs and Maegdens Irish cheeses.
The next stop of the venture is ‘Lir’ at the Coleraine Marina, being the most exciting to date with a state of the art kitchen and prep facility with the ability to offer fish filleting lessons, restaurant, outside bar, fish mongers and deli.
Lir wishes to encapsulate everything that Native has offered so far and has aspired to be all in one venue whilst bringing more experimental cookery and seafood concepts to the table. By having these facilities, the couple are excited to go back to offering educational experiences for local schools and instead inviting the younger generation onsite to learn all about where produce comes from.
Keeping in with their ‘locally sourced’ beliefs, Lirs beers will offer a majority of craft Irish brewers with the first draught on taps range using Lacada, based in Portrush, and Boundary and Bullhouse from Belfast alongside a great range of cans from all over the island. Rebekah and Stevie are proud to have appointed general Manager and sommelier Clare Smyth, formerly of James St. South in Belfast, who has compiled a distinct wine list with an extensive natural and organic range alongside collaborating with Brendan O’Mullan as bar manager and mixologist offering Irish whiskeys, gins and a seasonally changing cocktail list. The newest addition to our beverages option is our non alcoholic juice pairing using foraged ingredients, designed by Jenny Regenass from the former Aimsir.
This has been extremely popular with our guests, and provides an additional experience for the driver of the night.
For the last 6 months, the Lir team has grown and undergone training to suit the uniqueness of the business with each team member specialising in their field and bringing more to the table.
Stevie will continue his role as head chef of the kitchen whilst Rebekah will lead as Fish Monger by day and Front of house at night and together they hope to offer an alternative yet professional seafood experience like no other.
This must be the plaice. X