This feature first appeared in Coast magazine in 2015

With its crumbling castle, wind-scoured cliffs and atmospheric sea mists, the southern half of the Isle of Mull is the kind of place where you wouldn’t expect to come across another living soul, let alone an exciting food scene. And yet, at the tip of this Scottish island’s southwestern peninsula, on a particularly beautiful stretch of headland surrounded by emerald seas, there stands the Ninth Wave, a restaurant that beat out Michelin-starred competition to win the 2013 Highlands & Islands Food and Drink Restaurant of the Year award.

‘This is an island created to make a chef happy,’ says Carla Lamont, the founding chef, who named the restaurant after a Celtic myth, which tells of ‘a land of other-worldly delights’ that lies beyond the ninth wave. It was Carla’s innovative use of the island’s ingredients that first caught the judges’ attention. The restaurant takes local-sourcing to an extreme: on any given day, Carla can be spotted foraging for mushrooms, berries, pignuts and wildflowers or picking vegetables from her organic garden. Her fisherman husband John catches lobster and crabs just hours before they arrive on customers’ plates, then come evening swaps his yellow oilskins for a kilt to wait tables. Scallops are hand-dived for by the couple’s neighbour.

In her new book, also called The Ninth Wave, Carla shares mouthwatering recipes, cooking tips and the story of how the restaurant came into existence. At its heart, it’s a simple tale of girl meets boy, of chef meets fisherman. Originally from Canada, Carla met Mull born-and-bred John while she was working as an assistant cook on the neighbouring island of Iona. An encounter over a pool table in one of Mull’s granite-walled pubs led to an invite for dinner. At first sceptical, given the surrounds – John lived in a bothy farmhouse with only an open peat fire to fight against the cold air rushing in through holes in the tin roof – Carla was knocked off her feet by the three-course meal John prepared: octopus-stuffed tomatoes, followed by a whole lobster, then rhubarb crumble. ‘I was in love,’ says Carla. ‘With the food or the fisherman, it was hard to tell.’

Soon afterwards they got married on Carsaig’s fishing pier and concocted a plan to turn John’s bothy into a restaurant and house with hot water and proper heating. After seven years of wrestling with bank managers and builders, architects and even an archaeologist (they had to hire
 one to supervise the excavating work because their land had once housed a Bronze-age settlement), they finally realised their dream, opening the doors of their establishment in 2009.

Even now, life on their Hebridean island, though mostly idyllic, can
 be trying for the couple. In the busy summer season, they work gruellingly long hours since they choose to catch and prepare most of their ingredients by themselves, while bad weather can mean cancelled fishing or scallop-diving outings, necessitating last-minute menu changes. But Carla wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘I can’t think of a place I’d rather be,’ she says. ‘How many chefs get to walk from the kitchen straight out
into the countryside and see the sea?’

First appeared in Coast in 2015