An exceptional era and a Barra highlight are to close in the near future, as the owners of Café Kisimul in Castlebay announced yesterday (Thursday 11 August) that the business and premises are on the market.
The Bari family – Rohail, Pauline and their son Harris – opened the doors at Café Kisimul in 2004, commuting from their home in Vatersay to run the business.
With its optimal location immediately opposite Kisimul Castle, the café quickly built an astonishing reputation for curry and a wide range of food styles.
They also became legendary for the informality, welcome, and inclusivity of their business, with art, music and food combining to create a unique mix.
In 2010 they were shortlisted as Scotland’s entry for the Tiffin Cup, nominated by islands MP Angus MacNeil and travelling to Westminster to cook at the House of Commons.
Sadly Rohail passed away suddenly in 2015, leaving the future of the café in doubt until Harris Bari stepped in to take over the business and continue its trajectory as a local favourite and tourist destination.
Yesterday, Harris posted on the café’s Facebook page, saying: “After 18 years behind the wheel, our shift is coming to an end. The family have decided to put the cafe on the market and let someone else take on this amazing little restaurant down in Castlebay.
“We can't begin to describe how big a decision this has been, and what an incredible experience we’ve had over the last two decades. It has been at the centre of our family's day-to-day lives from the moment we took it on, and life will be very different without it... But all good things must come to an end!
“For a number of reasons, the time has finally come to move onto other things, with heads held high and a few years and tears shed.”
The news unleashed a flood of memories from customers home and away, including local regulars, annual returners and single-visit enthusiasts.
One said: “Your café has been the highlight of our holiday food for the last ten years…you will never know how special your food is and what a lovely atmosphere your café has.”
And a local business owner added: “We have loved all our weekly pakoras and curries from Cafe Kisimul over all these years. You will be hugely missed here. All our guests that have dined with you have raved about their food and always say it’s the best curry they’ve ever had.”
Inclusivity and welcome were among the themes of some of the comments, with one visitor saying: “We had the first dinner as a married couple in Café Kisimul after getting married at Eoligarry beach a few years ago (the first same-sex couple to be married on the island).
“We paid for our meal with our two best friends, using a jar of £2 coins which we’d been saving up – we’ve been back every year since.”
And some after-hours visitors recounted their experience, saying: “I shall never forget knocking on your door when you were closed and requesting scallop pakoras. You were baffled to see a bunch of Indians asking for pakoras in the Outer Hebrides, but of course, nowhere in India would you get scallop pakoras (I am fairly certain).
“They were delicious – but mostly, we remember that you accommodated our request out-of-hours since we had our return ferry to catch.”-There’s still time to sample or repeat the Café Kisimul experience, as Harris said: “We won't be going far, and might even still be here next season if the right person doesn't arrive right away.
“But the decision has been made, and we look forward to hearing from anyone interested in having the opportunity to serve this wee community and start their own new chapter down on Main Street.
“Till the day comes to hand over the keys, we will of course still be open as normal serving up a storm down on the street. Pop in for a meal or takeaway, while you can!”
Details of the sale particulars are available at https://uk.businessesforsale.com/uk/long-established-restaurant-in-the-isle-of-barra-for-sale.aspx
The pictures show Rohail and Pauline Bari at the House of Commons with speaker John Bercow and Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil in 2010, Pauline completing a new sign for the new era of the café and Harris (centre) with his team outside the Café Kisimul.