In an interview with the editor of the Michelin Guide at the live ceremony in London, Dee Laffan asked Rebecca Burr about this year’s new stars and her thoughts on the future of Irish cuisine.
This day two weeks ago the news of the three new Michelin stars, awarded to chefs and restaurants in Cork for the 2019 Michelin Guide GB & Ireland, was sinking in as word spread and celebrations continued across county, island and beyond.
It was a surprise for many to see all new stars awarded to restaurants in one county, not least, Ahmet Dede, Rob Krawczyk and Takashi Miyazaki, who banded together to celebrate at the event with their fellow Corkonians, and were slightly stargazed and giggly when we met in the foyet of the BFI IMAX in Waterloo, London, along with all of the Irish ‘stars’ who all retained their accolades for 2019. Our greatest number of one stars yet at an amazing total of 15, and a two-star held by Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. There is no doubt that Irish cuisine is mushrooming into the global food scene to claim its place among the best in the world.
Interestingly, the first Michelin stars awarded in Ireland were in 1974, one to the restaurant in The Russell Hotel, 102–104 St. Stephen's Green South, Dublin 2, head chef at the time was Matt Dowling, and one to Arbutus Lodge in Cork, with head chefs and brothers Michael and Declan Ryan. The last time a Cork restaurant held a Michelin star was in 2001, when Shiro restaurant, a Japanese and sushi restaurant, in Ahakista was awarded a star. Co-owned by husband and wife, Werner and Kie Pilz, the restaurant had a short menu, no other staff than themselves – Kei was head chef and Werner was the waiter – with one seating a night.
The Michelin Guide attests to being a big supporter of Irish restaurants and chefs and editor, Rebecca Burr, echoed this and her pride in this year’s Irish representation in the guide when we spoke after the announcement recently.
“Cork has always been synonymous with great produce and the talent is there to back it up and the inspectors just found that it all came together this year. It’s nice to come out of Dublin a bit. We’ve always wanted to, but we have found ourselves been drawn back, well, for many years. We do go to all of the counties; I’ve been working for the [Michelin] Guide for 20 years and we always have an inspector in Ireland every month. It just happens in pockets sometimes.... There’s great produce in Kerry, Cork and Galway, but the standards never quite happening there, but then in the last few years we’ve noticed that changing.”
“When the inspector came back and said that he had found Ichigo Ichie, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And then when he came with more candidates for Cork we thought, wow, that’s fantastic and we were delighted. This year, three great chefs and all very different. I have been to all three restaurants obviously and they are great.”
Here’s Rebecca’s insights and comments into her dining experiences at each restaurant awarded a new star for 2019…
“Talk about a hot ticket! I didn’t sit at the counter as it was booked up, but I didn’t think it mattered and he still comes around to the tables a little bit. I loved it, all ages eating in there, I just thought it was so special and the service was fantastic. But the food, he’s got his own signature, putting his own style on it and that’s what makes it so interesting and unique. I have been to a lot of Japanese restaurants and I knew immediately that I was buying into this one completely; he is really, really good.”
“There will always be country differences, but he can stand shoulders with Japanese chefs from other countries and with his unique style as well. I think that’s really important and we would encourage that. Sometimes it goes wrong with chefs and they try too hard to be different. Takashi is really successful and there is such finesse; the whole meal, every course is anticipation with the next one and if I lived there I would be booking up for regular meals.”
“We knew about Mews and its quality, it was definitely on our radar. We just needed that continuity. Ahmet, what an absolutely fabulous chef, really fabulous. He has an inherent understanding of when to leave something alone and he’s got great technical skill and flair. I mean, look at where it is, and the draw it has. I stayed in a local hotel and walked to the restaurant and it was so lovely to do that. They run the restaurant so perfectly too and it is great value, incredible value.”
“What a great little place? I would love to see more of those open up all over Ireland. Well, not all over because it couldn’t be replicated, but that experience is what people are looking for today. People think Michelin has changed, but it has not, these restaurants did not exist. We will go wherever there is good food, wherever there is a good restaurant. What you have there [Restaurant Chestnut] is a passionate dedicated chef who is on his own, well, he is the focus in the kitchen. Elaine, his partner and front of house, has quite a shy manner but really lovely and welcoming. I think it’s a great restaurant and he is really good. He knows when to leave a dish alone, but adds just enough personality and difference, but it’s important that he knows when to hold back… fantastic produce… amazing. He’s just really good at getting fantastic ingredients.”
Ireland & Michelin
The number of Irish restaurants included in the guide is at an all time high. For most chefs, the Michelin Guide is the ultimate goal and being recommended in it or being awarded a Bib Gourmand or stars is highly sought after, recognition of hours of hard work, for their team, the restaurant, and their families.
“The rise in the number of Bib Gourmands has happened all of a sudden really, the last two or three years it’s been like that for Ireland. The value for money and the level of cooking is brilliant, and to maintain the Bibs this year as well is amazing. This explosion for Ireland, we are just getting momentum now, and let’s hope it continues. They’ll certainly get our support, they really will; there has always been an attachment there and a relationship with Ireland and I think it’s important.”
“Every restaurant that is included in our guide we keep an eye on. We hope that the stars are maintained and we build upon them from year to year. We just wish them the best and we hope that this is a small, small part in their success… for places like [Restaurant] Chestnut that hasn’t been open long but we feel confident in the chef’s capabilities, and Elaine giving him that support and them having a great business, that’s what it’s about. But we always have our eyes on everything, any new or up-and-coming chefs and existing chefs – never losing touch with them and following their careers, giving them time to mature and develop… I have the best job, honestly, we are very fortunate.”
One to watch
“Heron & Grey, what a restaurant… I have been back since they got the star and they are just flourishing. The team there are like a little family, they go off and do different things together and we love that. It’s a wonderful place, really unique and I expect good things of him [Damien Grey] in the future. It will be an interesting one to watch. I can’t have favourites of course, but I do love Heron & Grey!”
The future of Irish cuisine
“We’re just delighted that Ireland is getting the recognition. For us it’s not about numbers, about quantity; there is an awful lot of pressure for chefs to go from one to two stars, from one year to the next, but it’s like hang on, hang on, hang on… these accolades take time and there are not hundreds of them, they are special because this is someone’s livelihood and someone’s business and they have got to be right.”
The Michelin Guide GB & Ireland 2020…
“It’s already started!”
You can look up all of the Irish restaurants recommended in the Michelin Guide online here.
Please let us know in the comments below what you think of this year's awards and if you've been to any amazing restaurants we should know about?