Exclusive: Martin O'Donnell, executive head chef at The Twelve in Barna, will depart the hotel this year to open a new restaurant in Salthill.
Set to open in September, Martin O'Donnell and Mathieu Teulier, who is the current food, beverage and operations manager at The Twelve, are set to leave the hotel to run a new restaurant in Salthill. The restaurant will be named Blackrock Cottage, and is located next to Blackrock Diving Tower, one of Galway's most popular swimming spots, where O'Donnell swims regularly. It was this habit that saw this opportunity arise.
"I suppose I was sort of headhunted for this role by one of the guys that swims with me," O'Donnell explains of his move. "I'd been approached for different jobs before but had never wanted to leave The Twelve. So when this guy that swims with me regularly asked me what I do, I told him that I'm the executive chef at The Twelve and he told me about the restaurant that he was set to open and it just went from there."
Well known for his work at The Twelve, O'Donnell says that while he has been approached with many culinary opportunities previously, he had never been interested until now.
"When the owners asked if I would be interested, I said no. I told them that I was happy at The Twelve, but then they started to talk to me about the project and I realised how amazing it would be," O'Donnell says of the new restaurant.
"It snowballed from there. A lot of what swayed me was the location, but it was also the challenge of a new project that enticed me because in all honesty, this is probably the first company I've ever spoken to that really made me consider leaving The Twelve."
"It's not something I've ever considered before, I've always said it would have to be something really special to get me to leave and that's what this is. It's the start of a new chapter for me and it's really exciting."
Owned by McHugh Property Holdings Ltd, the property is currently under construction in order to be ready to go and fully renovated for the estimated autumn opening, although O'Donnell says it has taken the group six years to get planning permission for the restaurant.
"As it's a derelict famine-era cottage, they're really trying to keep with the heritage of the building. They're doing an extension to the existing space, but it's a family cottage at heart," O'Donnell says.
As with all hospitality businesses right now, there are certainly challenges ahead for O'Donnell and Blackrock Cottage, but he won't be facing them alone - his "bestie" Mathieu Teulier, who is the current food, beverage and operations manager at The Twelve, will be joining him at the new restaurant.
"Coincidentally, he was also considering moving at the same time and then this project came up," O'Donnell explains. "Me and Mathieu are besties, you know, we're together in the hotel now for 13 or 14 years and we work very closely day in and day out at The Twelve. We have a superb relationship supporting each other here, but we also have a true friendship. We're such a great team that when the opportunity arose for us to continue working together, it was a no-brainer for me."
While O'Donnell is best known for his fine-dining fare at West Restaurant at The Twelve, this new restaurant will be a little different.
"It's mainly going to be casual food," He explains. "The owners definitely want this to be for the people of Salthill and not just high exclusivity or just rich people. It really will be for the whole community. This really is just a chance to do whatever we wish. There's going to be a bigger food offering than just a restaurant, and we have really exciting plans for outdoor barbecues, outdoor events, that sort of thing."
This will be the first restaurant for McHugh Property Holdings Ltd group but from the beginning, they made it clear to O'Donnell that he would be calling the shots in the kitchen.
"It was really nice to hear them say 'we want you, we love The Twelve and you've done really amazing things there, so we really want you'," O'Donnell explains. "Hearing their confidence in me was just great. Of course, getting full autonomy with suppliers too is great. I've built up relationships with all of my suppliers over the past 15 years, and I use a lot of local guys, small farmers with local Galway produce, so it was important for me to keep that going, it's not something I'd relinquish easily. All of these factors just said the right things to me and sold the idea to me."
Also set to feature in this new spot are foraged ingredients, something O'Donnell is particularly interested in.
"I'm from Barna originally and in the 60s and 70s, my grandmother would forage in the area, then trade at the Galway markets, her seaweed was especially popular. So, that kind of love of seaweed and foraged ingredients was kind of always a part of me," he explains. "When the hotel opened, foraging wasn't the done thing as such, but I was kind of always doing it, then it exploded as a trend in the early 2010s and I was like 'oh yeah, sure I've been doing this since day one'. It's something I intend to keep going. West has been nominated for a lot of awards in my time and that's something I also intend to keep going with Blackrock Cottage."
Keep an eye on O'Donnell's social media for updates.