My restaurant has two Michelin stars. But I’d never dined in it. So I booked a table

Jordan Bailey: A late cancellation was the perfect chance to get answers to questions that had been swirling around my head for years

How can a chef provide a perfect dining experience if they have never dined at their own restaurant? As the chef of a restaurant with two Michelin stars, I am driven every day by the constant challenge of providing that experience. So last week I did something I should have done years ago: I dined in my own restaurant, Aimsir, which we opened in May 2019.

It’s something I’d wanted to do for years. One of many reasons for putting it off was the question of what the other guests would think if they saw me sitting at another table.

“Shouldn’t he be in the kitchen?”

“Has he given up?”


“Surely I shouldn’t be paying full price if he isn’t even cooking.”

I knew I had to do it, though, if I wanted to fully understand the culinary experience I had created.

I had so many questions I wanted answered. Is it enough food? How do you feel after 18 courses? How is the balance from one dish to the next? What’s the noise level like – can you have a private conversation? Can you hear the extractor hoods in the kitchen? Are the lighting and the music at the right level? Is there too much interaction with the guests? How much can they see while dining? The list goes on.

On Friday evening we had a very late cancellation for Saturday lunch. If there was ever going to be a time, then this was it. Before leaving that night I told my head chef and restaurant manager that I was taking the table. This was not so they could pull out extra stops – we have a fully open kitchen, so the surprise of my arrival wouldn’t have lasted more than two minutes anyway – but so they knew to treat me and my table like any other guest that day.

I wanted them to ignore the fact that they knew me and that I knew each dish and its elements, all the pairing wines, that day’s champagne, where the coats went, and where the toilets were. I wanted a true experience, where the staff fully explained the dishes and wines and had to find out what would make my day extra special.

I also needed to invite the right dining companions. I wanted them to have an interest in food, so I could get feedback, but I didn’t want us to focus entirely on what we were eating. We needed to be able to hold a normal conversation, too – about sport, the weather, family or business – and in fact just have a good gossip. This was partly to stop me from scrutinising every step of service and each dish that landed in front of me. I invited Sean Hussey, who used to be my go-to Irish vegetable supplier, and Barry Flanagan of Lock 13 and Kildare Brewing Company.

As the experience unfolded, all the questions that had been swirling around in my head for years started to make sense. Everything around food is subjective, and people’s taste differ. But I knew our team could provide those answers.

The balance of dishes, from one to the next, was exactly the way I intended. Noisewise, you could hold a private conversation but there was still a nice buzzy atmosphere (which also drowned out the hum of the kitchen extraction). I realised how little you actually notice of the set-up practices that eat me up on a daily basis, from the position of my spoon pot and check sheet on the pass to having all the copper sauce pots, garnish trays, food containers and plates stacked and organised symmetrically and at right angles. Even though it definitely doesn’t affect the overall experience, I couldn’t let this be any other way. It’s a chef thing, or something like that.

As the meal concluded, the final questions got answers. Yes, I was full when I had finished. Not a “Holy crap, I can’t move” but a pleasant fullness where I could finish on an Irish coffee or single-malt whiskey and not feel as if I would need help to the taxi.

There is, of course, always room for improvement and tweaking, but that’s just me: nothing is ever a closed book. But I was overwhelmed with emotion during the whole experience, and so proud of what we had achieved so quickly – we gained those two Michelin stars just four months after opening. The team blew me away with their hospitality, generosity, professionalism, sharpness and attentiveness, and they showed huge amounts of pride, love and care to all the guests, including me. I came away feeling like a proud parent.

A restaurant is like a team sport. You are only as strong as the person standing next to you, and you can only become champions if you work in step with one another. My team showed me they are doing just that and can operate at the highest level whether or not I am present.

Don’t worry: you can’t get me out of the kitchen that easily. But should you see me do this again, say hello to me, then sit back and enjoy the journey my team will take you on. You won’t be disappointed.