Cork’s trio of Michelin stars heralds the awakening of the People’s Republic of Fine Dining
Michelin awards: Three very different restaurants have earned a coveted star
They will be insufferable, those Cork folk. But who’d begrudge them? Today’s trio of new Michelin stars for Cork will do nothing to alleviate the county’s chronic superiority complex. First Queen Elizabeth and other royals having the time of their lives in the English Market. Now this. It’s only a matter of time before the capital cedes power to the Real Capital. Food in Cork has had a homecoming; welcome to the People’s Republic of Fine Dining.
It’s like 1975 all over again, the brief golden year when Cork held three of Ireland’s small clutch of five Michelin stars. There was one in the city’s Arbutus Lodge Hotel and one each in the late Myrtle Allen’s Yeats Room in Ballymaloe House and Ballylickey House in the west Cork village of Ballylickey (a contender for the most evocative restaurant name in the annals of Irish food).
The new stars have been awarded to different kinds of homecomings. Japanese chef Takashi Miyazaki worked in a tiny takeaway at the bottom of Cork’s Evergreen Street for several years, putting out dazzling dishes in between takeaway orders like a jeweller in a tin smiths. His dashi, a shimmering broth the colour of a goldfish, was his grandmother’s recipe, he said. His mother could never make it. The technique skipped a generation.
His next move happened earlier this year when he opened the door on Ichigo Ichie, a dramatic black box room in the former Fenns Quay restaurant in Cork city where he can showcase the precision and beauty of what he does. It was the most exciting new restaurant in the country and its recognition with a star less than a year after it opened feels like Michelin getting slightly more nimble in their approach to the Irish food scene.
Miyazaki came home to his own food culture using the best Irish seafood, vegetables and ingredients like cherry blossom, foraged in Douglas in March and dried and salted as a garnish for his spring menu, in the year when spring took a gap year. His restaurant was a life’s dream, he said, up there with having a family.
The wild card in the new stars was Rob Krawczyk’s Restaurant Chestnut in a slanty low-ceilinged former pub on the main drag in west Cork’s Ballydehob. West Cork hasn’t had a Michelin star for nearly 20 years (Shiro in Ahakista held one for six years until 2001). Now they have two with the Chestnut in Ballydehob and the seasonal Mews Restaurant in Baltimore.
That the region went such a long time without a star seems at odds with the fact that the area has one of the best food larders on the planet, a base for world-class cheesemakers, farmers, growers and fishers. It’s almost as if they’ve been too industrious making amazing food to put it on to restaurant plates where it’s recognised by Michelin and maybe that’s as it should be.
Krawczyk’s restaurant was a homecoming for the Cork man who grew up in Schull and spent his childhood watching his parents Frank and Anne run a small restaurant. On my visit there last month (phew just in the nick of time) it was clear that he was a chef cooking from the heart in a modest pub which has now put Ballydehob on the international food map.
Mews opened in the Easter of 2015 after a buddy road trip where chefs Luke Matthews and Robert Collender and front of house guy James Ellis drove the Wild Atlantic Way to find somewhere they could afford to open the kind of restaurant they wanted to run. Dublin rents were already too steep to let them do what they wanted. They found an old stone building in the quirky west Cork village of Baltimore and spent a lot of time talking to farmers and fishermen and getting out to forage the wild larder around them.
Luke Matthews left for the big smoke last year. He is cooking now in Airfield Farm. And the Mews project took on a new head chef in Ahmet Dede, who joined them from Mickael Viljanen’s Greenhouse, where he had been a sous chef. Dede had worked in his family restaurant in Turkey and also Maaemo in Oslo before his two years at the Greenhouse and now he has brought a star to Baltimore.
The common thread with all three new Cork stars is a commitment to getting out into the countryside to find your ingredients, finding small producers and the kinds of food to which the agribusiness focus of mainstream Irish agriculture still only pays lip service. It seems fitting that in the year that the “matriarch of Irish food” Myrtle Allen died, her home county has opened a new food chapter. She summed up her cooking in nine words: “local, seasonal, organic, flavoursome, sustainable and superbly cooked food.” It’s a philosophy that could describe everything that Cork’s newly starred Japanese, Turkish and Irish trio of chefs are doing in their restaurants. Those are good ideas that don’t age.
Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland 2018
- Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
- Ichigo Ichie, Cork New
- Restaurant Chestnut, Ballydehob New
- Mews, Baltimore New
- Aniar, Galway
- Campagne, Kilkenny
- Chapter One, Dublin
- L’Ecrivain, Dublin
- Eipic, Belfast
- The Greenhouse, Dublin
- Heron & Grey, Blackrock, Co Dublin
- House (Cliff House Hotel), Ardmore, Co Waterford
- The Lady Helen Restaurant (Mount Juliet Estate), Thomastown, Co Kilkenny
- Loam, Galway
- Ox, Belfast
- Wild Honey Inn, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare