Tuesday 20 March 2018

Conor and R discover the perfect recipe

Nightmarket, their new Thai restaurant, is a dream come true for Conor Sexton and his partner, R Suwankeeree

Conor Sexton and his partner R Suwankeeree co-own Nightmarket in Ranelagh, Photo: Tony Gavin
Conor Sexton and his partner R Suwankeeree co-own Nightmarket in Ranelagh, Photo: Tony Gavin
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Their food might be hot and sizzling with flavour, but there was chill, rather than chilli, in the air when Conor Sexton first started working with Jutarat Suwankeeree, known as R. Conor was running his previous restaurant, Koh, in 2008 when R came to work with him as duty manager. "He was a tough boss and quite stern," R laughs. "Everything had to be perfect."

In his defence, the genial Limerick man was striving to build a business during the recession, and there were cultural differences too, as R is from Thailand. As she got to know Conor, R (39) found herself becoming attracted to him, and they began to bond over a shared interest in different teas. "Conor has beautiful eyes," says R. "He really loves his mum and I found that lovely. His family comes first and I thought he was a great businessman, so sharp and smart. He built the business up from nothing and made it happen."

Conor (44) found R to be very humble and honest. After months of a deepening friendship, they began dating in 2009, and Conor says he fell for her "beautiful natural smile".

"R has the ability to draw people into her aura, and she is great fun to be around," he says.

As the relationship progressed, the arrival of their daughter in 2010 was a very welcome surprise, and Emily (7) is a very happy, bubbly child, who loves going into their fabulous new Thai restaurant Nightmarket in Ranelagh and chatting to the regulars. They opened the restaurant only in April, and changed it from a 50-seater to a 100-seater three weeks ago. Conor looks after front-of-house and operations, while R looks after the food, which is infused with the genuine flavours of her Thai childhood in Hua Hin and Chiang Mai.

Juggling the restaurant and a child is tricky, but they manage it well. Conor takes Emily to school and one of them collects her, and they have two hours together before one of their three babysitters arrives and they head into work. They're off work on Monday and Tuesday and Conor's parents, Kay and former school principal Denis, are a wonderful help and come up from Limerick most weekends to be with Emily.

Conor grew up in Kildimo and has a younger sister, Denise. He studied hospitality management at Shannon College of Hotel Management, which was combined with a BComm degree at NUI, Galway. He did a year's placement in Brussels, and worked at the Great Southern hotels in Parknasilla and Eyre Square for five years. He left the hotel industry to move into restaurants, and his introduction to Thai food came when he ran the Diep Noodle Bar in Ranelagh from 2002-2007. He co-founded Koh, off Jervis Street, in 2007, and then sold his share to his partner to open Nightmarket.

He and R always loved the village feel of Ranelagh, and their dream was to open a family-friendly Thai restaurant there. It made sense with them living in Dundrum and Emily going to Alexandra College. They were thrilled when the building on Main Street became vacant, and the restaurant has been really well received since it opened in April.

R wanted people to enjoy the tastes and flavours of her homeland. She is not afraid of flavour or spice, so if a dish is listed as hot, it's truly hot. She was born in the seaside resort of Hua Hin. Her parents' marriage ended when she was two and her mum Usa was expecting her brother, Nuttaophul, known as X. The children moved to Chiang Mai to be raised by their grandparents, Noi and Tongsuk. Their mum went on to remarry and has a son and daughter, and their dad Umporn also remarried and has two sons.

R started cooking at the age of six as her grandparents had a market stall at a large hospital. She rose at 4am to help prepare the food, and after school would go to work again. She remembers this time fondly, but her grandparents both passed away by the time she was 11, and it was up to R then to provide for her younger brother. She had a young aunt who kept an eye on them and helped out with babysitting while R worked, but as child labour laws grew stricter and the aunt moved on to her own life, R contacted her parents. They arranged jobs for her in different places and she ultimately began working in the hotel industry.

She moved to a hotel in Bangkok, and was scouted for a job at the prestigious Shangri-La Hotel, which she loved. Then, wanting to work abroad, she spotted an ad for a Thai restaurant opening in Waterford, and had to look up the map to see where that was. R arrived in Ireland in August 2001, and her initial impression was that it was very cold. She went on to work at a restaurant in Carlow, followed by stints at Chilli Banana in Drumcondra and Tiger Becs in Dawson Street, prior to joining Koh. She adores seeing her recipes being so well received by customers. The restaurant opens for dinner five nights, and for brunch at weekends.

While Conor says that R is an amazing mum, she says he's a fabulous dad. They are thrilled that the restaurant is flying, and while Emily is dying for them to marry so she can be a flower girl, they have been too busy with work to do it so far. Nonetheless they're deeply committed to each other.

"Conor is always there for me and never gives up," says R. "He has helped make my dreams come true."

Nightmarket, 120 Main Street, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 www.nightmarket.ie

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