Thursday 17 January 2019

‘Don’t sit there trying to write a review’ - Top Irish chef says diners should go out to have a good time

Irish chef Andy McFadden
Irish chef Andy McFadden
Andy McFadden, Glovers Alley
Food for thought: Andy McFadden and JP McMahon launch Food on the Edge, which takes place this Monday and Tuesday.
Chef Andy McFadden and pastry chef Aoife Noonan of Glovers Alley
Chef Andy McFadden with his predecessor at the Fitzwilliam Hotel restaurant space, Kevin Thornton. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

An Irish chef who became the youngest chef in London to retain a Michelin star when he was just 25, has said diners need to enjoy the experience of dining out more.

Last January, Andy McFadden (33) from Tallaght opened Glovers Alley in the Fitzwilliam Hotel after a €1.3m revamp

He left the bright lights of London – where he’d been head chef at L’Autre Pied and retained its Michelin star – to strike out on his own back home.

McFadden, who regularly eats out in Dublin – often choosing casual dining spots - says he loves to meet his customers at the end of a night’s service.

But diners everywhere, the convivial chef tells Independent.ie, are often quick to critique a dining experience rather than simply remembering why they came out – to have a good time.

“Most of the reviews we’ve had are positive. I think sometimes people - not necessarily here - in restaurants, are just going [there] to judge, they’re not going to enjoy the great meal, the service, they’re going to critique the experience.”

“You’re going to enjoy, not to critique… Just go to enjoy it a bit more. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be a fun experience. Don’t sit there trying to write a review for yourself.”

McFadden, who is upbeat and describes cheffing as a great career that renders you employable anywhere in the world, says the job stereotype of long hours, stress and tough working environments doesn’t cut it.

Food is all about bringing people together in a moment, he believes.

“I know a chef in Cost Rica, and he’s had Michelin stars, and he’s living a different life now - his wife runs an antique store while he has a small restaurant at the back where he cooks for 12 people four nights a week. He talks about “savoir vivre”, the art of being around the table and [knowing how to] enjoy the food and wine and service. To enjoy life, but around the table. I think people have lost that a bit more.”

“I’ll be honest, I like eating out. I like the whole thing of going out with my girlfriend, my friends and my family. It doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant, I just like the whole experience of going out and being looked after. I try to eat out as much as I can. I don’t cook at home. I hardly do it at all these days. I live on my own so when I’m off I just want to go out.”

The Irish food scene is “more diverse than ever”, McFadden says. When he left Ireland 12 years ago after studying at IT Tallaght and working part-time under Neven Maguire, Ireland’s culinary offering was very different.

“I think now the standard is a lot higher, I think it’s really interesting. I’ve had so many interesting meals, I go out first and foremost to have a great time, I don’t sit there at the time, staring at the plates, and checking out the décor looking for cracks in the walls. I just go out to have a good time.”

“I say this to my customers as well. I don’t get to see every customer but at the end of the night I go out and say thanks for coming. More often than not a lot of them like to have a little chat, and I say to them what I notice in the last while, a lot of people come out with an idea already that they want to critique the restaurant. But then I think you’re not going to enjoy it. Like, we were in a little Italian restaurant this week with my aunt and uncle who I hadn’t seen in ages and I had a great time.”

At Glover’s Alley, McFadden says he and his staff – from service to kitchen staff – are committed to creating the right atmosphere that allows customers to enjoy their food. He takes a rounded approach to the type of restaurant he’s trying to create. His goal is to keep getting better and develop Glover’s Alley from this, its first year.

“We get a lot of good compliments on our service, I always tell the service staff, ‘bring your personality to the table’. Irish diners love the interaction and they love to be recognised, and they appreciate that. Our service is professional but it’s also a bit more informal, and you have to treat each diner differently, one diner might be going through a bad time in their life. Then if someone orders a tasting experience, you know they’re here for a good time and they want to see what you can do. For a lunch, they might be a couple on business or something. Every diner is different.”

“I was in a restaurant recently - we’re all people watching when we go to restaurants – there was a couple and they were clearly in love and they were leaning across the table and sharing a really special moment and then the waiter came over like a robot with the coffee and he came in the middle of them and broke up the moment. I always use that example to my staff, just stand back, you can always go and make a fresh coffee and bring it back again instead.”

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