'Beyond my wildest dreams' - five Irish restaurants new Michelin Star recipients in 2020 Guide
As predicted, it has turned out to be a bumper crop of Michelin stars for Ireland in the 2020 Guide, with the award of two stars to one restaurant, Aimsir, and the elevation of The Greenhouse in Dublin from one star to two.
Variety Jones in Dublin, Bastion in Kinsale and The Oak Room at Adare Manor landed one star each, and Damien Grey retained the star that he had at Heron & Grey at his new restaurant, Liath, in Blackrock, Dublin. In Belfast, The Muddler’s Club also secured a star.
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No Irish restaurants lost their stars.
Over days preceding the announcement of the winner, at an event in the Hurlingham Club in London on Monday, the speculation as to possible new entries from Ireland was intense.
“Have you heard who’s going to London?” was the question on every food obsessive’s lips.
Chefs who are invited to the ceremony know either that they are getting a star or stars for the first time or have retained a star awarded previously. This year, some chefs were notified more than a month ago, while others were left squirming until the middle of last week.
Rumours reached a level of fever pitch when the owner of a restaurant considered to be in the running for a star posted an airport pint shot on Friday, only to post a picture of a Ryanair flight returning to Ireland two days later.
Damien Grey of Liath in Blackrock told everyone that he hadn’t been invited. No one believed him.
Instagram posts from the trio of Mickael Viljanen and Mark Moriarty from The Greenhouse and Ahmet Dede from The Mews in Baltimore confirmed that they were all on their way to the UK capital (those departure gate pint shots are a dead giveaway) and were determined to have a good time while they were at it.
The trio’s dinner at Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s Oyster Bar on Sunday looked magnificent, and Viljanen later blamed Corrigan’s hospitality for the fact that he wasn’t feeling the best when he went up on stage to collect his jacket, gave Raymond Blanc an enthusiastic bear hug and knocked the veteran chef to the ground. [Two weeks ago I had lunch at The Greenhouse and ate Viljanen’s extraordinary hare royale – what a dish.]
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The biggest winner on the day was Jordan Bailey of Aimsir at the Cliff at Lyons in Kildare, who went straight in with two stars for the restaurant that he and his wife, Majken Bech-Bailey, opened less than six months ago. The inspectors praised a chef whose work is constantly evolving, and a commitment to seeking out the very best suppliers. Clearly emotional, Bailey said:
“Being recommended in the Michelin Guide is something I have always dreamed about — but winning two stars is beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t believe this has actually happened. We never thought Aimsir would even be on their radar for this year.”
“I feel both overwhelmed and proud of our whole team,” said Majken. “We could only have done this together.”
Aimsir launched its new autumn menu at a dinner for invited press last week and I can confirm that if anything the food is even better than when I gave it a 30/30 score over the summer.
This brings the number of two-star restaurants in Ireland to three, as Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud retained its two stars.
Chef Keelan Higgs who owns the ‘tiny, funky’ Variety Jones on Thomas St. with his brother, Aaron, won his first star, also having been open for less than a year. The Higgs brothers opened their restaurant on a shoestring doing all the building work themselves; the ambience is low-key and relaxed proving that Michelin star restaurants don’t have to be formal. Higgs cooks over an open hearth, main courses are served family-style and his food is all about flavour.
“I think the inspectors saw that we were doing something different and went with us.”
He said before the ceremony. “I was brought up sharing food around a table – it’s the way I was raised and it’s part of Irish culture to bring people together.”
The inspector praised Higgs’ ‘calm, clever kitchen and the balance and refinement of dishes bursting with texture and flavour’.
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Bastion in Kinsale, where Paul McDonald is in the kitchen, also landed a star, bringing the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Cork to four.
“I wondered were we being invited for tea and biscuits,” said Scottish-born McDonald when he received the e mail inviting him to London for the ceremony, having already been told that Bastion had retained its Bib Gourmand. Just as well he turned up to collect his star.
Damien Grey of Liath in Blackrock, retained his Heron & Grey star for his refined and innovative food. His signature dish is a ‘party cone’ of smoked eel and salted anchovies, with pickled shallots, truffles, 36-month aged Parmesan Reggiano, wild fennel pollen and marjoram.
Also landing a first star was Mike Tweedie, a real champion of Irish suppliers, in charge of the Oak Room at Adare Manor, which may be the most luxurious dining room in Ireland. The inspectors noted his refined and assured cooking, and Tweedie’s experience and confidence in ‘knowing just when to hold back.’
Retaining their stars were House Restaurant at the Cliff House Hotel, Ichigo Ichie, The Mews and Chestnut, all in Cork, The Lady Helen at Mount Juliet, Campagne in Kilkenny and Wild.
Honey in Lisdoonvarna, Aniar and Loam in Galway and Dublin stalwarts, L’Ecrivain and Chapter One. Ox and Eipic in Belfast also retained their stars and Irish chef Kenneth Culhane, who used to work at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, won a star for Dysart Petersham in London.
Enda McEvoy of Loam was presented with Michelin’s new sustainability award – no irony there – and Jurica Gojevic of The Oak Room at Adare received the sommelier award.
Clare Smyth of Core, from Northern Ireland, retained two stars.