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Foodies Fight Back: A royal arrival helps to expand the empire

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Christopher Murphy, director of food and beverages, Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo

Christopher Murphy, director of food and beverages, Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo

Christopher Murphy, director of food and beverages, Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo

The crowning touch

We've had a week of bombshells from the royal family, on both sides of the Atlantic.

One man who's seen them up close, including Christmases at Sandringham and summers at Balmoral, is Christopher Murphy, director of food and beverage at Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo.

"My background has been in luxury hospitality, having worked at many leading establishments including the Royal household, The Dorchester and Mosimann's in London. I have looked after royalty, presidents and leading industry figures, whose demands were simple - they wanted the best, yet there was very little opportunity for forgiveness when this was not met. I felt I could bring this experience to Ashford, where the philosophy is 'no request is too large, and no detail too small'.

"With Mosimann's having been granted a Royal Warrant by HRH Prince of Wales, I've organised many events across numerous royal households. My wife actually went into labour on the day I was doing a book launch for the Duchess of Sussex, and I had to make my apologies!" laughs Chris.

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Arthur Little, Hotel Isaacs, Greenes Restaurant, Cask Bar, Cork

Arthur Little, Hotel Isaacs, Greenes Restaurant, Cask Bar, Cork

Arthur Little, Hotel Isaacs, Greenes Restaurant, Cask Bar, Cork

 

"It was a cold January afternoon in 2020 that I crossed the Irish Sea to join Ashford Castle. It was somewhat of a homecoming, with my grandmother having moved from Co Galway to London in the 1950s. I was excited to be joining this prestigious hotel and looking forward to the challenges it would bring."

Little did Chris know that the greatest challenge hospitality has ever faced would be just six weeks away. Although the year was difficult, they've taken the opportunity as a team to review how the operation could be improved for their guests. While there's still no solid date for reopening, hopefully it will be soon.

"We have certainly seen a wave of bookings at the castle to give us hope and optimism for the second half of 2021. While the international market will leave a void, the domestic market will no doubt support us, and the many other hotels, and realise they do not have to go to far-flung lands but can appreciate what is closer to home."

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ashfordcastle.com

 

The family business

With their ever-expanding FXB empire, the Buckley family has become a household name over the years. Spearheading the operation since 2002 are fifth- and sixth-generation father and sons Des, Stephen and Brian Buckley. Their impressive collection of steakhouse restaurants and bars are in Dublin in Pembroke Street, Crow Street and in Monkstown, plus the Bull & Castle at Christchurch, and Ryan's Victorian pub & steakhouse in Parkgate Street.

"Before Covid hit, we'd just launched our Victualler & Grocer store beside our flagship restaurant in Pembroke Street," says Des. "We're delighted to see it grow from strength to strength. We are masters at meat and that's at the heart of the store, but customers will find a small grocery stocked with farmers' market-quality produce such as local vegetables, artisan cheeses, pates and terrines, charcuterie, smoked salmon and fresh bread.

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Brian, Des, and Stephen Buckley, FX Buckley restaurants & bars, Dublin

Brian, Des, and Stephen Buckley, FX Buckley restaurants & bars, Dublin

Brian, Des, and Stephen Buckley, FX Buckley restaurants & bars, Dublin

 

"Our ready to-go meals are extremely popular. We have everything from our signature beef Wellington to classic savoury pies, side dishes like mash and creamed spinach, and our restaurant sauces and desserts. Our customers are predominantly locals, and we're very appreciative of their ongoing support.

"And 2020 also saw us partner with The Merrion hotel's pantry festive collection, as well as launching our hampers, not to mention our inaugural recipe book, Par Excellence: FX Buckley."

For regulars who miss dining at FXB, they've recently launched their superb FX Buckley at home two-course meal kit at €75. Available from its Pembroke Street and Monkstown restaurants.

fxbuckley.ie

 

The restaurant

Jérôme Fernandes purchased Dalkey's renowned Guinea Pig restaurant in 2017, and it was picking up momentum when the pandemic hit.

"I closed my restaurant with a heavy heart, not knowing what this would mean for the business, its staff or me personally. If I had known then how long it would continue, I'm not sure I'd have coped," he says.

Following consultation with restaurant manager, Kevin O'Gorman, he set up a Guinea Pig at Home menu offering favourites and French classics such as gratin de poisson, fillet steak surf and turf, and pre- order dishes such as sole meuniere, and lobster thermidor.

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Jerome Fernandes, Guinea Pig Restaurant, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

Jerome Fernandes, Guinea Pig Restaurant, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

Jerome Fernandes, Guinea Pig Restaurant, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

 

"It's a great feeling knowing I'm bringing some simple pleasures to people at home. It reminds me of my time working at an executive level at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, where I managed bespoke catering events. I endeavour to offer that same high-quality food and service here at affordable prices.

"I may be French, but I understand the word meitheal. I support Irish farmers, local food producers and fishermen, and, in turn, depend on our loyal local customers for my survival.

"I feel at times we deserved better communication and planning from Government. I am still concerned about the future as unfortunately outdoor seating is not a feasible option for the Guinea Pig. We will, however, continue to work hard, consult, adapt and reinvent in accordance with guidelines. Kevin and the team work tirelessly to implement and maintain the required safety standards."

guineapigrestaurant.ie

 

The hotel

"We may have reached a 'tipping point' in our industry," says Arthur Little, general manager of Hotel Isaacs in Cork, which incorporates the superb Greenes Restaurant and Cask bar overlooking their waterfall and courtyard.

"Wonderful restaurants and bars have either closed or become takeaways and even off-licences. How do we remain relevant and survive? Is the future for our industry a 'blended' food offering, where all restaurants are expected to offer both in-house and in-home offerings? The truth is, once the welcome government subsidies finish, many businesses will not survive unless they adapt. The 'body blow' of Covid has knocked us for six and forced us, and our industry colleagues, to innovate and adapt to sustain us through the pandemic."

Following the initial shock, they created food-to-go that played strongly on creating a Greenes or Cask experience at home while recognising the added challenge of the meal being prepared by someone not familiar with where to put their 'dashi'.

They created 'cook and chill' dishes with the same quality and flavours customers would receive in the restaurant. Each week, chef Bryan McCarthy videos himself preparing dishes, for Instagram and Facebook, to guide customers through while restaurant manager/sommelier Frank Schiltkamp presents short videos on wine pairings. They're also offering 'Cask in a Box', plus Cask manager Andy Ferreira's fab cocktails.

"We are optimistic about the future and will continue with our 'blended' approach to innovate and develop new retail experiences that will enhance the Greenes and Cask brands," says Little.

hotelisaacscork.com


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