It’s like a bus – you wait ages for one to come along, and then two arrive together. So what exactly will having a double helping of Michelin stars mean for West Cork?
AFTER a 20 -year gap, West Cork now boasts not one, but two, Michelin star restaurants.
Shiro in Ahakista, no longer in business, held a sought-after star for six years until 2001. That crowd-pulling prestige now goes to Ballydehob’s Restaurant Chestnut and Baltimore’s Mews.
Robbie Krawczyk, along with his girlfriend Elaine Fleming, transformed the former Chestnut bar in recent food mecca Ballydehob into an 18-seater six-table restaurant that only opened six months ago.
Michelin judges praised him for having ‘the confidence to know when to leave a dish alone’.
Self-taught, the art college graduate says he cooks from the heart having been inspired by his parents who ran a pop-up in their home 20 years ago, and grew much of their own food.
His grandparents were Polish, explaining the name, and his mother is an artist originally from Cork city, while his father is from London and is also known for his charcuterie business.
Having graduated from art college, Robbie turned to kitchens and came to Ballydehob after a stint in Tankardstown House in Meath.
‘The plan was always to have my own place. We were looking for a long time and just really loved this building. It’s small, six tables, and a team of five to six, which is important to us as it’s all about the customer.’
Admitting it had been a ‘whirlwind’ since the award announcement on Monday, he said the plan was to keep things much as they are in the Ballydehob restaurant.
‘Bookings have been very busy alright, which is great,’ he said, adding that they’ll close the eaterie after the New Year for two months to spend the time menu planning and re-grouping.
Opening Thursdays to Sundays, Robbie admits the food business is a ‘tough industry’.
‘It can be gruelling. You put your heart and soul into it – often 20 hours a day but it really helps if you love what you do.’
Meanwhile, diners only have a few weeks to savour the delights of Mews, which will close for the season at the end October before reopening in Spring.
Famed for its tasting menu, judges said it was awarded a Michelin star for ‘the fine craftsmanship of chef Ahmet Dede’.
Owners Robert Collender and James Ellis have extensive kitchen and front-of-house experience in Dublin, and have had a star in their sights since they opened four years ago.
‘But we needed people with experience in that level of dining to do that, and do it consistenly, which is difficult to do. As far as we know, Ahmet is the first Turkish chef to get a Michelin star, which is great for him,’ Robert said.
The UK press were keen to claim Mews as their own this week, with the Irish Press Ombudsman pointing out a post by the Daily Mail Online describing the Baltimore restaurant as one of ‘Britain’s’ best dining spots.
Meanwhile, there was even more good news for West Cork foodies earlier in the week when Dillon’s in Timoleague announced they were celebrating their first Michelin Bib.
Run by chef Richard Milner from Rathclaren near Kilbrittain and his Italian/ Swiss partner Valeria Ventura, it’s a two-person show which they say is a ‘labour of love.’
Their focus is to serve ‘nourishing’ food, most of which they grow themselves.
And Kinsale’s Bastion has been successful in retaining the Bib it got in 2016 in what’s an incredibly tough competition.
Chef and owner Paul McDonald said ‘modern Irish’ best described the Bastion focus, adding he now had a star in his sights.
And the third Michelin star which was awarded to Cork this week – for Japanese restaurant Ichigo Ichie – also had a local ingredient, as chef Takashi Miyazaki admitted that he sourced a lot of his stock in West Cork.
It was all welcome good news at a time when the industry is struggling in many areas and the overall tourist industry is fearful of a hike in the 9% VAT rate in next Tuesday’s Budget (see also page 16).
There was disappointing news for Clonakilty food fans last Saturday when popular restaurant Farm posted on its Facebook page that it was closing after four years in business.
But striking a positive note, Fiona Field of The Taste of West Cork Food Festival said the awards for Baltimore and Ballydehob would put the whole area on the global map.
‘This is just acknowledging what the rest of us know – that West Cork’s food is exceptional. It’s long overdue recognition of that. Without a doubt, it will boost our food tourism as people are already travelling to these restaurants and it’s known that people travel to specifically eat in Michelin establishments.’
The icing on the cake, she said, would be if the food festival won the International Travel and Tourism Award for global food destination which will be announced in November.
It has been shortlisted, along with the likes of Catalonia and Northern Ireland, and Fiona said they remained ‘cautiously optimistic’.