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  • Changing Times…

    The Irish restaurant scene has changed dramatically since Bon Appetit opened its doors in Malahide back in 2006 (how time flies). In that time there has been a huge customer driven shift from formal fine dining to a much more approachable casual offering. Obviously the death of the Celtic Tiger has had a lot to do with this and the story has been covered numerous times. For me personally I think the recession brought a much needed sense of realism with it. During the boom years a lot of people lost focus on the true purpose of going out, there was a sense that they were dining out in the most expensive places in town, simply to allow them to then almost boast about it to all and sundry as a badge of honour, as against just enjoying themselves with great friends in a great restaurant. Everyone wanted to be seen and known to be seen in the swankiest joints and that was when the dreaded food snob was born.

    The food snob is the person who likes to pretend to know more than they actually do (generally it seems to be an insecure 20/30 year old and unfortunately a lot of them work in the food industry). They are the person who asks to speak to the chef to discuss the cooking technique that should have been used to cook their pigeon. Or the guest who likes to discuss the nose of the cheese and what mineral is present in the soil that their Pinot Noir grew. Basically the food snob is an asshole and thankfully most people have snapped out of it when realism landed with a thud in 2007/8. Us restaurants were maybe a bit complicit in the spawning of the food snob, as we probably indulged them way more that we should have back then.

    Since the slowdown the Hotel and Catering industry in Ireland has fought tooth and nail to survive over the last 7/8 years and have responded pretty quickly to the changing market in Ireland.  But the one mistake we made as an industry, and I’m as responsible as the rest in this regard, is we allowed the deal websites into our industry. This was due to desperation and panic on our behalf but it changed the way diners shopped and ate, sadly we in the industry were responsible for killing a lot of our own and damaging ourselves in doing so. A lot of the loyalty went out the window as desperate restaurants made bad deals, below cost deals, and abandoned all business common sense when dealing with these sites in the hope of attracting the holy grail of new custom. But there was no new custom, deal hunters bought this week’s ridiculously cheap deal where ever it was, and the following week they simply moved onto the next place, and so forth and so on. Naturally the consumer was happy but it created a false perception that restaurants were overly expensive and guests started to expected the sun, moon and stars for nothing. This in itself led to a natural cleansing of the industry and the good operators knuckled down and got creative. We should have never allowed the deal sites in the way we did as they took the little profit there was left, the casualties were quickly apparent with restaurants going bust all over the place. There is definitely a place in our industry for these sites but restaurateurs need to get clever and use them properly to boost footfall in the quiet times, but never at a loss! A race to the bottom never sees any winners sadly.

    The last decade has also seen a huge influx of foreign supermarkets with new and unusual ingredients and as a result we are now more open than ever to try new tastes and flavours. Ethnic restaurants have flourished during recession due to low cost ingredients, cheap setup costs, overheads and low cost labour and as food nation we have benefited greatly as a result. In both my restaurants we can clearly see the changing palates of the Irish consumer and it has allowed us to bring in new and exciting flavours and influences from all over the world and as a chef it is a huge breath of fresh air. For example I run a regular series of cookery Master Classes in Bon Appetit, and the best subscribed is always the Indian cuisine class.

    Anyway, an update from my little corner of the food world this coming month…well, next week sees the launch of “Not Afternoon Tea” in Cleaver East and again it is an idea that comes from our guests wanting something a bit different. Bon Appetit has built up a great reputation for its Afternoon Tea and we are seeing great crowds visiting us on the weekends to indulge. As a result I’m now delighted to introduce the same offering in Cleaver East, but with quite a twist! As you probably know Cleaver is a bit of different animal to Bon Appetit and we wanted to mix it up and bring afternoon tea to the 21st century. So, our “Not Afternoon Tea” is a very creative funky play on the classic Afternoon Tea offering, but with not a cucumber sandwich in sight. It’s a mash up of contemporary sweet and savoury treats, all served alongside a rocking cocktail menu. Not Afternoon Tea will be rolling out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Cleaver East, your going to need to pre-book with us, trust me, you won’t regret…


    Hope to see you there soon

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