FOR FOOD’S SAKE II:
Are Irish restaurants up the swanny?
That’s what we’ll be asking our panel at the next For Food’s Sake event, which is going to kick off at 7pm on Thursday 26 May in The Sugar Club, Leeson Street, Dublin 2.
(Note that the main discussion will kick off at 7.30pm sharp, but there will be some great food and beer tastings to be had from 7pm, when doors open).
- Joe Macken, restaurateur (JoBurger and Crackbird)
- Enda McEvoy, chef (Cook Wild Project, plus formerly Sheridan’s on the Docks, and recent stints in Gregan’s Castle, Co Clare & Noma, Copenhagen)
- Paul Cadden, restaurateur (Saba, & former President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland)
- Caroline Byrne, Dublin editor of the Bridgestone Guide
For anyone who may have missed the first event on Thursday 31st May, each bi-monthly themed night of discussion will be chaired by myself, joined by a panel of four guest speakers from across the broad spectrum of the industry.
There will be tastings from several Irish artisan producers who will tell you a bit about why they do what they do. There will be a chance to win some great foodie prizes (see tomorrow’s posting for details on what was won at the last event). And there will be a short interview with chef Enda McEvoy, who was the head chef behind Sheridan’s on the Docks – one of Galway’s most acclaimed restaurants before its closure last summer.
Enda has been a busy man since: he recently spent two months working a coveted stage at Noma in Copenhagen, recognised as the top restaurant in the world. Since his return, Enda has been hosting his Cook Wild Project supper clubs in Sheridan’s wine bar in Galway, as well as working some shifts in Gregan’s Castle alongside head chef Mickael Viljanen (who is becoming widely regarded as one of the top chefs in the country). Last Saturday night he cooked a feast of Irish food on Castlemine Farm in Roscommon to celebrate their Eat Only Irish For a Week campaign, which was a great success (more on that in previous postings here). And Enda has more in the pipeline, including a Wild Food Workshop at Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival on Sunday 29th May, and a new restaurant due to open in Galway in June. So, lots to chat about there!
If that’s not enough, Oisin Davis – manager of The Sugar Club, food writer (www.rockcookbook.com & The Ticket’s Booking the Cooks column) and For Food’s Sake team-member – will host a Karaoke Cook-Off between DJs Conor G and David De Valera, who will pit their toastie sandwich-making skills against one another!
And of course there will be a full bar to help get the conversation going.
So, Are Irish Restaurants up the Swanny?
After the success of March’s inaugural night’s discussion (which focussed on the opportunities and challenges facing Irish food producers) we now turn our attention to the restaurant industry. The Restaurant Association of Ireland, who will announce the winners of their annual restaurant awards on Wednesday 25 May, are warning that the industry is in crisis.
We’ll be teasing out this claim to ask, if they are up the swanny, how did they get there?
Did they paddle themselves up there on the back of the Celtic Tiger during the so-called ‘Rip off Ireland’ days? Are restaurants a great way to make a quick buck and are restaurateurs laughing all the way to the bank, or is the industry really in a crisis as the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) say? Why do we pay so much more for a meal in Ireland than the equivalent in – for example – Spain, and where exactly is our money going? What kind of overheads do restaurants have to deal with, and is there anyway we can bring down the cost for us all?
Is it fair to ask them to pay above the national minimum wage and to pay up to double time on Sundays? Is it fair to ask restaurant workers to take a reduction in their wages? Or is it better that employers and employees have the flexibility to reduce wages in order to secure jobs? And what about tips in restaurants – who should they go to and who do they go to? Should we tip like Americans or like the French? Which is a fairer system and which would give us better service? Do we value front of house staff enough? We expect better service but how can we encourage it?
And what about chefs? If you believe what you see on TV it’s a very glamorous, rewarding life, but what’s the reality? Why do even the leading Irish restaurants find it hard to staff their kitchens?
If we have had one Irish restaurant or coffee shop closing every day in the last two years (as the RAI have reported) and if we are to expect 10 closures a week over the next year, as they have warned, is this an inevitable thinning out of an unsustainable ratio of restaurants to hungry punters? Do we have too many mediocre restaurants in the country which have gotten used to being able to serve overpriced mediocre food? Is competition not a good thing for consumers, and will the result not be that only the fit will survive?
Or are all restaurants struggling with unsustainable rents, wages and rates? And will the result be that only the bland survive and that restaurants aren’t in a position to take risks with their menus? Is it a race to the bottom?
And for all the restaurants that closed last year, what of those that opened? We can all see plenty of vacant office and retail space around at the moment but far fewer vacant restaurants. Is there a certain type of restaurant doing well at the moment? Do they have a formula that the others should follow?
Expect these and other such demanding questions being battled out in a heated debate amongst the hand-picked panellists from across the industry together with what we hope will be another lively audience who will have more than their fair share to say. (The first For Food’s Sake event attracted over 100 opinionated punters to come to The Sugar Club and chew the cud, not to mention the complimentary smoked tuna, sour dough, artisan breads, chutneys and relishes.)
All this, for one of your hard-earned fivers.
See you there?