THE Glass Curtain restaurant opened in December inside the old Thompson Bakery building on MacCurtain Street, in the heart of the reinvigorated Victorian Quarter.
Walking in is to take a step into the greatest hits of Brian Murray’s life as a chef: A Parisian bistro style interior mixed with an understated industrial feel; the open kitchen and the curvaceous bar from where serious cocktails flow...
It’s a beautiful space, serving exciting food with friendly, affable staff in an environment that makes you feel at home. But for Brian, this restaurant is his biography, writ large.
“I really wasn’t into food as a kid, the fussiest, plainest eater,” says Brian, 32, who lives in Carrigtwohill.
“I hated school and it didn’t like me that much either. I knew I was never going to university, but I loved music, in bands playing guitar. But then everyone started to leave and get ‘real jobs’ so I thought I had better do something!
“A musician I knew had been working in Raymond’s restaurant in Midleton, (now Ferrit & Lee), and he suggested I try it out. I managed to get in and started a culinary apprenticeship at CIT. Within a couple of weeks, I was as obsessed with food as I was with music. Instead of lying in bed thinking about lyrics, I was thinking about dishes for specials!”
After putting in the graft at Raymond’s and completing his apprenticeship, the next ambition was travel.
“I was always curious at what was beyond Ireland, to travel and see the world. I told myself as soon as I finished the apprenticeship, I was leaving, and I didn’t care where I would go.
“I realised that to be a good chef, you have to get good experience. A chef I worked with in Raymond’s said I should consider working in Dubai. So, at 20 years old, I moved to Dubai and worked at the Grand Hyatt. The hotel was a monster: 14 different restaurants, 700 rooms, banqueting for up to 2,000 a day. It was like a little city with in-house patisseries, bakery, butchers and fishmongers.
“Chefs working there were from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Turkey and the Middle East. I was just constantly asking the chefs what they were doing, why and tasting their food.”
Leaving Dubai behind, Brian began working on a yacht as a private chef. There was opportunity to travel more, but it was high pressure, long hours cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner; sourcing, prepping, cooking and cleaning for guests and crew — all by himself.
“The lifestyle was great, but he felt he lacked experience and confidence in his cookery. He needed high end, fine dining experience, so headed back to Dubai and landed a job at the Palm Jumeriah working for Yannick Alléno, a titan of three-Michelin starred restaurants.
“I was working as a saucier, cooking all the meat, fish, stocks and jus. It was an amazing experience — like redoing my apprenticeship all over again. Yannick was this stereotypical Parisian abusive chef, but at the same time the most inspirational person to work for: his technique, speed of plating — he taught me so much.”
Brian worked with Yannick for two years, gaining the vital experience and confidence he wanted. Afterward he was once more ‘Walking the Dock’ to secure a new private chef position on a yacht.
“I wanted to do that again because of the lifestyle, but also traveling the world and cooking my own food; working really hard but then docking in a Caribbean Island or landing into Corsica, Sardinia, Greece or Croatia in the Mediterranean.
“It was a great experience, but challenging too. I worked from 6am until midnight for three weeks solid, but then docked in paradise with ten days off! I was free to develop my own personal style, and every year I took two months off to travel and work a stage in places like San Francisco.”
Brian continued working on yachts, travelling, learning and refining his style of cookery for six years. Eventually, after over a decade away, the call to sail back to Ireland came.
“The deal I struck with myself was be away for 10 years, experience as much life and cooking as possible, then come home and have my own place. I’ve never liked being told what to do, so I knew I could never work for someone else in the long run. Establishing my own restaurant was just a logical progression for me.
“I was looking for commercial units when this building came up. I set my heart on it, I always loved MacCurtain Street, playing guitar in Lowney’s and going to The Metropole for the Jazz Festival, so felt I had a connection here.”
On the wall is a large photograph, found during the renovation, of some of the ladies that worked in Thompson’s Bakery.
“During the refurb, the landlord took me up to the fourth floor where they have all this old stuff from the bakery. When the bakery was downsizing, it was as though the workers dropped their tools on a Friday evening, closed the door and just left it; maybe ten years later they would close another room, then another. All the rooms were like little time capsules.
“We went through room by room, finding things like old labels and packaging for their Sultana Cake. We took those and made wallpaper from them for the ceiling of the bathroom and took our colour palette for the restaurant from it too: cobalt blue and orange.”
Brian wants diners to think of The Glass Curtain as a good time space rather than a temple to fine dining. His food celebrates the very best of Irish, specifically Cork produce, fused with flavours of the orient and then burnished with flame. It’s a style of food that is borne of his travels and experiences, but a style that even he struggles to define.
“Food needs to be delicious. There are facets of all my travels, little pieces from here and there, so it’s maybe not that cohesive: not one defining thing across the board.
“But if I’m pushed, it’s flavour — first and foremost, and then everything else comes after. The only thing that excites me is something being delicious, a big flavour profile that I want to eat more and more of.”
A stint working in Daniel Patterson’s Coi restaurant in San Francisco taught Brian everything he ever needed to know about precision, but he says: “The food was genius, looked stunning but there was no guts: nothing got seared or roasted.”
To Argentina next, and a meal in Buenos Aires where everything was cooked in a wood fired oven, kissed with smoke and embers.
“It was just all about a good time, great food and zero pretensions,” says Brian — an ethos he exported from his Argentinian travels, along with a passion for elemental cookery melding with fine dining to create his signature style: every dish cooked or finished on the Asador grill.
In music, as in the kitchen, Brian has created a songbook of his best culinary experiences, proving that good food is all about harmony: of time, of place, of people, of food. Let the good times roll.