Cork city is buzzing — it’s great to be part of it

As the doors of her new restaurant opened last night on Washington Street, CHRIS DUNNE talks to Rachel Allen about the venture
Cork city is buzzing — it’s great to be part of it

Rachel Allen in her new restaurant, Rachel’s, which opened on Washington Street this week. Picture: Denis Minihane

“I’LL need a really fast mode of transport now to get from Ballymaloe Cookery School to Washington Street,” says Rachel Allen who is a celebrity chef, author, and mother of three. “I’ll be literally whizzing about!”

Rachel and her husband, Isaac, are “really excited” about their latest venture, their first restaurant, ‘Rachel’s’, which opened last night. The premises is a new landmark in the busy thoroughfare of Washington Street.

“We are so excited to have opened a restaurant in Cork City,” says Rachel. “The venue is just perfect.”

“I am still teaching in the Cookery School. There’ll be a bit of juggling with the children. But it’s all really exciting.”

Rachel will be clocking up the mileage between Shanagarry and Washington Street every day.

“Yes. It’s going to be a really busy time,” says Rachel.

“The last few months have already been really busy getting ready to open ‘Rachel’s’.”

Perhaps she could borrow her motorsport mad son, Lucca’s Formula 4 race car to get to her new place of work?

Rachel laughs.

“Lucca is totally focused on his racing,” she says. “He is so committed. He can’t wait for his 15th birthday in June so he can compete in the Challenge Cup series.”

Rachel, who is mother to Joshua, Lucca and Scarlett, teaches at the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School, in Shanagarry.

As well as presenting cookery programmes on TV she is a best-selling author of a number of cookery books.

“Yes, I have a lot of projects on the go,” says Rachel.

“The opening of the restaurant is the latest project. It is a year in the making.”

So even if she was in the final cut for the Great British Bake Off, Rachel would be hard-pushed to fulfil all her cheffing duties?

“Yes I was photographed at the secret venue for the programme,” she says coyly.

So she was a serious contender?

She’s not spilling the beans.

“Like most reality programmes, the element of surprise is really important,” says Rachel. “The candidates remain anonymous until the very last minute — so I can’t be the spoiler!”

For Rachel and Isaac, the opening night of Rachel’s made it a reality. The heat is full-on in the kitchen.

It is 53 years since the matriarch of the Ballymaloe Empire, Myrtle Allen, opened the Yeats Rooms to the public. Rachel, her granddaughter-in law, is keeping it in the family with the same ethos as the great lady, who was 93 this month.

“That’s true,” says Rachel. “My daughter, Scarlett, who is eight, announced that she wants to be head waitress! Joshua, 16, who was working on the farm in Ballymaloe, is starting work in the kitchen at ‘Rachel’s’.

“There is fresh, organic produce from the farm at Ballymaloe along with fish from Ballycotton Bay and meat from the Cork area on the menu. The menu will evolve with the seasons.”

There are some quirky features in the big space that resembles a huge warehouse, which will seat 130 people in the main area and will also have a private area for up to 30.

“Our first purchase was a giant pitch-fork from Patrick O’Reilly,” says Rachel. “It’s really impressive near the wood-fired oven and fire pits.”

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s opening, she said all the chefs are pitching in.

“The chefs are literally still unwrapping the plastic from the walls before they start cooking,” says Rachel. “The cleaning up and final decoration is still going on. But it has really taken shape.”

How many chefs are involved?

“Between six and eight chefs are on duty,” says Rachel. “The majority of them are graduates from the Cookery School. We have a really good team on board.

“There are about 60 people employed in the restaurant, including part-timers. Isaac’s cousin is joining us in the business and a great girl who trained with us at Ballymaloe Cookery School some years ago. I will be in the kitchen and out front. Isaac will be too.”

“Mostly behind the scenes, though!” says Isaac, “It’s all good fun.”

There must be some stress involved too, though?

“Yes, there sure is,” says Rachel. “It is all a bit nerve-wrecking to be honest. But we are working it all out.

“It’s good stress,” adds her husband, reassuringly.

Is he the chief cook and bottle washer in their seaside home at Shanagarry?

“We are fortunate to have a great live-in nanny,” says Isaac.

“I’m pretty busy all right. But the variety is great.”

The couple, married 19 years this year, have a lot of irons in the fire. It is amazing that husband and wife work so closely together and that it works so well. Any fireworks?

“It could be challenging,” agrees Rachel. “But we work so closely on everything else; I think we’ll be OK. We have to learn how to ‘park it’ before we come home in the evening.”

Where did the initial idea of ‘Rachel’s’ stem from?

“You know, I was looking for suitable premises for a year now,” says Rachel. “I considered opening in Galway, Dublin, and even London. Then the opportunity of the brilliant venue in Washington Street presented itself and I was sold. We really liked the building, the natural features and the old brick made for a really great atmosphere. Cork is really buzzing now and it’s great to part of it all.”

Can we expect any surprises — like Nordic cuisine, the kind her mother made?

“The cuisine is really quite simple,” says Rachel. “It’s all fresh and home-produced food from our brilliant food producers in Cork and Cork county.”

Will it be expensive?

“The food will speak for itself,” says Rachel. “It’s very affordable. The prices will reflect the quality.”

Caviar and crème fraiche buckwheat Bellini with crunchy slaw and Nigella seeds sounds extravagant.

“You will have to come and try out the menu,” says Rachel, smiling. “The buzz is fantastic.”

Among the first to sample the new venue will be staff from the cookery school, who will be enjoying their Christmas party; albeit a bit later than planned.

“Yes, the staff are getting a bus up from Shanagarry to the restaurant during the week,” says Rachel. “The party will be great fun. The piano bar is a lovely place to be!”

The cocktail bar has its very own unique menu too, including Bertha’s Gin which is distilled in Ballyvolane House.

“The bar will be open late Friday and Saturday nights,” says Rachel. “It is a small, intimate bar; a great meeting place; a really lovely space.”

Rachel finds the space to eat well and go to bed early.

“I find the fresh air really refreshing,” she says. “We are so lucky to live close to the beach. I manage to fit in pilates during the week. Exercise is important. It makes me feel a whole lot better.”

Rachel was also thrilled with her important gig, being Grand Marshall for the St Patrick’s Parade in Cork last Friday.

“It was an amazing honour,” she says.

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