Mates, Plates & Michelin Bibs – Davey O’Byrne of Richmond Interview

Lower Richmond Street is where you would have once found Gigs Place, a late-night haunt for party goers who fancied a full Irish fry after they had their fill of pints in the pub. However, now the venue has been completely refurbished and is massively popular once again, but not for its late-night greasy grub.

Sitting unassumingly in the former fry up shop is a restaurant known simply as Richmond. Gaining well-deserved recognition for its solid cooking, use of local seasonal produce and gaining (and retaining) a Michelin bib doesn’t hurt either.

The man at the helm of the kitchen is head chef David O’Byrne. When I meet him in Richmond on a slightly rainy Tuesday morning, he is dressed in full chefs whites and full of life. David, Davey, Dave….what do I call him? He instantly puts me at ease and tells me I can pick either, so I settle on Davey.

It’s sometimes scary meeting new people, and to sit down and have a proper conversation with a stranger is a little unnerving for a shy girl like me, but Davey is so nice and the best way I can describe him is sound. A simple Irish saying, but it sums him up, he’s a sound lad.

So how did Davey end up running one of the most interesting kitchens in Dublin? “My dad owned a restaurant back in the day called Dobbins, back in the 80s/90s. It was a really old school place, a business lunch kind of crowd and I was always in there.”

“My cousin was the head chef, along with another lad Pat McCabe, who I trained with, in another restaurant. Louise Lennox was in there at the time too when I was about 16. I worked there for years. Every summer I worked there in the wine stores, helping out with things, wrecking everyone’s head.”

From eight years of age, I was in there making bread.”

I tell Davey he must have a good knowledge about the entire workings of a restaurant, having spent most of his years exploring each aspect of his father’s restaurant. Davey is modest and replies he has “a fair bit” of knowledge, but I suspect it’s more than he’d admit.

“I did KP, wine stores, a couple of shifts as a chef, then I got a job as a commis chef there and then they had outdoor catering events, and that’s how it started.” It seems the restaurant business is in his blood, Davey says all his family has been in it at one stage or another, “they’ve all worked in a restaurant, waitresses, waiters”. Although Davey and his cousin are the only ones still in the trade.

Later Davey would spend time as the sous chef in Le Mer Zou, with his “mate Graeme Dodrill“, and they pair also shared a stove in Mulberry Gardens. Graeme is now taking up the reigns as head chef in Peploes, and although the two no longer work in the same kitchen Davey says they “keep nice and close. He was looking for help, so I went in there for about 6 months and gave him a hand.”

“I loved Mulberry. I thought it was great and I loved the food concept.” The bonds of friendship that are evident in Davey’s life are shown again when he describes his time at Mulberry Gardens as “great craic, it was just me Graeme and Jay in the kitchen”. Although he says the time there was good for him, it was time to move onto something new, “Graeme was leaving at that time as well and I felt like I wanted to do something on my own”.

Then Richmond came up and Davey went to meet the owner Russell Wilde, and it seems the pair hit it off straight away. Davey simple says “I gave him some menus, he was happy and it all worked out.”

I wonder how the crowds in Richmond have differed from the late night revellers in the old Gigs Place. “We’re very lucky to get decent clientele, we never have any hassle. We get a mixture of people, on Tuesdays we get a lot of foodies that come for the Tuesday tasting menu, or people just coming in for a burger and a beer.”

Richmond caters for a mix of people, those looking for an ever-changing and inventive tasting menu, or something more relaxed. Richmond is somewhere “you can rock in and have a burger and be gone soon after.”

For most running a busy kitchen might seem like a hectic affair, but Davey’s kitchen feels miles away from that. It’s a joint effort in Richmond’s kitchen, “no one is left doing a prep list for one section, we all sit down and write the list on one page and we all tack it out. We don’t have a pastry chef so we all take pastry, we all take starters and mains. Everyone does their bit, there’s no job too small.”

Comparing this style of working to other kitchens Davey says, “in other places I’ve been in, if you’re on garnish your prep list is massive, and you’re always stuck in the kitchen on your break and everyone else heads off.”

“So for Richmond there wasn’t a chance of that happening. In Mulberry we worked this way, and I just like the way it works. It just works well, and no one is stuck.”

It’s all of us, it’s not just me, it’s never a one man band, you can’t do anything on your own”

To create the menu Davey says, “we all sit down and go over ideas. Dan or Achmed might come up with an idea, they might have done something at home so we just try it out. Realistically Tuesday is the day we do the testing, that’s where we decide what works and what doesn’t.”

“It’s great for social media because you have different pictures and different content to put up. Certain places you get the same kind of pictures put up every few weeks. The reason why we change the menu every week is that we’re doing the Tuesday tasting menu.”

The popularity of Richmond is evident by the number of people dining there, “we’re doing 50 people every Tuesday and we’re booked up generally two weeks in advance, without people seeing the menu. I do the menu on a Sunday with the lads, and the menu goes up on Monday and already we’re full for that Tuesday and people don’t even have a clue what they’re eating, and then for the following week we’ve already got about 30 people booked in”

Numbers like that are music to a chefs ears, especially during tough times like these, where we’re seeing a number of closures. “It’s great” Davey explains, “but it’s really good value too. When we started it was because we wanted to open on a Tuesday. We were either going to do lunches like soup and a sandwich. But I went down Camden Street and I looked at all the places doing soup and a sandwich and the prices go from €6.95 to €12.00, it’s mad. I don’t know how you make money on that realistically.”

“So I came up with the idea of doing the tasting menu. At the time tasting menus were kind of dead, No one wanted to do it. No one wanted to sit down for 3 or 4 hours, they didn’t have that time. So we came up with the idea that we’d do a tasting menu that you can have it in an hour and fifteen minutes.”

Davey’s right, the tasting menu is cracking good value, I ask him how they can offer the menu at such a price, “generally what we do is, we use the cheaper cuts and do something really creative with them in different ways. It’s all the same ingredients people are using in the same seasons, everyone is using the same stuff bar a couple restaurants.”

Speaking about the tasting menu Davey says, “it’s a way of turning them into something different and that’s the whole idea, presenting it differently. We take one ingredient and break it down and present it in various ways, and people are amazed by it, and it tastes great as well.”

“Certain ingredients might not be Irish but all the meats, all the fish and vegetables are. We’re using Iona Farm (located in Oldtown Co.Dublin) and JJ Young. The meat is just unbelievable, and he’s not doing you on price, it’s good value and he’s so nice. He comes in every two days, even if he doesn’t have an order for us he just comes in and has the chats and then he gets an order out of us.”

“That’s the great thing about it! I might not be ordering something and then the next thing I’m ordering 10 kilos of something because he came in.” This relationship between supplier and chef is ever growing and something that chefs across Ireland are nurturing. Supporting local is something Davey is passionate about, “we try and do as best as we can.”

I think supporting local farmers is very important, especially at the minute.”

“At the minute we’re using Dexter beef for our burger mince and the ribeye, from Killenure, it’s unbelievable and we’ve started to get a little bit from JJ, a couple of the steaks are really good. We’re using their chateaubriand and that’s really really nice.”

While menu changes are part of the norm in Richmond, there are a couple of stalwarts to be found, “for the past three years, the only two items that have stayed and haven’t been touched are the burger and the date pudding.”

It was none other than TV3’s The Restaurant regular Lousie Lennox who taught Davey to make date pudding. He recalls that he “spent a year and a half in Dobbins just making date pudding, anglaise, and bread. So they both stay and everything else changes.”

The creative juices are constantly flowing at Richmond, “we’re on menu number 118 with the tastings. But now that we haven’t done the tasting menu in two weeks, I’m itching to do it again and I already have ideas. We are always writing stuff down, even if it sounds crazy we write it down and then later when you look at it it might make sense. It’s the only way to do it.”

“Realistically in each season you’re using the same ingredients so every week, we’ve to think of how to use it in a different way, but it is getting tough now”, he admits. “I think the tasting menu is what we got noticed for, we had a lot of reviewers in and they were all good, but when the Tuesday tasting kicked off, that’s when we really started to get noticed. I think that’s where we got the Michelin inspection from. He had a tasting menu and then he introduced himself at the end.”

I wonder was it nerve-wracking for the kitchen when they realised a Michelin inspector had been in? “That’s the gas thing, you kind of clock them. But we never think of that, nobody gets better food, nobody is getting a better-cooked piece of meat or fish or extra potatoes. Everyone gets the same, regardless of who’s in. If it’s chefs sitting down eating or whoever, that’s the way it is.”

Holding on to their Michelin Bib must have been a highlight of 2018, “retaining it was great, obviously, you don’t want to win a bib and then lose it, that would just be rough. But we haven’t changed anything since then, I feel like we’re just getting better.”

Setting the bar high Davey admits “next year is going to be a big year, I’m only getting started to touch what we want to do. It’s just trying to keep everyone motivated, that’s the thing, I think changing the menu helps. I’ve worked in places where the menu doesn’t change for three or four months and it’s mundane. So here it’s great. It’s very hard though, it’s a lot of pressure on the boys because they have to come up with ideas.”

“Christmas is the only time we have the same menu for four weeks in a row. We started in the last week of November so by the first week of December the lads knew the menu, it was just easy! Menu change day in any restaurant is one of the hardest days and we do it every week, you’ve to sit down and go over everything.”

Davey constantly sings the praises of his kitchen team, and it’s clear the respect he holds for them, “the lads are great, I’ve worked in kitchens where sometimes you’re coming in thinking you don’t want to be there and I always said when I become or if I become a head chef it definitely won’t be like that. We have a laugh in here every day”

“Once the work gets done on time, there’s no bullying, no screaming, and everyone respects each other. Everyone gets the job done and the customers are happy, and that’s what we care about.”

The perceptions about being a chef are far removed from the days of Bourdain’s wild kitchen experiences and less like Ramsay’s screaming fits, and thankfully so! However, the forgotten bad boy image of chefs hasn’t made an impact in the current chef shortage. “There are very little chefs around, and you don’t want to go into a kitchen having a chef scream at you. But I feel in the kitchen, we’re cooking better food when the lads are happy.”

Although the kitchen at Richmond is full of fun Davey accepts that “there’s always going to be problems, someone is always going to have an issue outside of work but it’s how you deal with it. Over the past years I’ve learned how to deal with different people in different ways, you know when to give someone an extra bit of slack or to maybe push someone else a little bit more so you’re kind of juggling things.”

Our conversation turns to the year ahead, and what 2019 holds. “Next year is going to be a new team, bar one person. Achmed is going home to Eygpt, and he’s really good. Dan is going to step away from the kitchen and travel a little bit in South Africa. Dan’s openly leaving but then I was talking to him yesterday and he’s telling me he’ll still be around so if I need any shifts. So it’s like he’s not really leaving.”

What a testament to the culture Davey has built at Richmond, that the staff barely want to leave, he agrees to say “it’s great, you know you’re working in a good place when people want to do that. The boys give so much time to this restaurant, and with that, I give them a lot of respect. I try and get them what they need or give them any extra shifts.”

We are like a family. honesty is very important, you have to be straight up, if you’re not happy with something then we deal with it.”

Talking about the staff Davey asserts, “we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them. We’re very fortunate, we’re all good friends. Davey and owner Russell also get on extremely well, “Him and I are the only two who have been here since day one. Russell put everything into this place, he’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for. He’s really fair and really sound. There’s a lot of compromises, he doesn’t say no to anything, he’s always willing to give it a try.”

So where does this creative chef dine when he’s not behind the stove at Richmond? “That’s a tricky question. There are certain places where I go for certain things. I try and eat in different places all the time. Uno Mas just opened, so I went there, it was incredible.”

“I like Il Vicaletto on Crow Street for Italian, they do really good pasta and wine. Across the road, Rosa Madre is really good! I went there and had a whole turbot, it was the best piece of fish I’ve eaten anywhere.”

There are so many places where you go for different styles of food. Myself and Russell went to Michaels there recently and it was great!” The friendships formed in the kitchen of Richmond extend further than the restaurant as Davey admits, “myself and the boys are going to The Greenhouse next week.”

So who of his peers does Davey admire? Are there any chefs that peak his culinary interests? I expected Davey to rattle off a few names of chefs making waves on the scene, but his answer is simple and heartfelt. He tells me, “I admire all the chefs who are giving their spare time to cook for Food For Thought.”

Food For Thought is an initiative set up by Richmond sous chef Daniel Hannigan. This series of dining events see the countries best chefs serve up incredible food whilst raising money for 3ts, Suicide Prevention Charity and awareness for Suicide Prevention in Ireland. On a personal note, Davey’s answer is very heartwarming. My two brothers sadly took their own lives and to see these young chefs and restaurants giving up their time for such a worthwhile cause is beyond admirable. It’s amazing to see their hard work and dedication being acknowledged.

“All the chefs, all the suppliers, the people who give their venue for nothing. The calibre of chefs that Dan has involved is incredible and it’s such a great charity. They are the kind of people I admire. They’re all the chefs that are coming through, they’re going to be the big dogs in five/ten years, they even are now.”

Asked whether he has any advice for any budding chefs who want to get into the industry, he says, “Just get the head down, soak everything up and give it time. You can’t decide after two weeks if it’s for you. Ask questions, bring a notepad in and write everything down.”

When asked what the future holds for both Davey and Richmond, he says, “we take every week as it comes. As far as Richmond is concerned, the lads and I are just going to do the best we can. We’re not trying to write new recipe books.”

All we’re trying to do is cook with good ingredients and give people value.”

“When we started off there was no Michelin in mind, hand on my heart. We just wanted to set up a good restaurant, everything else that came with it was a bonus. We’re going to keep striving, I have ideas for next year and there will be a couple of tweaks but nothing major.”

Davey strikes me as an ambitious chef, but one who takes things in his stride, he is happy to put in the hard graft without looking for instant rewards or recognition – the job is a labour of love for sure. Finishing up our chat he says, “At the minute Richmond is my life, one day I would like to do something on my own but for now, I’m happy.”

INTERVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH
David O'Byrne

Sinéad is a Culinary Arts graduate from DIT. She is a passionate cook with a love of fine dining and modern Irish cuisine. A gin lover, Sinéad loves seeking out cosy new pubs and sampling a variety of craft beers.

If she’s not dining out, Sinéad loves travelling the world exploring new cultures and cuisines. Working with TheTaste allows Sinéad to fully immerse herself in the Irish food industry.

Sinead Smyth Sinead Smyth

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