Interview with Chef John Coffey of the Michelin Bib Gourmand Award Winning Thyme Restaurant in Athlone

This month we sat down with Chef John Coffey from the Michelin Bib Gourmand Award Winning Thyme Restaurant in Athlone. Thyme was opened in November 2007 by John Coffey and his wife Tara with the idea of showcasing the talented and passionate local producers the midlands region and Ireland in general have to offer in a relaxed and comfortable setting.

Thyme has gone from strength to strength over the years garnering many awards along the way. The food is best described as Modern Irish and is based on the seasons so menus will change accordingly.

Situated in the heart of the historic town of Athlone, it is only a stones throw away from all the local attractions.

Tell us how you started out on your culinary journey?

I guess like many chefs my mother was a fantastic cook. Everything was made from scratch in our house growing up and we ate well. My mother made everything from breads, cakes, tarts and jams to curries, casseroles and pizzas which developed an interest in food and good ingredients. I then started working at weekends for pocket money in a local hotel when I was 15 and I really haven’t stopped since!

What is the recipe to success for a great dining experience in this current climate?

The recipe for success is no different now than before. Good quality ingredients cooked well and served by friendly, knowledgeable front of house staff in a comfortable environment, for a fair price!

Speaking of the current climate! How have the Covid_19 restrictions impacted the day to day operation of your business and do you feel it is viable long term?

We have endeavoured to make sure that both our staff and customers feel they are in a safe environment first and foremost. We have reduced our capacity by almost 50% and have all sorts of measures in place to enable a comfortable/relaxed experience for our guests.

We run two daily menus which we will send out to our bookings during the day so they can have an idea what they would like to choose before they arrive thus making the most of their allocated time of 105 minutes and limiting the contact with staff as much as possible (even though this is quite an alien concept in an industry based around hospitality).

It is what it is at the moment however and we have to get on with it as best we can! If it is viable long term, who knows? At the moment we have plenty of people staying in and around Athlone but that is sure to decline once children go back to school. Our corporate midweek business, I am sure, is gone for the foreseeable future.

What practical supports would you like to see in place from the Irish Government to assist you and your peers in the hospitality industry?

Like many others I was surprised and disappointed at the VAT rate remaining unchanged. At a time where the hospitality industry has taken a real blow it was difficult to see how the powers that be didn’t see fit to reduce it. It would be fantastic to see the wage subsidy continued as is also to try and save as many jobs as possible because I have no doubt that things will deteriorate further before they improve unfortunately.

Where is your favourite place to holiday in Ireland and what food do you look forward to the most when you go away?

You cannot beat Donegal really in my opinion. The scenery, people and food are what keep us going back, I just wish it was a bit closer! A great bowl of chowder in a pub or fish and chips by the beach is what I look forward to, nothing fancy!

Did you find yourself cooking any wild and wonderful recipes throughout lockdown?

I guess I cooked a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally have time to do in the past. With the restaurant open seven days a week before Covid hit we usually just went for something quick that I would prepare at home but time was something we all found ourselves with lots of!

I found myself quite busy as my two daughters and my wife Tara quickly discovered that there were advantages in having their own personal chef at their beck and call. There were all sorts of daily requests, my eldest daughter, Éabha, actually kept a covid diary in which she outlined what she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day (with a grade on how much she liked it….or not). My very own critics at home, no getting away from them!

With Autumn and Winter creeping in do you have any seasonal ingredients that you are really looking forward to cooking with again?

Game is always a big hit with our customers so we are looking forward to having venison, mallard, partridge and grouse hitting our menus soon. We get all our game from Eamonn Giblin in Scariff, Co. Clare and have been doing so for years, he is a master of his craft.

Thyme Restaurant

T: (090) 647 8850 
E: thymerestaurant@live.ie
Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Ireland 

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