As soon as you enter An Bhialann in Ranelagh, a homely and familiar feeling can be felt right away. Head chef Gerry Leonard along with his family opened the restaurant in two years ago (November 2013) and have created a lovely space over two floors where families are paid special attention. The walls at An Bhialann are decorated with personally chosen artwork and a huge window allows the guests to watch the cooks prepare their food in the kitchen. The cooks specialists on Seafood and Steaks with their cooking inspired by international traditions and experiences.
Gerry Leonard talked to us about his passion for seafood, calorie counts and Christmas!
Your restaurant is family owned and family run – what are the benefits and flaws of working in a family run restaurant?
The benefits are it’s easier to talk to each other and easier to identify problems. So, if something calls for attention, it’s not just pushed off because the whole family gets together and talks about it and will decide. The bad side is – you’re with your family all the time. But I prefer working with my family because in the end it’s easier: more honest and more open with each other.
What do you love the most about working with seafood? Doesn’t it get boring after so many years?
Seafood never gets boring! You can do anything you want with seafood: cook it slow, fast, quick, medium, hot, cold – you can serve it anyway you want. And it’s always fresh. It comes every day and you’re constantly waiting on delivery, so it’s always exciting and something new every day.
You have travelled through Asia and Australia during your career. What was the most important thing you learned about cooking during that time?
I suppose I learned a lot about the Asian style of cooking fish. In Asia there is a lot of fish in their diet, for example in Vietnam. So when you’re working in those areas, you tend to see how they do it: with bone and jaws on, the whole fish and maybe the prawns with the shells still on. That’s not something we generally do in Ireland. In different countries you learn different methods of cooking. In Australia you learn how to do more al fresco food, than you would probably do in Ireland because a lot of the food is outsourced. But a good chef learns every day!
Your favourite dish to cook for the guests?
On the menu my favourite dish at the moment is the scallops, they’re perfect for Surf and Turf. It’s a really fresh dish, just a few minutes in the pan and the scallops are cooked perfect. It’s fun to cook it, nice colours too.
And for yourself? I read about a special Thai curry that you cook…
Yes, I learned to make a Thai curry in Thailand by a traditional Thai family. We had lost our bank cards when we were in there and the only way we could stay in the hotel was for me to work there for a few days. An elderly lady showed me how to do the Thai curry and now I make that here sometimes. But I cook a bit of everything for myself at home though. I like slow cooked dishes, but I’m not fussy anyway.
Did you think about staying longer abroad to work there?
I had considered moving to Australia when we were there. We had a Visa to stay longer and apply for residence but it’s just too far away from the family. And what we cook here is not all Irish, we try to make a little mix of everything: French, Mediterranean, a little bit of Greek style, some Italian and some Australian tips within.
The Rock Glen Country House Hotel where you were trained was elevated from a 3 AA Rosette restaurant to a 4 AA rosette during that time. Afterwards, when you worked in Renvyle House Hotel, the restaurant was elevated to a 2 AA Rosette standard and won awards such as the best Country House Hotel. An Bhialann already has a “Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence” this year.
Do you think that awards are important for restaurants?
They are and they aren’t. It’s nice for the staff to see that their hard work is paying off and that they’re recognising it. Some awards are better than other, but generally speaking, it helps for the moral of the staff and they know that they worked hard and achieved something. So an award is not just for me because you’re only as good as the team.
Are you in favour of calorie counts being mandatory for all restaurants?
I don’t think I’m in favour of that. I’m also not against the idea, but it’s very hard for a chef who needs to come up with one or two specials every day to do calorie counting and make sure that every single dish is checked. I know it’s only an approximate and not an exact calorie count, but still it’s not only time consuming but money consuming too. All restaurants and hotel work of a very tight budget. So you would have to hire another person on staff just to do the calorie counts. It’s hard on the staff and hard on the chefs. We already have to deal with allergens which is not bad, but then we’d have to deal with allergens and calorie counts – it’s pushing the restaurants a bit too far to put a calorie count on every single dish. I also think restaurants are surprisingly healthier than most people think. But I think the way the government says they’re introducing calorie counts gives the wrong impression and scares people off.
Who had the biggest influence on you during your career?
Tim O’Sullivan. He is the Executive Chef in Renvyle House Hotel. Tim is a very patient man… and I wasn’t – I was young and hard-headed and tried to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. Tim made me sit down and understand what I was doing and why it cooks that way, how it cooks and the best way to do it. Many of the things he thought me we implement here.
It is less than two months until Christmas – what are An Bhialann’s plans for this year’s celebration?
To be very busy! We’re working on the idea to do it the same way as last year. We’ll have all the guests come in, we’ll have a nice Christmas party for ourselves, with the place decorated. We have plenty of parties booked and a lot of nice menus – we want to make sure that all our guests have a Merry Christmas Holiday.
Photos by Manon Gustave