At one stage it looked as if it might not happen, but celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher (pictured below) finally overcame a series of setbacks to open his new restaurant, Salon des Saveurs, on Dublin's Aungier Street on Friday night.
The premises had been scheduled to take customers on Thursday but several glitches – including faulty laser card machines – delayed the opening by 24 hours. At last, though, food lovers filed into the new eatery to taste Gallagher's latest offerings to the culinary world.
At 7.30pm, the restaurant – which is small, intimate even – was half-full and relatively quiet, but within a half-hour the place was filled to capacity, with no sign of Gallagher, who was beavering away in the kitchen.
Diners were presented with four tasting-menu choices, each with six courses, ranging in price from a recession-friendly €24 to €54 per person. Half-a-dozen waiters and waitresses flitted from table to table, faces set, clearly anxious to make the opening night a success for their boss.
Amid the brand-new wooden furniture and freshly painted red and white walls – and despite the photographers outside and the Irish Independent reporter who couldn't get in – this was a relaxed and casual occasion.
The menu was equally unfussy, with prawns, salmon, meats and fruit desserts all simply presented, in mini-portions, and all done with a twist – uncomplicated and, most importantly, very tasty.
At around 8.30pm, Gallagher's wife Candice Coetzee, with whom he has two young sons, arrived and greeted diners one by one.
"I was at home looking after the children but I said I would come in and help Conrad on his opening night, and be here to support him. At the moment he is practically swamped in the kitchen," she said, before enquiring about how satisfactory the meals were.
A little over 10 years ago, when he was only 27, Gallagher epitomised the Celtic Tiger as one of the most celebrated Irish chefs, with two Michelin stars under his belt. However, he soon ran into trouble. First he was accused and then acquitted of the theft of paintings. He was then declared bankrupt last year after an unsuccessful restaurant venture in Cape Town.
On Friday, he remained ensconced in the kitchen until the end of the evening, when he came out to join his wife and chat with diners, looking worn out but thrilled.
The buzz word of the night was simplicity, with both the food and decor being decidedly minimalist. According to Gallagher, this is how he plans to stay afloat in recessionary Ireland. "I'm not too worried about the fact that we are a new restaurant starting out in a recession," he said. "If we work hard, keep our heads down and keep things simple and we will be fine."