Conrad Gallagher with his wife Candice Coetzee: 'I have my own past and my own demons'

Ten years ago he was the celebrated sensation of Irish cooking with two Michelin stars under his belt at just 27. There followed a high profile court case (he was acquitted on a charge of theft of paintings) and a stint in South Africa which ended rather ingloriously (he was declared bankrupt there last summer).

But now Conrad Gallagher (38) is back. He says he has learned his lessons and promises his new restaurant, Salon des Saveurs, meaning the tasting room, will bring the Irish culinary scene to a new level.

"I'm rolling back the clock 15 years in that I'm going to be there all the time," he promises. "I have gone full circle a couple of times and what I have learned is that if you keep it small and tight, you have one place and you run it well, being dishwasher, doorman, cook and host, you have a much better chance.

"I'd describe it as a small restaurant with between 50 and 60 seats. Essentially it will be a tasting restaurant with all the tables tasting tables, not full meals. It's a French concept: you sit down and have either five, six or seven courses, so it's all sorts of tasting sizes."

Gallagher moved back to Ireland in September with his wife Candice Coetzee and two young sons after the collapse of his Geisha Wok and Noodle bar in Cape Town. He was personally declared bankrupt and his assets, including cars, properties and even pictures of his children, were auctioned off to pay off debts of €187,000.

The chef says he didn't flee South Africa to escape business problems, but decided to move back home to put his two children, four-year-old Chandler and two-year-old Con, into Irish schools.

"It's difficult times out there, but I think everybody has gone through a tough time over the last few years. It's definitely been trying times. The only difference is that some people's tough times are more highlighted than others. I think everybody is different. I have my own past and my own demons and I don't want to get too much into it. I have no interest in going down the road where every single thing I do is talked about in the media. I try to concentrate on the positive stuff," he says.

It's an attitude that he has carried with him through many tribulations in a colourful career ? during court proceedings in Ireland his personal assistant at Peacock Alley, Sophie Flynn Rogers, revealed: "We had a rule that when I rang him in the morning on the way to work I couldn't give him bad news first. Nothing about money, I had to tell him something happy first."

In an interview with The Observer in 2003, Gallagher himself admitted his shortcomings: "I don't think you need to be a great businessman to run two restaurants. With four or five, it's completely different. You have to be a genius at business and I am patently not. In fact I am, as I know now, simply a terrible businessman."

Gordon Ramsey famously once declared: "Conrad Gallagher couldn't run a bath never mind a group of restaurants," but this time it will be different, Gallagher insists. He is unimpressed by celebrity cooks who are permanently absent from their restaurants and plans to be "hands on" in his new Aungier Street, Dublin establishment and keep things simple.

"This new restaurant, I'm going to run it as my own shop. Run it tight and keep everything small, the overheads are low and hopefully creativity and the uniqueness of my cooking will prevail ? that's what I'm hoping for."

The closure of so many other high-end restaurants in Dublin during the past 12 months hasn't put him off starting his latest business venture, but he is loathe to criticise his fellow chefs.

"What I've learned is that you can never comment on other people's businesses when you don't know the true picture. All I can do is worry about what I'm doing. Other people can do what they want. I'm going to go into my place every morning and leave at night and be cooking. If people come in, I will be there. That's a promise."