Ireland is known for many things: rolling green hills, stunning landscapes, ancient castles, endless pubs and bottomless glasses of Guinness. On any given night in Dublin you'll make new friends while ordering fish and chips or devouring a homemade Shepherd's Pie in one of the dozens of pubs that line Dublin's streets. But venture outside the city limits and you might discover a new Ireland - one with the same green hills and endless views that preserves the history and heritage of Ireland's people and culture, but that also offers a bit of new to go along with the beloved old.
Powerscourt, one Europe's great garden treasures in the Wicklow mountains, is home to some of the most beautiful country estates in Ireland. Located only 15 miles outside the city of Dublin (a quick 35 minute drive from the airport), the Powerscourt estate is best known for its 47 acres of gardens, but there's something more brewing in the background.
The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt was buzzing with excitement a few weeks ago. The resort, which has only been open three years, was at full capacity the day Gordon Ramsay arrived and it's no surprise: the man's got serious skills. Forget the impression you have of the hot-headed chef who entered your living room via "Hell's Kitchen" screaming about undercooked chicken and lack of teamwork during table service. Ramsay is a passionate perfectionist and it shows in his culinary creations. At the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, the only Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Ireland was getting a makeover, and Ramsay was on property to make sure opening night went off without a hitch.
The original concept of the Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt restaurant was what you would expect from him: a fine dining atmosphere with an eclectic menu, an extensive wine list and white tablecloth seating. It's exactly the restaurant you'd expect to see at his restaurants in London, New York and Los Angeles. But this is Ireland, and while Ireland can certainly step up to 'fancy', it's roots are steep in casual and comfortable. The Ramsay team said 'out with the old and in with the old-with-a-new-twist,' and a redesigned restaurant was formed.
"Customers are changing, and it's important to recognize that things change and you have to keep moving," said Max Zanardi, general manager of the hotel. "A few years ago in the super booming economy, people were dining out three times a week. Now, people are going for dinner much less than before but when they go, they go for the kill - they want to know that the food they are going to get will also give them the best experience."
The new restaurant at the hotel is still called Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt, but the concept has changed. A wine bar and charcuterie table has replaced a section of the formal dining room, new fabric was put on the chairs giving off a trendier vibe, and al fresco dining area was put into place and the menu was completely redesigned to give guests options: everything from comfort food to foie gras.
I had the unique opportunity to step inside the kitchen with Ramsay the day of the new restaurant opening. I watched as he cooked and prepared appetizers of goat cheese tarts and smoked salmon canapé, and whipped up an entree of scallops within minutes that was arranged on a platter with precision. Ramsay takes a tired concept and spices it up with a dash of salt, a pinch of pepper and a few sprigs of fresh herbs and presents a dish that isn't just tasty, it's beautiful. But whoever said looks are important clearly didn't know food.
"It's not how it looks, it's how it tastes - that's what you'll remember," Ramsay said as he meticulously arranged the scallops on plate.
As for the new restaurant concept, Ramsay said it was simply time for change.
"The climate changed so we changed. We were smart enough to move directions," he said.
The new restaurant moved from formal and fancy to leisurely and authentic. You can have apps in the wine bar, full dinner in the restaurant, or enjoy dessert on the veranda. The purpose was to create an environment where people feel comfortable.
"I think people are slowing moving away from boring fine dining and they are going more to restaurants that can give them great food, efficient service, and less formality in a relaxed way," said Zanardi. "The Irish are everything, but they are not formal. There are not many places were you can have a nice wine dinner and then move into the pub for a night of pints."
And that's exactly what we did.