Ivory Tower restaurant owner: ‘I want to go out with a roar’

Seamus O’Connell admits it will be difficult to shut the doors on the business, but he’s looking forward to a fresh start in Kerry. Picture: Jim Coughlan

The Ivory Tower restaurant in Cork City is set to close its doors after more than a quarter of a century.

Chef and owner Seamus O’Connell has said he’ll plate up his final dishes at his first-floor restaurant on Princes St on March 31.

Mr O’Connell said while it will be difficult to shut the doors on his business, he’s looking forward to a fresh start in Co Kerry, where he’ll be opening his new 90-seat restaurant, a solo venture named Malarkey in Killarney town. Its menu will serve “Irish for the Americans and fusion for the Irish”.

The Ivory Tower was hailed as an exciting departure for Irish cuisine in the years after it opened in late 1993. A destination restaurant on Cork’s burgeoning restaurant scene, The Ivory Tower became known for Mr O’Connell’s highly creative fusion cooking, making use of game, foraged foods, and under-utilised ingredients including rare cuts of meat.

The creativity of his distinctive cuisine was heavily influenced both by early training with French haute cuisine chefs in Lyon and New York and his later sojourns in Nagasaki and Tokyo, where the tradition of Kaiseki, formal Japanese multi-course fine dining, would inspire the renowned tasting menus served at The Ivory Tower.

In the 2000s, Mr O’Connell presented RTÉ cookery show Soulfood and became involved in other food businesses including Pi pizza restaurant on Washington St and the ill-fated Shebeen Chic on George’s St, Dublin.

He won Chef of the Year at the annual Irish Restaurant Awards in 2004 and picked up numerous accolades and positive reviews in travel and food guides. Internationally renowned US TV chef Anthony Bourdain, who took his life last June, filmed an episode of his food series No Reservations with Mr O’Connell in 2006.

The Ivory Tower has courted controversy on occasion. Mr O’Connell was brought before the High Court in December 2011 for non-compliance with a HSE closure order on the restaurant on the basis of breaches to food safety legislation.

Mr O’Connell had continued to serve following the closure order, and still says he has objections to what he considers the impracticalities of HACCP (food safety system) requirements, including the amount of paperwork generated in a restaurant with a constantly changing menu. However, he has been HACCP-compliant since his High Court appearance.

Although Mr O’Connell will miss proximity to Cork’s English Market, where he has always sourced his ingredients, he said he’s looking forward to being “closer to nature” in Kerry. “I’m really looking forward to be able to do more foraging for ingredients,” he said.

We’re really looking forward to the last couple of weeks of business because I know there’ll be lots of people coming in to the Tower for one last meal. I’m going to be doing a lot of cooking: I want to go out with a roar, not a mewl.

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