Meet the French chef aiming to put east Cork’s new fine-dining restaurant on the radar
Vincent Crepel brings a wealth of international experience to his new role at Terre, which will open at the Castlemartyr resort later this year and offer a €140 tasting menu
“We think it’s going to be beautiful,” Brendan Comerford says, as he leads me on a quick tour through a suite of rooms that will shortly accommodate the country’s newest fine dining restaurant.
Comerford, the general manager at the Castlemartyr resort in east Cork, is in the middle of a busy summer season. But he and his team are also overseeing the conversion of what was the Bell Tower restaurant into Terre, which will seat 34 guests - eight of them in a private dining area - and serve a tasting menu priced at €140, with matching wines for €120.
It’s a bold move, but given the background of the resort’s co-owner, not an altogether surprising one. Peng Loh, a Singapore-based businessman with deep roots in Ireland, counts the three Michelin-starred Zen in Singapore, the two star Da Terra in London, and four restaurants with one Michelin star among his portfolio.
Loh has brought Vincent Crepel, a 38-year-old native of the south-west of France, to Cork to oversee the food offering at Terre. Crepel started his culinary career front of house, he tells me, but felt the kitchen was a better home for him.
“I was quite shy back then - I’m still pretty introverted - but I also wanted to express myself, so cooking seemed to be a good way to do that,” Crepel says.
His career would take him to Arzak in San Sebastien and the Hotel de Ville Crissier in Switzerland, before a move to Singapore resulted in a meeting with André Chiang, and a stint as sous chef at Jaan par André, which was located in a high-end hotel. It was, Crepel says, the job that changed everything for him.
“We pushed really hard in that kitchen,” he says. “It was a small team, and we worked with the best ingredients from France and Japan. I fell in love with Asian food, with the freshness, the acidity. I loved it.”
Within eighteen months, Jaan par André was ranked at 39 on the World’s Best Restaurants list. When Chiang decided to leave the hotel to open his own eponymous restaurant in the Chinatown area of Singapore, Crepel went with him.
“It was very different to the hotel,” Crepel says. “It was a small building, it was very personal for André; we weren’t just employees of a hotel any more, this was his place. I learned a huge amount there.”
A couple of years later, it was time for Crepel to move on - after so many years away, he missed Europe and had a hankering to get back. He didn’t head for France, however, instead moving to Switzerland to rejoin the kitchen at the Hotel de Ville Crissier.
It was a culture shock - “I arrived in December, when it gets dark at 5pm; adjusting to that after Singapore was a little tough” - but he settled in. He stayed in touch with Andre Chiang, however, and it was through him that he met Peng Loh, who was also one of Chiang’s investors.
A plan began to take shape for Crepel to open a restaurant in Paris backed by Loh. Porte12 would open in 2014, and would mark the first time that Crepel - by then aged 29 - had cooked for French customers.
It was a small place, but it made an impact in the city. One reviewer described Crepel’s cooking as striking “a great balance between comfort and finesse…the level of complexity in the dishes was just right; nothing was out of place”.
Porte12 would close in 2021, at the tail end of the pandemic, but for Crepel that wasn’t the only reason to move on. “I think we had done as much as we could do there, in that small space,” he says. “I’d grown a lot as a chef and a person, and it felt like the right time to do something different.”
He had never been to Ireland before Peng Loh approached him to gauge his interest in moving to Castlemartyr, but sensed that it could offer what he was looking for - a location close to a city, but also with the countryside and coast on its doorstep.
“I suppose, after being in Paris for several years, I was looking for something different, for a bit of wildness,” he says. “When I first came here, I felt energy, I felt that it was something special. So I decided to go for it.”
He has been living in Cork since January, and has spent the intervening months travelling to meet suppliers around the country. The menu at Terre is not the only thing that will feature Irish suppliers - the furniture is being made by Modet in Kinsale, metal coasters and other pieces are coming from Leeside Forge in Cork, and tableware is being sourced from Fermoyle Pottery in Ballinskelligs.
The wine list will focus on small, family-owned grower-producers who work with organic, biodynamic, and low-intervention methods. In particular, it will feature winemakers who have been reintroducing traditional indigenous wine varietals which were lost or replanted in favour of international grapes.
Maximum use will be made of the suite of rooms in the manor house area of Castlemartyr that will accommodate Terre. The main entrance to the hotel has been moved to the modern wing, meaning Terre will have its own space and feel like a destination in itself.
On arrival, guests will take a seat in a salon overlooking the formal gardens, and can order pre-dinner drinks while they peruse the menu. From there they will move through to the kitchen for a glass of champagne, or perhaps a pet-nat, while Crepel and his team give them a brief insight into their work.
Snacks will be served here before diners move to their tables, where all of their dishes will be completed tableside by a chef or front-of-house team member. After dinner it’s back to the salon for coffee and petits fours, along with a glass of Kopke port or ratafia, the famous Catalan liqueur.
“We want it to feel like a place where everything slows down, where you can really take your time, and for a few hours feel like you are somewhere special,” says Crepel.
“Ingredients-wise, I will buy the best that I can get, and some of that will be from outside Ireland. I don’t want to limit myself, but I’ve found some fantastic producers here for the menu.”
The menu will also, Crepel says, reflect how we live and eat today - there may be one or two rich dishes on the tasting menu, but his goal is not to send people home feeling like they need a lie down.
“I want them to feel satisfied, but I don’t want to give them a stomach ache,” he says. “A meal should leave you with happy memories, not make you feel like you have overdone it.”
He is understandably itching to get cooking, but while he waits, he has focused on settling into his new home.
“My father told me that ‘in Ireland, they don’t have the sun on the outside, but they have it on the inside’, and that is so true,” he says. “Irish people are the friendliest people I have ever met. You can be in Paris, in the middle of a city of seven million people, and feel alone. I don’t feel that here.”
He has eaten in Aimsir, Chapter One and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, but also in places like Sea Church in Ballycotton (“that area is so beautiful”), and is looking forward to putting Terre on the radar of Irish and international diners.
Given Crepel’s pedigree, a visit from the Michelin inspectors is virtually guaranteed. Could Terre be Cork’s fifth starred restaurant, joining Ichigo Ichie, Bastion, Dede and Restaurant Chestnut? Watch this space.
Terre's opening date is yet to be confirmed; for more details or to sign up to a mailing list, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the Castlemartyr resort, see castlemartyrresort.ie