Gavin Murphy: New Beginnings at the Old Inn

Thursday, August 03, 2023. 9:02pm
Gavin Murphy: New Beginnings at the Old Inn

Gavin Murphy is the Executive Chef at the Old Inn at Crawfordsburn. The hotel, which was purchased by Galgorm Collection in 2021, dates back to 1614 and retains much of its original charm, character and history

Hotel & Restaurant Times recently sat down with Gavin to talk about his career in the hospitality industry, as well as his vision for the Old Inn.

A native of Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal, Gavin first dipped his toe into hospitality in his youth, with a summer job in a local café.  He then made the decision to go to the Killybegs Catering School, at the time part of the CERT scheme.  While the two-year course was renowned as a very challenging and strict experience, Gavin recalls his experience there fondly, learning a lot there. It was during his time at Killybegs that he had his first job in a restaurant, working in The Moorings in Rosses Point.

After leaving Killybegs, he approached the owner of the Davitt Restaurant in Castlebar for a job.  He explains why he wanted to work there: “One of the reasons I went there was because the chap that owned it had also gone to Killybegs.  I had also heard that he was very good friends with a lady who owned an agency in London, and I had always one eye on London or somewhere a bit further afield.”


The connection proved invaluable to Gavin, and he moved to London at the age of 19, securing work via the Chef Centre agency.  “I got a job with a chef in Covent Garden, a chef from Kerry called Noel Smith.  And that was it, I never looked back!”, he smiles.

He worked in London until the mid to late 80s, working in a variety of restaurants in the West End, including in Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.  “One of the best jobs I had in London was in Café Maxim’s, in Piccadilly.  There were 40-50 chefs, and three different floors, so it was a good learning curve.  I started off there on the cold section, and ended up on sauce before I left to come back to Ireland”.

Gavin decided to move to Dublin, identifying it as the best place to work in Ireland at the time, with an improving economy and a fast-developing restaurant scene.  He worked mainly in restaurants in the Baggot Street area, which at the time was the centre of the food scene in Dublin. 

He also spent time in Pier 3, and the challenge of creating a fresh menu every day there was something he relished.  As he recalls, “We were learning but the diner was also learning.  Ingredients were changing a lot, and diners were keen to try everything out”.

He remained in Dublin up until 1995 before moving to Fermanagh.  “Northern Ireland didn’t get the same type of clientele that were going to Dublin or Kerry.  People weren’t necessarily coming there”, he says.  “The peace process encouraged people to come and by the mid to late nineties the North was really beginning to get into their stride, pushing themselves and advertising further afield for tourists to come.  I was lucky to get in on the early part of that, and I’ve seen it develop very positively over the past 25 years”.

Gavin Murphy: New Beginnings at the Old Inn

Gavin is now firmly ensconced in his role as the Executive Chef at The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn.  It’s his second time working at the hotel, explaining: “I had been here 12 years ago before myself and my wife ended up going to Cambridge for 10 years. I’m back in Northern Ireland maybe 3 years and I came back to work for the previous owners”.

The hotel was acquired by Galgorm Collection in 2021, and Gavin met with the group’s Food & Beverage Director to hear about their vision for the venue and liked what he heard.  “Everything he said was what I was hoping, and what I thought would suit it and where it should be going.  It was a no brainer when they said they wanted to keep me in the same position I was in when they were re-opening.  And I said yeah absolutely if the vision you have for it, if you’re true to your word, then that’s exactly what I want”, he enthuses.

The vision for the Old Inn is to position it as a dining destination, retreat style destination.  As Gavin says, “Galgorm has the masses, the big numbers.  They wanted to see the Old Inn as a couple of people coming away for a relaxing break with nice breakfast, nice spa, nice meal with a nice bottle of wine.  We see it as Blue Book style, couples coming that just wanted to chill out.  It’s a retreat with comfortable rooms, it’s a place to switch off”.

As Executive Chef, Gavin is focused on creating dishes that guests won’t experience anywhere else.  He outlines his approach to the menus he creates, saying: “It still might be a Sole or a Pork dish, but there’ll be a twist on it, it’s something they haven’t seen before”.

“We’re open three years now, and we are different from what we were with the previous owners.  We’re a little bit more modern now, we feel that’s what people want to see.  Do they want Michelin Star food for 2-3 nights if they’re staying here?  I don’t think so.  I think they want fresh, good, well-prepared food, well served in a relaxed atmosphere”.

The hotel was recently awarded an AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence, something that Gavin didn’t actively seek (“I didn’t want it, I wanted two!”, he stresses), but acknowledges that they are on a journey in the Old Inn, and the rosette provides them with a good base to build on.

Gavin Murphy: New Beginnings at the Old Inn

Gavin is positive about the approach that the owners have taken so far.  He says: “As an employee, we’re very fortunate to have a senior management team and owners who have an incredible vision and continue to reinvest in the property. When we got here, we hit the ground running straightaway.  We started tossing walls all over the shop within a week.  We weren’t relying on it to make money to spend money straightaway, which was a nice position to be in”.

Looking to the future, Gavin shares the ambitious plans for the Old Inn: “We were delighted to have received the AA Rosette and continue to build on this reputation, defining The Old Inn as a gourmet destination”.

“We’re also very proud to have introduced an exclusive resident’s spa to the property, enhancing the guest experience with unique experiences synonymous with Galgorm Collection”.

“I would like to, over the course of the next few years, be a hotel that no-one can get into because we’re full.  That sort of reputation”.

Gavin has great confidence in the owners.  “When they said they were going to put a spa in, I thought the space was too small.  But they saw what I couldn’t see, they had the vision for it.  When the spa opened it gave the place another big surge.  You’re proud of what they’ve achieved.  It gives you great confidence that whatever they’re going to do next, it’s going to work”.

The future certainly looks good for the Old Inn.  As Gavin says, “the property has been here 400 years, and the team have carefully considered all refurbishment works, to retain the property’s charm whilst updating the offering and experience for a new generation”.

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