IT would have made his forefathers proud.
Fifth generation butcher Noel O’Connor is now seeing his beef reared in county Limerick being cooked by a head chef formerly employed by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and dished up in a London restaurant.
Mr O’Connor, whose family opened their first butchers in the city in 1892, was approached by Limerick restaurateur Ronan Branigan, of the Savoy hotel and Hamptons restaurant, to send twice-weekly supplies of their best beef to his restaurant, Saddlers, in the exclusive area of Mayfair.
Mr Branigan said this “beautiful Limerick beef is going down a storm” in the restaurant, where the best Irish produce is to the fore.
While the butchers supplies many restaurants in Limerick and Clare with their choice cuts, this is the first time they have exported their beef to the UK capital. “My father [the late Pat] would be proud to know that our beef is being served in London – which would have been unheard of five to ten years ago. It proves that the old traditional ways are still the best, even though they do take more time and effort,” said the former manager of Limerick FC.
On the menu, extensive mention is given to the quality of the meat, which extends from Chateaubriand to ox tongues and cheeks, which are becoming increasingly popular. “Saddlers beef comes from the O’Connor farm, set on the gentle rolling pastures of Co. Limerick in south west Ireland. The grasses here have the optimum composition for raising the world’s most favorful beef. The O’Connor farm cattle wander free all year round,” the menu states.
Aged for no more than 30 months, the beef is dry-aged for four weeks in their drying rooms in Limerick before being transported to London.
One of three children, the Ennis Road man began following his well known father Pat into the trade aged nine. While Pat passed away in recent years, his name remains over their William Street store, and he vows “it will always be dad’s name over the door”.
The family opened their first shop in Mary Street in 1892, and in Wickham Street in 1914, before later opening another premises on Catherine Street, led by his father and uncles, Noel and John. The William Street store has been in business since 1969. He said they have always raised their own beef, having 100 cattle at any one time, and graze them on grass in Ballyneety, Grange and Ballybricken. “The meat has a richer, darker colour and is more flavoursome when cows are grass fed outdoors, as opposed to being grain fed indoors.”
The meat is then cut in a “state of the art” cutting room in the Raheen Industrial Estate, which has been a tradition since his father’s time.
“I love what I do. I have control over all the stages of the process and to have the confidence to hand over meat to someone and know it’s going to be gorgeous is a great thing. Some people come back every week to us for our beef,” he said.
However, given the change in consumer tastes and the rise of supermarkets and fast food outlets, the role of the traditional butcher has been greatly under threat. “There would have been 51 butchers in the city 20 years ago; now there’s only eight. There have been incredible changes over the years and it’s harder to be a butcher now for a myriad of reasons. People’s lifestyles have changed, and dinner used to be the centrepiece of the day, but that’s all changed now.” His uncle Noel, another butcher, was made famous some 40 years ago with an advert on a local pirate radio station operated by John ‘The Man’ Frawley’, under the jingle ‘The Happy Butcher’.
“Coca Cola would have been proud to have it,” his nephew joked. Decades on, he too is continuing the legacy of the ‘happy butcher’ - his only irk being that customers continually choose a fillet steak (“a bit bland”), over the more flavoursome rib-eye or rump – incidentally his grandfather’s favourite meat.