- Georgina Campbell award goes to Adare
- four and five-star hotels biggest disappointment
The 2019 Georgina Campbell Awards named Adare Manor Ireland’s Hotel of the Year. Former Sunday Press food reviewer Campbell described as “a love letter to architecture and virtuosity”.
“Just as every capital city needs its great restaurants, every country needs its grand hotels. There were far too many disappointments in all areas and all kinds of establishment, including restaurants where (oddly) badly-judged seasoning has spoilt many a good dish this year. Our least satisfactory experiences have again tended to be in four and five-star hotels (some of which would be better in lower categories), and problems are often down to simple things that could easily be fixed, plus a lack of hospitality (which often means lack of a host) and poor staff training.”
- Hotel of the Year:Adare Manor, Adare, Co. Limerick
- Restaurant of the Year:The Strawberry Tree, Brook Lodge & Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow
- Chef of the Year: James Coffey, Park Hotel Kenmare, Co Kerry
- Outstanding Guest Experience:Tig Congaile, Inis Meain, Co Galway
- Host of the Year:John Edward Joyce, The Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick
- Business Hotel of the Year:The Marker, Dublin
- Newcomer of the Year:The Foyle Hotel, Moville, Co Donegal
- Country House of the Year: Clonganny House, Ballygarrett, Co Wexford
- Guesthouse of the Year: Blackwell House, Scarva, Co Armagh
- B&B of the Year:The Castle, Castletownshend, Co Cork
- Hospitality Heroes: Ronan & Jennie Sweeney, Balloo Inns, Killinchy, Co Down
- Bord Bia ‘Just Ask’ Restaurant of the Year: Hooked, Sligo, Co Sligo
- Taste of the Waterways Award:Barrows Keep, Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny
- Seafood Restaurant of the Year:The Seafood Café, Temple Bar, Dublin
- Wine Award of the Year: Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin
- Pub and Atmospheric Venue:Pot Duggans, Ennistymon, Co Clare
- Family Friendly Restauratn: Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin
- Pet-friendly Hotel of the Year: 360 Cookhouse, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
- Hideaway of the Year: Dunnanelly Country House, Crossgar, Co Down
- Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year: Walled City Brewery, Derry
- Ethnic Restaurant of the Year:Ichigo Ichie, Cork
- Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year: Nash 19, Cork
- Cafe of the Year:Jack Fenn’s Courtyard Café, Belleek Castle, Ballina, Co Mayo
- Natural Food Award: Drumanilra Farm Kitchen, Boyle, Co Roscommon
- Street Food Award: Misunderstood Heron, Killary Harbour, Co Galway
Hospitality Hero was awarded to Ronan & Jennie Sweeney of Balloo Inns in Killinchy, Co Down, while a new, Spirit of the European Region of Gastronomy Award saw The Twelve Hotel in Barna, Beechlawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe and Gannet Fishmongers in Galway City cited (Galway, West of Ireland is the Eueopean Region of Gastronomy 2018).
Anonymous assessments undertaken by Georgina Campbell and her team of assessors are the foundation of these awards, and have been since 1992, when Georgina established them for the Egon Ronay Guides, for whom she was Ireland Editor at the time. Following their closure in 1997, she continued the Ireland Guide under her own name and this year marks its 20th anniversary under the Georgina Campbell brand.
Georgina Campbell said: “A promotional email about some other Awards popped up in my Inbox recently and stated proudly that their team had spent three months going through applications and visiting short-listed businesses. It is a perfect illustration of what is different about our Awards – we have spent three decades combing the country in search of the best food and hospitality experiences and each year’s awards result from a distillation of that combined knowledge, together with the new season’s harvest – once again gleaned independently from every county in Ireland. The pace of change, rising standards and the sheer volume of great new businesses opening – especially in Dublin and other cities – has made the selection process tougher than ever this year. But it is always exciting to see newcomers to the hospitality industry who understand the importance of standards and want visitors – domestic and from abroad – to enjoy Irish food and hospitality at its best. And, while the market is getting crowded in some areas, competition from new kids on the block often motivates established businesses to up their game. And, whatever the age or type of business, what we have always looked for is not perfection but real food and hospitality with real heart, and we’re finding it more and more, in clusters of excellence all over the country.”
“We have had some especially good experiences in areas where communities co-operate to promote quality and bring different elements of hospitality together. The European Region of Gastronomy 2018designation for Galway-West of Irelandwas a huge achievement for Galway and the region, and we have a special three-in-one Spirit ofthe European Region of Gastronomy Award this year, to illustrate the value of different types of business working together. It is an important step in the development of Ireland as a world class ‘food tourism’destination, which is going well thanks to vision and leadershipfrom top food professionals, associations and agencies, including Failte Ireland. Regional destinations – notably the Wild Atlantic Way and, increasingly, Ireland’s Ancient East– are seeing the benefits of energetic marketing and hopefully the new Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands,brand will do the same for the undervalued midlands and waterways areas, where many businesses are struggling. Islands are hot destinations again as stressed out city folk seek peace and simplicity, and accessible activities for all ages on Greenways and Blueways– notably the very successful new Waterford Greenway between Dungarvan and Waterford city – are introducing visitors to less visited areas.”
“Despite the huge popularity of casual diningin all its variety (and our Street Food Award reflects a growing trend in that area) there is no sign of fine dining disappearing. As we have often said, there are times when something special is needed and our best classically trained chefs are well able to deliver superb contemporary ‘fine dining without the fuss’ – increasingly (and excitingly), this is morphng into a refined gastro-pub experience. International cuisines are become increasingly diverse with more high-end ethnic dining destinations especially welcome; seafood is ever more popular and sustainable seafood is making its mark, while full vegetarian and vegan menus are now offered in many mainstream restaurants where just a single dish was once the only choice. The biggest trend continues to be in drinks, however, and – while welcome – with new craft breweries and independent distilleries still continuing to open on an almost weekly basis, it is time to take stock.”
“The unusual weather affected different sectors in varying ways – drinks and ice cream enjoyed a boom, for example, but the heat meant less business for restaurants in high season. We’ve enjoyed many good experiences again this year (too many, as usual, to recognise at these Awards), but again there have also been far too many disappointments in all areas and all kinds of establishment, including restaurants where (oddly) badly-judged seasoning has spoilt many a good dish this year. But our least satisfactory experiences have again tended to be in 4* and 5* hotels (some of which would be better in lower categories- give me a good 3* any day, rather than a low-end 4*) and problems areoften down to simple things that could easily be fixed, plus a lack of hospitality (which often means lack of a host) and poor staff training. On the all important subject of competitiveness, Ms Campbell said, “Rising hotel pricesare worrying, especially in Dublin – are we in danger of losing our hard-earned reputation as a value destination? Already frighteningly high prices are often hiked further for events – something we would like to see ended. On the other hand, it’s always a pleasure to find that our top restaurants offer exceptional valuein comparison with equivalent experiences in other countries (which, ironically, may be partly down to food being unsustainably cheap) and, to get best value for accommodation, customers can support Irish hotels and get best prices by booking directlyand saving the huge (up to 20%) fees otherwise paid to online booking agencies. But, to make this happen, accommodation providers need to promote the value they offer more and ensure that online booking through their own sites can match the ease and speed of the competition.”
Importantly, these awards are more than the sum of their parts as each selection is not just an accolade but illustrates a key point, so the collection as a whole gives a valuable snapshot of the best of Irish hospitality today, demonstrating its strengths and showing how good food and hospitality can lead the way forward to a better future for all. In this connection, the Guide calls on the Government to retain the current VAT rates once again in the forthcoming budget in order to help this important sector to continue to support our recovery from recession – which is far from complete – and to face challenges outside its control, notably Brexit.”
- GEORGINA CAMPBELL ‘Hospitality Hero’ AWARD 2019 FOR SERVICES TO IRISH FOOD & HOSPITALITY
Ronan & Jennie Sweeney, Balloo Inns, Killinchy, Co Down
A special award, given in recognition of the contribution made by exceptional individuals in Irish food & hospitality
The contribution that Ronan and Jennie Sweeney have made to standards in hospitality, and especially in the casual dining sector, is remarkable. Their ambition, when they took over the famous 19th century coaching inn Balloo House at Killinchy, Co Down, in 2004, was to restore its reputation as one of the finest country dining pubs in Northern Ireland. This they achieved with spectacular success – and it was just the beginning. Together with head chef Danny Millar, who is one of the region’s culinary leaders and a champion of local seasonal produce, the couple had hardly established Upstairs at Balloo as the area’s premier dining destination when another old pub, Lisbarnett House in Lisbane, came onto the market in dire need of TLC and the team struck again…It soon became The Poacher’s Pocket, with its terrific Poacher’s Pantry selling top quality meat, fish and game in season as well as bakery, deli products and premium drinks…Next came the charming Marquis of Downshire in Hillsborough, which was renamed The Parson’s Nose and was recently given the Sweeney gold dust treatment, emerging as an even more impressive old-meets-new dining destination last year.
The three Balloo Inns sum up all that is best about Northern Ireland food and hospitality for many regular visitors, and they have become the benchmark for quality pub dining. The Sweeneys make it all seem so easy and the core team has remained in place as their employee base gradually rose to well over 100. But this was real life and there were challenges along the way, not least with health issues, which inspired them to take action in a number of ways not only to benefit themselves and their staff, but also the wider population. To this end they started to raise awareness of – and funds for – Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) and instigated other programmes, such as an employee assistance scheme that includes counselling and a Chef Appreciation Week which, like customer feedback, must make the demanding work and long hours in a commercial kitchen much more rewarding.
All this is very typical of this caring couple, it’s just what they do. Ronan and Jennie Sweeney we salute you and commend the valued contribution of all of your team members.
2.SPIRIT OF ‘THE EUROPEAN REGION OF GASTRONOMY’ AWARDsupported by Galway County Council
A 3-part award comprising:
- Hospitality: The Twelve, Barna, Co Galway
- From the Land: Beechlawn Organic Farm, Ballinasloe, Co Galway
- From the Sea: Gannet Fishmongers, Galway
Achieving Ireland’s first European Region of Gastronomy designation this year has been a huge boost to Galway and the West of Ireland, but it didn’t happen by chance. Behind this great achievement lie many years of preparation and there were three deciding factors: the exceptional quality of local produce; great hospitality (the unique ‘Galway Welcome’); and – crucially – a strong plan for the future, with public, private and knowledge institutions coming together to collaborate. And this is very much an active plan, which is already bringing the designation to life through an exciting year-long programme of events, festivals, projects and initiatives that spotlight the region’s innovative food culture and celebrate its food heritage – all with the aim of focusing attention on the vital role of the food industry in Galway and the West of Ireland and how central it is to the present and the future.This admirable initiative and the exciting programme of events that it facilitates are built upon five main themes of Education & Health; Linking Urban & Rural; Cultural Diversity; Sustainability & Feeding the Planet; and Supporting SMEs and Innovation – all sharing a common understanding that collaboration and working together is the key to success throughout this year and into the future. www.galwaygastronomy.ie
The SPIRIT OF THE EUROPEAN REGION OF GASTRONOMY AWARDis a vivid illustration of ‘collaboration and working together’in action, showing how an inspired hospitality business teaming up with the best local food producers and suppliers can create memorable experiences that educate and delight in equal measure. From the dozens of outstanding businesses in Galway and the West of Ireland that are doing great work to achieve these aims, the trio below illustrate the point perfectly.
ERG AWARD CITATIONS(3 individual awards which complement each other to illustrate the ‘working together’ aims of the overall SPIRIT OF THE EUROPEAN REGION OF GASTRONOMY AWARD):
HOSPITALITY:The Twelve, Barna, Galway.
The clue is in the name and everything about Fergus O’Halloran’s boutique hotelThe Twelve(named for the stunning Twelve Bens mountains in nearby Connemara) reflects his love of place. Fergus, a Failte Ireland Food Ambassador, is a great believer in food tourism and the value of working with the local community. The Twelve’s motto “True to The Region, True to The Season” sums up the philosophy – and nowhere more so than in West, the fine dining restaurant that hosted the Westrononomy series of dinners celebrating the European Region of Gastronomy in 2018. Local producers – ‘The Twelve Apostles’ – are the heroes on Chef Martin O’Donnell’s menus, a list that will vary with the seasons but always includes superb suppliers from the Land, such as Padraig Fahy and Una Ní Bhroin’s Beechlawn Organic Farmat Ballinsaloe, and from the Sea, notably Stefan Griesbach’s Gannet Fishmongers,famous for their support of local and sustainable fishing. Chef O’Donnell’s respect for the quality and integrity of his culinary palette is obvious in cooking that is sophisticated and beautiful, yet retains an essential simplicity that allows the ingredients to star: memorable dining and a perfect example of ‘collaboration and working together’. www.thetwelvehotel.ie
FROM THE LAND:Beechlawn Oranic Farm, Ballinasloe, Co Galway
Having gradually built up production from small beginnings in 2002, Padraig Fahy and Una Ní Bhroin’s Beechlawn Organic Farmat Ballinsaloe has earned its place as one of the most highly respected organic producers in Ireland. Famed for the range and quality of their produce, the farm is run in a very visitor-friendly way – it’s a National Organic Demonstration Farm and earlier this month they held a family day to celebrate the European Region of Gastronomy 2018with guest speakers, cookery demonstrations and tours of their polytunnels and fields (also available to groups at other times). Now with about 25 acres of land in full production, they grow both field and protected crops – for retail, including online sales, and for direct supply to restaurants and hotels. It’s always a treat to see Beechlawn produce named on menus, including special events such as last January’s IHF Hospitality Ball (which showcased Beechlawn Farm as part of the soup course) as well as regular supporters such as The Twelve in Barna and many other caring establishments in Galway and beyond. www.beechlawnfarm.org
FROM THE SEA: Gannet Fishmongers, Galway
A friendly and familiar face at markets and a trusted supplier to the hospitality industry, Stefan Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongersis a legend in the West of Ireland – not only does he supply “the best quality, best value in locally sourced, wild Irish fish”, but he is also a great source of information about fish and the fish industry, and one of its proudest champions. While there are many excellent seafood suppliers in Galway, Gannet is the supplier of choice for many hotels and restaurants, including The Twelve. He is among the few to treat fish as a seasonal food and to educate customers about it, both directly when chatting to people at markets and through participation in customer events, such as the ‘Brasserie on the Corner’ wine and fish pairing, which allow him to explain his passion for fish and why we should eat more. Stefan fascinated the audience at Food on the Edge in 2017, by talking about all other types of fish that we should be eating, not just those that are well known. An innovative businessman, he launched an app for mobile orders this year, and everything he does is carefully considered – even the bags he uses are bio-degradeable. But most all, he’s just famous for great fresh fish. www.eatmorefish.ie
- HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2019
Adare Manor, Adare, Co Limerick
As long as we have great independent hotels an important aspect of this country’s unique appeal will be in safe hands. We must treasure them, while we can.
Just as every capital city needs its great restaurants, every country needs its grand hotels – and it was a very good day for Ireland when one of its most important properties and the former home of the Earls of Dunraven, Adare Manor, came into the caring ownership of Limerick businessman J.P. McManus in 2015. Following extensive and painstaking restoration (‘a love letter to architecture and virtuosity’), this five star resort – which is synonymous with the postcard-pretty village of Adare – re-opened to well-deserved acclaim in November 2017. The magnificent neo-Gothic mansion is set on 900 acres on the banks of the River Maigue and, thanks to the recent (and ongoing) TLC, it is now living up to its beautiful surroundings once again and enjoying a new lease of life charming visitors from Ireland and around the world with its tasteful luxury, excellent food and engaging staff. And best of all, perhaps, while very much a five-star resort, the revitalised hotel and its surrounding estate still retains its original familial warmth and we salute it especially for that. A stunning destination.
- RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
The Strawberry Tree, BrookLodge & Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow
At a time when new restaurants are stealing the limelight every month it’s reassuring to know that some of the long-established gems are as delightful, and (at least) as relevant, as the day they first opened.
The value of wild, organic and sustainable seasonal food is at last gaining mainstream recognition, but it was a very different story in 1988 – the year when Evan Doyle opened Ireland’s first certified organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree, in Killarney, Co Kerry. It was a brave move at the time, and in a seasonal holiday destination at that, but Evan’s genius for creating charmingly rustic surroundings gave it great appeal to visitors – who were especially fascinated by the turf fire and chimney crane, where he was sometimes known to demonstrate baking bread in a cast-iron bastible cooking pot. And the food was delicious of course, so it thrived and moved with Evan to County Wicklow in 1999, when he and his brothers, Eoin and Bernard, opened what is now the wonderful BrookLodge and Macreddin Village. Today Evan has a fantastic team – headed up at The Strawberry Tree by Chef James Kavanagh – all promoting Irish SeaFoods, Irish FarmFoods and Irish WildFoods to a world that is at last beginning to listen. As Evan states with pride: “each and every menu served at The Strawberry Tree Restaurant has paid homage to the Farmer, the Producer & the Supplier of our Organic Foods.” Simply inspired – a 30thanniversary well worth celebrating.
- CHEF OF THE YEAR 2019
James Coffey, Park Hotel Kenmare, Co Kerry
Casual dining may still be the big story but fine dining is far from dead – and, regardless of style, the restaurants that are performing best are those led by people like our Chef of the Year, who are grounded in classical cooking. And, in this case, a beautiful setting lends a special sense of occasion.
There is much to admire about those great chefs – and we have a good many of them in Ireland – who are not afraid of being in the public eye and use their profile to highlight important issues, not least the importance of valuing the treasure trove on our doorstep that is our wonderful Irish produce. But there is another kind of chef in some of our leading kitchens that we don’t hear very much about, because these shy retiring people just focus all their talent and energy on creating the great meals that make for a memorable dining experience. Our Chef of the Year is one of those, a classically trained chef who has quietly led the kitchen team in one of our most famous and well-loved hotels for the past five years, and – backed up by a terrific front of house team – whose superb cooking consistently delights a discerning and appreciative clientèle. So let’s hear it for those gifted chefs who enjoy their kitchen space too much to leave it without a great deal of persuasion.
- “JUST ASK” RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR AWARD 2019
Hooked, Sligo, Co Sligo
“Just Ask!” is a public awareness campaign that aims to encourage consumers when eating out to look for information on where the food (particularly meat) on their plate comes from, and encourages chefs to provide this information on their menus. The programme supports both large and smaller artisan suppliers, encouraging both Irish diners and visitors from abroad to support restaurants that are in turn supporting their suppliers. The Bord Bia “Just Ask!” Restaurant of the Year Award is chosen from the year’s winners selected for the Guide’s monthly e-zine. There have been some superb “Just Ask!” winners over the years, and it is great to see younger chefs coming through who live the philosophy and take pride in showcasing the best of local produce.
Named after the meat hooks once used in his father’s traditional butchers shop, Sligo restaurateur Anthony Gray and his wife Ailish have even incorporated the original butchers block in the bar of this atmospheric venue, and some of the old shop’s favourite butchery products live on too, through Head Chef Joe McGlynn’s menus – including Joe Gray’s award winning sausages, which have been faithfully recreated for the restaurant. There’s a genuine passion for local food. Anthony has championed local producers for many years and is Chairman of the Sligo Food Trail, while Joe McGlynn has trained and worked with several inspiring chefs including the peerless Paul Flynn, of The Tannery in Dungarvan. So it’s no surprise that the menu pays tribute to the host of special people and businesses that supply the kitchen with flavourful ingredients, including the unique Andarl Farm (free range ‘velvet’ pork and bacon), esteemed butchers Sherlocks of Tubbercurry and Kelly’s of Newport, Ballisodare Free Range Eggs, Sligo LETS Organics, Le Fournil bakery (next door) and even Mammy Johnston’s ice cream, made in Strandhill… Joe’s menus offer something for everyone, but the crowning glory has to be the beef – many would travel especially for Sherlock’s Finest Rib Eye Steak (and a side of White Hag Onion Rings is highly recommended). A great example of why supporting local producers makes sense, Hooked is deservedly popular with locals and a delightful find for visitors to Sligo Town.
- A TASTE OF THE WATERWAYS AWARD 2019
Barrows Keep, Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny
Ireland’s inland waterways are nothing short of a national treasure yet, for most people, they’re very much an adventure waiting to happen. In 1999 GCGuides started an independent Taste of the Waterways guide which, with the support of Waterways Ireland in later years, developed to include accommodation and Things To Do Along The Way as well as the best places to eat and drink. Presenting the waterways as an amenity for all to enjoy and not just boating folk, the A Taste of the Waterways Award is especially dear to our hearts.
Kilkenny or Carlow, take your pick – the picturesque twinned riverside villages of Tinnahinch and Graiguenamanagh (known jointly as ‘Graigue’ and generally attributed to Kilkenny) flank the old arched bridge across the River Barrow at this historic place – and one of its most recently settled treasures is the serenely atmospheric Barrows Keep. It’s owned by Stephen McArdle and Morgan VanderKamer, well known to Dublin diners from their previous business Stanley’s Restaurant and Wine Bar (winner of our Wine Award in 2016), and now delighted with their new life. “Our goal at Barrows Keep has been to source as locally as possible and, where possible, organically. We consistently focus on small producers who are making a stamp on the local area. We strive to work seasonally and feature produce on our menus that reflects the season’s offerings.” A wonderful philosophy and one that explains the exceptional flavour of Stanley’s beautifully cooked food – not fussy or showy, just thoughtfully created, very seasonal and enticingly presented, it partners perfectly with the lovely room and its many photographs and artworks …All this and immaculate, warmly professional service – and, for many, the highlight of a visit here (and a speciality that brings connoisseurs from a wide area) is the wine offering. Morgan’s list is carefully selected to encourage guests to try less familiar wines, and she still hosts her Wine Club as often as possible too. A must-visit for any food (or wine) lover coming to this hauntingly beautiful area.
- SEAFOOD RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
The Seafood Café by Niall Sabongi, Temple Bar, Dublin
Although we eat less fish at home than might be expected for an island nation, everybody – whether living in Ireland or just visiting – seems to love seafood when eating out, so it’s an increasingly vibrant sector of the restaurant industry. Focusing on provenance is key to supporting the best fishermen and producers and ensuring the best consumer experience, something that BIM have been working on for some time through initiatives like the very successful Seafood Circle(which we were pleased to be involved with), and – jointly with Failte Ireland – the West Coast seafood trail, ‘Taste the Atlantic – a Seafood Journey’ which links a number of Wild Atlantic Way seafood restaurants and their suppliers in a visitor-friendly way. And, increasingly, individual restaurants and chefs are taking up the promotional challenge too, through initiative such as Kids Seafood September.
Perhaps the location seems unlikely, but a compact corner café in the shadow of the old Central Bank is home to one of Dublin’s most forward-looking seafood restaurants. Raising the standard of fish and shellfish in Ireland, The Seafood Café by Niall Sabongi continues the creativity and quest for quality established by the popular chef at his other venues – the nearby Klaw, and Poké by Niall Sabongi across the river – and is supplied by his own wholesale company, Sustainable Seafood Ireland. Given the small space, the menu is lengthy, and imaginative. A seasonal selection of oysters from The Burren, Waterford, Galway Bay and Connemara can be ordered naked or dressed and torched, for example, and these are joined by excellent Irish shellfish – grilled local lobster, whole Dublin Bay Prawns, dressed local crab perhaps – and other fish in season. We may associate lobster rolls with New England, but given Sabongi’s clever formula, we’re edging closer to establishing New Ireland seafood as the benchmark in excellence. And, together with his friend and fellow chef Gaz Smith (see Family Friendly Restaurant of the Year), Niall is working on the next generation through their Kids Seafood September initiative which has gone nationwide this year – proof, if it were needed, that if you want to make things happen this Failte Ireland Food Champion is just the man to have on your side.
- OUTSTANDING GUEST EXPERIENCE 2019
Tig Congaile, Inis Meain, Co Galway
What makes a great hospitality experience? Ireland is blessed with a generous sprinkling of those uniquely satisfying places where beautiful and enriching surroundings combine with an owner who is exceptionally gifted in hospitality and conveys that gift to everyone and everything associated with the business.
Ireland’s offshore islands are keenly sought-after destinations these days, loved for their other worldliness and sense of continuity with an almost forgotten way of life – and they can offer some famous places to eat and stay in the tourism mix. But sometimes the simpler and longer-established places can provide an especially memorable experience. Sitting outside on a fine day, the peace and the view make Vilma and Padric Conneely’s Inis Meain restaurant and accommodation feel like the best spot on the island, for example. A pioneer of what has become the new food movement, Vilma (who worked in banking in California, met and married Padric, came back home with him and opened Tigh Congaile 1993) has always loved using organic and sea vegetables – long before it became popular. Her wonderful Sea Vegetable Soup is a speciality known well beyond the islands, and was a favourite of the late great Myrtle Allen, no less. Dinner here is really good and, even though less publicised than some of the restaurants on the islands, Vilma’s cooking is on a par with the best – and a stay here will linger long in the mind.
- HOST OF THE YEAR 2019
John Edward Joyce,The Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick
Every time a visitor satisfaction survey is published the results are the same, with Ireland’swonderful scenery (still impressive, despite our best efforts over the last decade) and the warmth and friendliness of the people coming up trumps every time. There was some slippage in the boom years, when visitors were not always welcomed by staff familiar with the local area, and staff in the larger establishments were often too busy to give the individual attention that makes a stay memorable – and we are still encountering too many examples of unwelcoming staff and offhand, uninterested service. But when it is right, Irish hospitality really is unique.
Times change and life moves on, a fact that can be hard to accept for regular guests when a much-loved host decides to retire – but there were no such worries at this wonderful country house and restaurant when the time came for a change of guard. Established in 1985 as a restaurant by that great Limerick hotelier, Dan Mullane, The Mustard Seed started life in Adareand later moved just ten minutes drive away to Echo Lodge, a spacious Victorian hideaway set on seven acres of lovely gardens, with mature trees, shrubberies, kitchen garden and orchard – and very luxurious accommodation. Deciding to retire in 2016, Dan passed the baton to long time manager, John Edward Joyce, and this magical hideaway could not be in safer hands. The transition was seamless, and everyone is happy. Whether it be welcoming new guests on arrival, reminiscing with regulars, or guiding diners towards the best wine choice to accompany Chef Angel Pirev’s superb dinners, John Edward is the genial host par excellence – and his long association with the house, and the area, makes him the perfect guide, ensuring that the very best time is had by all. Just what Irish hospitality is all about in fact.
- BUSINESS HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2019
The Marker, Dublin
While other guides are focused solely on the leisure market, we have always taken the needs of business guests into account when making our selections. Business tourism is a developing sector in the Irish tourism industry (see www.meetinireland.com for further information) and we seek out business destinations offering not only outstanding amenities but also high levels of comfort and service – and good food.
Overlooking the Grand Canal Basin, this Manuel Aires Mateus designed building is Dublin city’s most striking modern hotel – and, despite having the attention-grabbing Bord Gais Energy Theatre as aneighbour, it holds its own as a landmark building. The location and outstanding amenities – including a fabulous rooftop bar, a Spa with 23-metre infinity pool and what may well beDublin’s most appealing Presidential Suite -ensure its popularity as a leisure destination, but this luxurious hotel is also one of the capital’s most desirable places to do business. Dedicated staff and a wide range of conference and meeting spaces are among the attractions – all on the ground floor and boasting un-intrusive technology, most have natural daylight and some also have direct access to the adjacent Chimney Park which is an attractive option for breakout times. But perhaps the trump card is Head Chef Gareth Mullins, who has earned the hotel an enviable reputation for its food – and, while the food offering may sometimes seem like an afterthought in comparison with amenities and service, that can often be the clincher when deciding on a business venue.
- WINE AWARD OF THE YEAR 2019
Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin
Craft beers and independent distilleries have been making all the headlines in recent years – and the best ones are very deserving of their success – but they won’t ever replace that special relationship that we have with wine, the way that it can enhance the dining experience,and its endless variety that can be a particular focus of interest in itself.Along with other aspects of the wine lover’s experience – including educational events – what this award is all about is a passion for the individuality of wines, and their makers.
The hospitality gene is happily prevalent in Ireland – and at its very best when it coincides with the oenology gene, as it most certainly does at the former Silver Tassie, off the N11. Here wine industry veteran David Whelehan (son of the legendary ’TP’) leads an impressive team, including sommelier Martina Delaney and chef Nick Clapham, at his temple to great wine and food. At its heart lies a superb, expertly staffed wine store, offering wines from many of Ireland’s best importers alongside Whelehan’s exclusive imports directly from small wineries they know and love, alongside a well-curated selection from Irish craft beer and cider producers. And then there is also the delicious smart modern food served in the bright wine bar at the back of the building, and drinks that include ‘blend W’ coffee roasted to bespoke specs in Wicklow. And, best of all perhaps, is the Wine School, operated by the unique ’W’ team of experts in their beautiful Tasting Room. A unique destination for wine lovers – and many who have yet to become wine lovers: well worth planning a trip.
- PUB & ATMOSPHERIC VENUE OF THE YEAR 2019
Pot Duggans, Ennistymon, Co Clare
While Irish pubs in general are going through a challenging time, the pub experience remains one of the highlights of a visit to this country for visitors from abroad, who love the unique atmosphere and the craic. And as long as there are new pubs as delightful as this one coming on stream, the future of the Irish pub is assured.
Imaginatively converting an old pub, forge and cow byre – and focusing on freshness, flavour and simplicity in the kitchen – put Dublin publican Trev O’Shea’s latest venture, Pot Duggans, firmly on the map from the get-go. While it may be very simple, there is a strong Ballymaloe-influenced kitchen team in place and the mainly local and seasonal food that they offer is oh-so-delicious. With a few indoor seats in the old bar, and more in the courtyard and at waterside tables beside the Inagh River, it’s a delightful place to relax and enjoy this tasty fare – and to relish the drink, of course, which has an equal emphasis on local (or at least Irish) provenance. But, charming as that is, there is even more to Pot Duggans than an old world pub and beer garden – the converted outbuildings also make it a wonderfully atmospheric venue for private parties and events, including live music of course, and also a regular craft fair and a Wine & Cheese festival among others. Another great pub for County Clare.
- NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 2019
The Foyle Hotel by Chef Brian McDermott, Moville, Co Donegal
This is always one of our most exciting awards … the ‘short list’ is anything but – and how could it be otherwise when the establishments under consideration are all fresh and new and full of enthusiasm? Recent openings have mainly been in cities, especially Dublin, so it is particularly pleasing to give recognition to an exciting new business in a much less obvious location.
A wide main street lined with impressive Victorian buildings hints at the significant history of this handsome town on the shores of Lough Foyle. Once a port used by transatlantic travellers, it now plays a more relaxed role as a northern stop-off on the 1,700 mile Wild Atlantic Way driving route – and the Foyle Hotel by Chef Brian Mc Dermott will be first port of call for many. Well known throughout Ireland as a TV chef and teacher with a great commitment to promoting the superb produce of his native Donegal and the North-West of Ireland, Brian McDermott and his wife Brenda have restored the old Foyle Hotel to create a boutique hotel, wine bar and informal dining destination that is sure to attract many more visitors to this beautiful area – and with another well known and like-minded chef, Derek Creagh, as Head Chef, and Monto Mansour as Head Pastry Chef, this now one of the most exciting kitchen teams in the region.
- FAMILY FRIENDLY RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
Michael’s, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin
Family-friendliness is increasingly important in Irish hospitality and our Family Friendly award is more highly valued each year, as times change and people assume the whole family goes pretty much everywhere. We look for the places that cater especially well for families by providing the range of services and activities for varying ages and interests that make for a stress-free meal out or break. While a surprising number of promising ‘family friendly hotels’ fail to come up to the mark (we send real families to assess our shortlisted establishments) the best family-focused destinations inspire a loyal following.
Dry-aged steaks and top quality Irish seafood feature strongly at this much-loved neighbourhood restaurant, where fresh, honest food has long been the backbone – and owner-chef Gareth Smith’s enthusiasm for good food and big flavours wins over all diners, including juniors.It’s a very family-friendly place, with colouring sheets and crayons to keep little hands busy and the staff are wonderful with children. And kids enjoy going up to the pass to chat to Gareth too – he makes them feel welcome and special here and may even bring them into the kitchen to try their hand at cooking (and maybe even out on a fishing trip, but that’s another story). Best of all, he serves up one of the best child-friendly menus around and encourages children to try new things, especially fish – most famously in the Kids Seafood September initiative, which he started last year and is now being offered by other restaurants too. Throughout the month, kids can eat fresh Irish seafood at Michael’s every day for free – which is encouraging a whole new generation of adventurous eaters and makes it relaxing for parents who get to escape the nuggets nightmare while enjoying the kind of grown-up food they want to eat. So – super food, rustic charm, a special welcome for families, genuinely friendly and warm service… No wonder it’s so popular with the lucky locals – and it’s a must-visit destination for food lovers visiting the area.
- PET FRIENDLY DESTINATION OF THE YEAR 2019
360 Cookhouse, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
In Ireland we lag way behind our UK neighbours when it comes to pet friendliness; if you google an area in Britain looking for somewhere to stay, chances are that pet friendly options will pop straight up. Water bowls are put out at doors and in bars wherever you go and dogs are genuinely welcome almost everywhere.
From the imaginative decor and great staff to the exciting cocktail list and varied fare on offer throughout the week, the Pettit family’s smart-casual restaurant is a fun addition to the quality dining options in Dungarvan town. It’s a real come-on-in kind of place with welcoming climbing jasmine plants flanking the front door and menus on display – including a special one for your four-legged friend, which is bound to catch every dog-lover’s eye – and, once you walk through the door, it just goes on getting better. The dining areas are in a series of rooms, each with its own special ambience, and the semi-outdoor areas are full of rustic charm – and there’s that Canine Cuisine menu again, on an old stone wall, to remind you that a drink of water is not always enough… It’s refreshing to find such a full-on doggy welcome in a town – and this is sure to become a favourite destination for dog owners visiting the brilliant Waterford Greenway.
- HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR 2019
Dunnanelly Country House, Crossgar, Co Down
Everyone loves the idea of a hideaway, and this is one of our most popular awards. Whether it’s the establishments itself which offers that sense of privacy and seclusion, or its location, there is something very appealing about a place that you can disappear to and escape everyday pressures.
Although it is just three miles from Downpatrick, Sally King’s gorgeous Georgian-style house lies secluded in gardens, fields and woodland, with views of the Mourne Mountains to the south. Offering all the benefits of a Georgian house with the comfort of mod cons too, it would make a wonderful base for experiencing the St Patrick Story and exploring this beautiful county. The six bedrooms are beautifully furnished with great attention to detail and every comfort you could wish for – and the Kings also take pride in sourcing the best local products for breakfast, with Sally’s jams among the treats, made with home-grown fruit. An absolute gem.
18.ATMOSPHERIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
Walled City Brewery, Derry, Co Londonderry
Irish diners place a high premium on atmosphere – often rating it even above the quality of food when choosing where to eat out – but this restaurant, although certainly atmospheric, has much more to it than that. As everyone familiar with past winners of our Atmospheric category will know, we seek out establishments that offer very high standards all round, with great atmosphere as the icing on the cake.
Launched at the Culturetech Craft Beer Festival in 2014, owner and master brewer James Huey’s venture is an ambitious one and the first craft brewery in the city centre for over 100 years. Handsomely located in the old military pay office on Ebrington Square, which dates back to 1890, this is a craft brewery and restaurant in the same building – which is another first for Northern Ireland. And, with its original beer- themed decor and terrific ‘local tapas’ food to match the beers (all thanks to talented family members), the atmospheric bar-restaurant is a destination in itself. For a complete taste of Northern Ireland, Walled City Brewery is a must-visit.
- ETHNIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
ichigo ichie, Cork
There has been an ‘Ethnic Restaurant’ category in our awards since their inception in the early ‘90s. Originally interpreted as ‘oriental’, it now reflects the diversity of dining experience in contemporary Ireland to include all restaurants that truly represent any specific culture or cultures. In recent years there has been a sea change in terms of the range and quality of Ireland’s international cuisine – and, in 2018, the arrival of this small restaurant set a new benchmark that will further challenge the popular perception of ethnic cuisines.
Loosely translated as ‘once in a lifetime’, ichigo ichie offers Kaiseki, a traditional seasonal tasting menu consisting of a series of beautiful dishes. A particular highlight is the cold dishes – sashim, sushi – which are prepared and artistically arranged with great precision at Takashi’s Kappou Counter in full view of a lucky few seated at the counter, who also get to interact with the great man himself. Takashi Miyazaki says that it was his ambition for many years to open a fine dining Japanese restaurant to match the reputation of his tiny Miyazaki takeaway on Evergreen Street – and, now that it is here, his excellent food, solicitous staff and beautifully crafted atmospheric setting make it well worth the long wait.
- CASUAL DINING RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2019
Nash 19, Cork
Our Casual Dining award aims to highlight the quality of (mainly) smaller establishments, especially those serving outstanding daytime food and also ambitious restaurants with an informal style. Not only a pleasure to find, such places also enhance the reputation of any town or village lucky enough to be their chosen location
Home from home for its many loyal customers since 1991, Claire Nash’s bustling city centre restaurant is just a stone’s throw from the English Market – the source of much of the local and indigenous produce they are known for, including vegetables, fresh sustainable catches and meats. A small but carefully chosen wine selection (mainly from small producers) changes regularly and all of the very friendly staff are barista trained. ‘Simple food cooked honestly’ is their mantra, and it’s a very child friendly place too, offering proper wholesome meals for little ones. In Claire Nash’s own words ‘We simply love our food!’ – and it shows. But there is more to this pleasing place than good food, delightful as that may be. It is also a place that also celebrates the wider local culture, including the visual arts; strategically sited pieces, including some unusual sculptures, enhance the restaurant – and a dedicated gallery space on the Marlborough Street side showcases contemporary Irish art exhibitions. A magic place, with real heart.
- 21. CAFÉ OF THE YEAR 2019
Jack Fenn’s Courtyard Café, Belleek Castle, Ballina, Co Mayo
This award gives recognition to the best of those valuable all-day operations – usually small and owner-run – which not only lift the visitor’s spirits in a flash, but also the reputation of any town or village lucky enough to be its chosen location. The Guide seeks out good cooking based on quality ingredients – and especially the home baking that can be the highlight of a day out. This one, however, goes a long way beyond home baking…
Situated just outside Ballina amidst 1,000 acres of woodland and forestry, on the banks of the River Moy, Paul Doran’s castle was the ancestral home of the Earl of Arran and, with a 16th century armoury, big open fires, quirky Armada Bar and massive chandeliers, it now makes an unusual small hotel. Belleek Castle manages to combine old world charm with modern comforts – and, offering impressive cooking of local and home grown produce, the romantically candlelit restaurant is a special dining destination. And then, in 2018, this gorgeous new café opened in the old stone courtyard adjacent to the castle and – not surprisingly, considering the atmospheric surroundings, great food, friendly staff and outdoor seating – it was a runaway success from day one. Not just a great amenity for guests at the hotel and local people, it’s also a perfect place for visitors to the area – and, especially, the nearby Connacht Whiskey Distillery – to enjoy a tasty bite to eat in a relaxed setting.
- STREET FOOD AWARD 2019
Misunderstood Heron, near Leenane, Killary Harbour, Co Galway
Ireland has gone street food crazy lately and there’s some real quality popping up at food trucks and stalls in the most unlikely places, including industrial and business settings as well as markets, parks and open air events. From farmers looking for a new market for their produce to budding chefs and restaurateurs frustrated by high rents and punitive rates, there are some highly talented people involved and the delicious food and the service they offer is going down a treat. And, with food standards matching some of the best permanent restaurants in some cases, it looks as if they’re here to stay. We salute the leaders.
The wacky name is a hint of the thinking behind Reinaldo Seco and Kim Young’s beautifully located food truck overlooking Killary Harbour in Connemara. While the setting is remote it’s hard to miss when you’re travelling along the N59, as it’s set up in the car park of the Young family’s Killary Adventure Centre, just west of Leenane, with picnic tables and benches around it where hungry travellers can make the most of the stunning views. Take a closer look at the rustic food truck and you’ll find the food philosophy – Fresh, Local, Never Conventional – stated simply alongside a blackboard menu that promises a host of local treats. Killary Mussels, produced in the cold clear waters of Killary Harbour, and Connemara lamb from a nearby farm top the bill – think bowls of steaming mussels, and mouthwatering lamb pasties or samosas – along with other simple savoury fare, such as quiche or smoked salmon with homegrown salad and pickles, and moreish homemade cakes with Cloudpicker coffee, roasted in Dublin.
A sustainable business that takes pride in stating that all food is homemade and packaging is compostable, the Misunderstood Heron is indeed a treat to seek out along the Wild Atlantic Way.
- NATURAL FOOD AWARD 2019
Drumanilra Farm Kitchen, Boyle, Co Roscommon
The Guide has always championed the best of Irish produce. It’s the philosophy behind our food recommendations and the Natural Food Award has emphasised this for many years, by celebrating particular establishments that create a meeting point between the best and freshest local produce and the consumer. The original aim was to recognise specifically “an individual or team, driven by a total commitment to using the very best of fresh, seasonal and mainly local foods – and preparing them simply and with style, to showcase their natural goodness and the quality produce of the locality”. The category now also includes food products, producers and retailers as well, along the lines of our regional food tourism guide Ireland for Food Lovers.
Drumanilra Farm Kitchen is just one part of a wonderful family enterprise. On their mixed 40 acre organic farm overlooking Lough Key, Liam and Justina Gavin and their young family are living ‘The Good Life’, raising rare and heritage breeds outdoors. The Farm Kitchen is the ‘settled’ home of their original Shepherd’s Hut food truck and it’s an unusual and family friendly place to enjoy good, simple food – handmade burgers and hot dogs, with artisan breads and locally grown salads – made with their own Dexter Beef and Tamworth pork. As well as running the café, there is a shop where they sell their own and other organic meats, local vegetables and a deli range. It’s hard to think of any remotely similar enterprise anywhere in Ireland.
- COUNTRY HOUSE OF THE YEAR 2019
Clonganny House, Ballygarrett, Co Wexford
You can’t beat a real country house for a refreshing short break or to provide a atmospheric setting for special occasions – this house is a pretty special destination itself, and well worth seeking out for those child-free getaways.
Just south of Gorey lies an unusual Georgian gem offering luxurious country house accommodation – and fine dining with a distinctly French flavour. Former restaurateurs Philippe Brillant and his wife Brona opened Cloganny House as a quiet destination for adult guests in 2015 and the former coach house and stables in a restored courtyard now make lovely guest rooms, each with French doors opening onto a walled garden. An excellent breakfast is served in the main house, but the trump card is dinner, which is available by arrangement and features a range of Philippe’s delicious signature French dishes – and, of course, a good (mainly French) wine list to accompany. Superbe!
- GUESTHOUSE OF THE YEAR 2019
Blackwell House, Scarva, Co Armagh
Competing with cut price hotels has been no joke for the owners of guesthouses and B&Bs in recent years, but the best have USPs that allow them to thrive regardless of any such challenges – notably hands-on hospitality and home cooked food.
Complimentary cream tea for guests arriving between 3 and 4pm is just one of the nice little extras offered by Stephen and Joyce Brownlees at their splendid guesthouse near Banbridge. Open since 2014, it’s set in lovely rolling drumlin country on the Armagh-Down border, and makes a great base for exploring a wide area – including Belfast and Dublin which are both easily accessible for day visits. Local and homemade food is central to life at Blackwell – there’s even a griddle bread baking class offered – and, as well as a delicious breakfast including freshly-laid eggs from their own hens, an excellent dinner is available too, showcasing seasonal local foods and enjoyed communally around a fine big table.
- 26. B&B OF THE YEAR 2018
The Castle, Castletownshend, Co Cork
The true Irish B&B – where genuine hospitality combines with good, simple food and a desire for guests to be really comfortable and have the best possible experience of the area – is an absolute gem.
No ordinary B&B, the Townshend family’s fascinating and beautifully located castellated property opened for guests as a boutique B&B in 2016, offering a unique opportunity to stay in one of Ireland’s most interesting historic houses – think Edith Somerville (of Somerville and Ross), amongst many other fascinating connections. It’s been in the family for 11 generations and much of the original furniture, portraits and oak panelling still remain, so its character is intact, and the guest rooms are elegant and very comfortably furnished, with individually styled en-suite bathrooms. And, ah, there’s the view from your bed, of the little harbour and boats bobbing on their moorings …! For dinner, one of Ireland’s best pubs, the wonderful Mary Ann’s, is just yards away, – and, for daytime bites, the Castle has a charming café and terrace where non-residents can drop in for a coffee or a light meal. Off season they’re open at weekends and the café is especially popular on Sundays in autumn and early winter, when a proper Sunday roast lunch is a comforting treat.
Key features of the Awards and Georgina Campbell Guides
- Ireland’slongest running,and independent, awards scheme–Georgina Campbell’s Awards for Excellence– is based on the Georgina Campbell Guides hospitality selection, which is totally consumer focused and not affiliated to any trade association or marketing group.
- Independently assessed– award winners are representative of the very best Georgina Campbell Guide recommendations, all of which are selected solely on merit, as the result of anonymous visits by an experienced assessment team, who pay their way like any other customer.
- The Guide supports local businesses and indirectly generates employment by spending tens of thousands of euro on assessments annually
- The Guide and its website offer a unique range of contents – providing comprehensive recommendations for both business and leisure travellers. Unbiased descriptions are given of over 1,500 recommended food and hospitality businesses over a wide range of categories throughout Ireland, North and South.
- Restaurant Stars, Deluxe and Outstanding Accommodation listings, Pub Starshighlight the very best establishments.
Georgina Campbell: Georgina Campbell is one of Ireland’s leading food and hospitality writers and current President of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild. Her practical and down-to-earth approach has earned many fans for her cookery columns and cookbooks, and the same honesty has applied to her comprehensive and critically acclaimed, independently assessed guides to Ireland’s best places to eat, drink and stay.
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