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Georgina Campbell Awards 2013

Georgina Campbell Awards 2013

Georgina Campbell Awards 2013

Representatives of the very best in Irish hospitality gathered at Bord Bia in Dublin for the announcement of the 2013 Georgina Campbell Awards, associated with the respected Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides, and Ireland’s most popular independent hospitality and travel website www.ireland-guide.com. These are Ireland’s longest-running hospitality awards, and highly respected by the industry.

Every year Georgina Campbell and her team of experienced assessors comb the country’s hotels, country houses, guesthouses, restaurants, pubs and cafés, seeking out the best consumer experiences for readers of The Guide (‘the glovebox bible’) and, increasingly, for followers of the very successful website,www.ireland-guide.com.

A new printed Guide, to accompany the website, will be published next spring; meanwhile, Ms Campbell emphasised that “We have maintained our rigorous programme of anonymous assessment visits throughout the season as usual, always keeping a sharp eye out for those exceptional establishments which are right on top of their game and going the extra mile for customers. Once again this year, we have found a surprising number of new establishments worthy of recommendation, especially in urban areas. New openings are most often in the dining pubs or bistro/brasserie categories, reflecting demand from a value-conscious public and a general trend towards informal dining – but fine dining is far from dead, and this is reflected in our awards.”

Commenting on the Awards, Georgina Campbell said, “The question that I am asked everywhere I go is ‘How are you finding things around the country?’ And this year, at last, I have been able to answer that there are cautious signs of an upturn in many areas. Closures are still a feature however, and businesses outside the cities and large towns, especially small family businesses, are finding the going very tough. Even as we were preparing for today’s event, news reached us of the imminent closure of one of our award winners – and one of our personal favourite places to eat, anywhere in Ireland – O’Brien Chop House, in Lismore, Co Waterford. It is desperately sad that even a place of such high calibre, with a national reputation, has been unable to survive in a heritage town, and we very much hope they will be able to re-locate to a busier area.”

On the changing trends in Irish hospitality, Ms Campbell said, “If I had to describe this year in one word it would be ‘engagement’, as the common theme that unites the best places, regardless of price or style, is the growing connection between local Irish suppliers, restaurant kitchens – and, ultimately, the customer. Increasingly, chefs are proud to champion local producers on their menus, which is brilliant; waiting staff are also becoming accustomed to explaining provenance to customers – although there is plenty of room for improvement in too many establishments.

There is also need for change in the accommodation sector, where standards are generally high, but a worrying – and potentially disastrous – flaw in the system means that a significant number of businesses in the Republic, including some famous destination properties, are not recommended by the Guide or considered for our Awards because we do not promote unregistered accommodation. Unlike Northern Ireland just up the road – where all tourist accommodation providers must receive certification from NITB before they are allowed to begin operating – there is no mandatory registration system in the Republic. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, as it is undermining the efforts of registered businesses and could have far reaching effects. Can you imagine the consequences to the reputation of Irish tourism if there were to be a serious accident, food poisoning or, heaven forbid, even a death in a substandard unregistered accommodation?”

Unlike other predictable, commercially-led awards, the Georgina Campbell Awards always include some unexpected choices and out of the way surprises – and, Ms Campbell exlained, “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.”

Top award winners on the day included : Eileen Dunne & Stefano Crescenzi, Dublin (Georgina Campbell Award, for special contribution to Irish hospitality); Granville Hotel, Waterford (Hotel of the Year); The GreenHouse, Dublin (Restaurant of the Year); Ian Orr, Browns Restaurant, Derry, Co Londonderry (Chef of the Year), and Nancy’s Bar, Ardara, Co Donegal (Pub of the Year).

Ireland’s longest-running hospitality accolades, the Georgina Campbell Awards are completely independent. Unlike most other award schemes, they are not commercially driven and in no way affiliated with trade associations or marketing groups; there is no charge to establishments for recommendation or any element of the awards process. It is this independence which has earned them special respect in the industry, and public trust. In yet another challenging year for the hospitality sector, accolades from a respected independent guide are not only a source of encouragement – and very good for winners’ business – but also set a benchmark for others in the industry who are determined to achieve a similar level of excellence.

Georgina Campbell Guides are grateful to Bord Bia, sponsors of the “Just Ask!” Restaurant of the Year Award, who kindly hosted the event. Thanks also to Fáilte Ireland for their support, and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, sponsors of the Seafood Restaurat of the Year and Seafopod Chef of the Year awards.

GEORGINA CAMPBELL AWARDS 2013 –  CITATIONS

GEORGINA CAMPBELL AWARD 2013

Eileen Dunne and Stefano Crescenzi, Dublin

A special award, given in recognition of the special contribution made by exceptional individuals in Irish hospitality

A true marriage of cultures. That sounds simple, but it’s a complex thing to achieve and it’s what this remarkable couple have contributed to Irish hospitality.

Eileen Dunne & Stefano Crescenzi’s journey from ‘La Vista’, their Sutton deli of the 1990s, to the range of Italian experiences they now offer through Dunne & Crescenzi, L’Officina, Bar Italia and La Corte del Caffe – and, until recently, the charming canalside Nonna Valentina – is an inspiring one. There’s a concise outline on the back flap of their book published last year, Dunne & Crescenzi, The Menu, which I would commend to anyone with an interest in authentic Italian cooking, artisan food sourcing – or, very importantly, the way that the once formal Irish restaurant has developed to become a place to socialise over food. The relaxed and sociable dining style they introduced to Ireland has been a catalyst in changing our attitudes to eating out.

We owe a great debt to Eileen and Stefano for the clarity of their vision and their steadfastness in pursuit of accessible excellence – particularly regarding the sourcing of high quality ingredients. Not only do they import the very finest speciality products from Italy, as would be expected, but some of Ireland’s best producers now also benefit from supplying the group, notably McConnells of Dublin (smoked fish); the game and organic meat butchers, Downey’s of Terenure; the Kerry Lamb Group; Gold River Farm in Co Wicklow (organic vegetables) and G’s Gourmet Jams (jams and honey from Laois).

Eileen and Stefano’s business has also grown organically, and how exciting it is for their staff and customers – who are emphatically a part of the mix – to experience the best of Irish and the best of Italian foods coming together in a uniquely successful expression of shared culture. We are grateful to them and will watch with interest to see what they may come up with next!

HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2013

Granville Hotel, Waterford, Co Waterford

Irish hotels have taken a terrible hammering over the last few years, but as long as we have great independent hoteliers an important aspect of this country’s unique appeal will be in safe hands. We must treasure them, before it is too late.

Everyone who visits the Granville seems to come away with a smile on their face – and probably an anecdote about the lovely staff and how they made everyone feel at home. It’s not a fancy pants sort of place – it’s actually a 3* hotel – but immaculately maintained, full of pride in its history, its place in the local community and the genuine hospitality they offer their guests. “It has,” as one of our assessors remarked, “that indefinable ambience of the well-run privately owned hotel, the sense of being cosseted in an old fashioned way unlike the slick informality of modern ‘concept’ establishments”, while a guest dining in the hotel commented on “The mature Irish staff with young local staff working alongside – they’re what Irish hospitality used to be all about…chatty but not intrusive, charming and full of local recommendations for us to do. We loved it.” And we love it too: whether for business or pleasure this is a lovely place to stay and it makes a very comfortable and friendly base for exploring the area – we can’t commend  the management too highly for their exacting standards in all areas and, especially, the warmth of their genuine Irish hospitality.

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2013

The GreenHouse, Dublin

Smart-casual dining may be very on-trend, but fine dining is far from dead. This year’s awards shortlist proves yet again that many of the country’s most creative chefs are continuing to produce sublime classical food in the fine dining style – and our Restaurant of the Year is an exceptional example.

When a gifted European chef with a great Irish track record teams up with a savvy Dublin restaurateur to open a top end restaurant in the depths of recession, foodies’ antennae go into over-drive. And with good reason, as the culinary fireworks in Dublin’s newest fine dining restaurant seem almost too good to be true: ‘Can it work?’ has been the question everybody’s been asking. Well, yes actually, it can work extremely well, is the answer. Our gifted chef takes well-gambled risks but, while invariably exciting, the daring cooking is just one part of the jigsaw and it’s set in a carefully crafted framework designed to make it succeed against the odds. The setting is both impressive and relaxing, the menu structure has been skilfully honed to maximise appeal and the front of house team works like a dream, with up-and-coming sommelière Lorraine Harmon, in particular, making a great contribution towards the enjoyment of a special meal here. It’s a great achievement, and hearty congratulations are due to Eamonn O’Reilly, Mickeal Viljanen and The GreenHouse team.

CHEF OF THE YEAR 2013

Ian Orr, Browns Restaurant, Derry, Co Londonderry

Great ingredients have always been the essential foundation for great meals – the celebrated French chef Paul Bocuse called them ‘the building blocks of good cooking’- and our best chefs take full advantage of the fact that Irish producers are supplying world class ingredients in abundance.

Ian Orr is just such a man, renowned for his dedication to fresh seasonal produce and support of local suppliers. Cooking with a deft hand and a light touch that allows the natural flavour, texture and colour of ultra-fresh seasonal ingredients to take the lead is his trademark – and even diners who may be reluctant to try Tasting Menus, fearing ‘a lot of bits and pieces’ rather than a decent meal, need have no worries here. While delivering on the culinary bells and whistles demanded of special occasion menus, Ian has his feet firmly on the ground and ‘real food’ is always at the heart of his cooking – which rates with the finest in the land. So visitors to the Derry, the 2013 City of Culture, who may be keen to experience the best the area has to offer should ensure that at least one meal at Browns Restaurant is firmly fixed in their itinerary!

“JUST ASK” RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR AWARD 2013 sponsored by Bord Bia

Ard Bia, Galway, Co Galway

“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 has been chosen from the year’s winners selected for the Ireland-guidecom monthly e-zine.

Aoibheann MacNamara “strives to provide food that is ‘Great for Galway'” at her Spanish Arch restaurant ,Ard Bia, and thus doing a great service to Galway – and also to visitors to the city. Menus at the ‘Just Ask’ Restaurant of the Year read lip-smackingly well. Before a long day around town what could be better than ‘McGeough’s lovely full fry’, featuring breakfast meats from the famed Connemara butcher? Or, later on, a St Tola’s goats cheese salad, with cheese from the milk of Burren goats in nearby Co Clare; or a bowl of creamy seafood chowder, full of local fish – smoked cod, sea trout, mussels and clams – supplied by the aptly named Gannet Fishmongers… But it’s what on the back of the menus that’s really exciting. Not satisfied with just giving a list of suppliers (useful as that is), there’s a mini profile of a dozen of their main suppliers and enough information (address, phone number, website) to encourage interested diners to visit them, or see their produce for themselves in local shops or at Galway Market. Now that’s what ‘Just Ask’ is all about.

SEAFOOD RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2013 sponsored by BIM

The Oar House, Howth, Co 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 business.

And there can be no better place to enjoy seafood than a quayside restaurant like The Oar House, with fishing boats tied up just outside. Imagine an old smoke house with a corrugated roof, converted to create a nautically-themed restaurant with fishing nets, buoys, old masts and sailing instruments giving it a casual, vibrant and welcoming atmosphere…Add ultra-fresh fish, from Dorans of Howth fish shop next door (which is mainly supplied by the Dorans’ own fishing boat and several other local boats), and a bustling open kitchen where chefs are busy preparing everything you can think of, from grilled sardines to baked monkfish, or maybe succulent scampi to seafood platters. And, as the fresh fish is displayed in cabinets in front of the kitchen before cooking, you can even go up and have a look before taking your pick. Everything is simply and cleverly prepared and this – together with generous portions, terrific service, value and a good buzz – make The Oar House a real treasure for fish fans.

SEAFOOD CHEF OF THE YEAR 2013 sponsored by BIM

Billy Whitty, Aldridge Lodge, Duncannon, Co Wexford

Great seafood cookery takes a special expertise – and a growing number of talented Irish chefs are happy to take up the challenge.

Aldridge Lodge was our Newcomer of the Year in 2006 and we clearly chose well, Billy Whitty and his partner Joanne Harding have since earned such a well-deserved reputation for their excellent food and warm hospitality that many fans make a point of heading here when visiting the South-East – and, given the location overlooking the picturesque fishing village of Duncannon, they often have a seafood dinner on their minds. Fish comes from nearby Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East, where a wide variety of catches is landed all year, and Billy’s father Tommy brings crab and lobster up from Duncannon harbour in season. Billy, who is a Euro-Toques chef, is exceptionally expert with seafood; his timing is perfect and his ability to combine flavours and textures is a constant source of delight – and it’s highly unlikely that you would need to adjust the seasoning of any dish. He’s also renowned for offering great value – even lobster, when available, is offered on the dinner menu with no supplement charged – a real treat when grilled and served with confit garlic & lemon butter… Deelish.

HOSTS OF THE YEAR 2013

Paddy & Julia Foyle, The Quay House, Clifden, Co Galway

Every time a visitor satisfaction survey is published the results are the same, with Ireland’s wonderful scenery (still impressive, despite everything) and the warmth and friendliness of the people coming up trumps every time. – although there was some slippage in the boom years, when visitors were not always welcomed by people with good local knowledge, or staff were ‘too busy’ to give the individual attention that makes a stay memorable.

Neverthleless, we have more than our fair share of really great hosts, whose nature is genuinely hospitable, and Paddy & Julia Foyle’s special brand of hospitality has become legendary. These long-time hoteliers have brought their magic to a number of West of Ireland businesses over the years, and their present quayside property has become a favourite destination for the many guests who appreciate everything about the place – the quirkily stylish and extremely comfortable surroundings, the delicious breakfasts and, most of all, the owners themselves. They are consummate hosts: thoughtful, engaging, helpful and generous with local knowledge – and, perhaps most importantly, have the true hotelier’s instinct of when to give their guests space. A stay is always a luxuriously enriching experience, simply because they have thought of everything. Paddy and Julia never put a foot wrong at Quay House and anyone who stays here is sure to plan a return visit as soon as possible.

BUSINESS HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2013

The River Lee Hotel, Cork, Co Cork

Food tourism and agriculture may be the hot white hopes for recessionary Ireland, but many of our best establishments are identifying other equally attractive niche markets and, along with several other categories in these awards, business tourism is a key one.

A good modern hotel, well located for business and with ample parking, is a great asset to any city. The River Lee Hotel, although equally attractive to leisure guests, fills the business niche particularly well, offering underground parking (accessed by lift from the foyer) and great facilities, including a range of meeting rooms; also a dedicated executive floor and lounge on the penthouse floor, and a leisure centre and spa for downtime. Although it may lack the visual wow factor of some showier new properties, good design makes this hotel stand out and it makes the most of every inch of its desirable waterside location. There’s good food too, in the attractively sited restaurant (where else in the city centre could you watch a man out fishing with his dog, just yards from your table?) and, best of all, interested staff have the companionable touch that makes a business hotel feel homely. A fine successor to the popular Jurys Cork Hotel.

WINE AWARD OF THE YEAR 2013

O’Brien Chop House, Lismore, Co Waterford

This is the only category of our awards for which we invite applications – interested establishments are asked to submit their wine lists for consideration, and they are then judged together with other aspects of the wine experience

Wine awards tend to go to pretty high-fallutin’ establishments, but great lists are to be found these days in more accessible places and it’s a very welcome trend. Take, for example, Justin and Jenny Green’s delightful O’Brien Chop House in Lismore. This atmospheric little bar-restaurant has earned a national reputation for its ingredients-led cooking and, to match the super food, they offer an equally well-sourced and customer-friendly wine list – or, more correctly, drinks list, as it goes far beyond offering a range of wines and proves that excellence need not come in fat leather-bound volumes.  It’s sensibly priced and, appropriately for an all day restaurant, offers something for all tastes and occasions – including the house special, Elderflower Fizz, a treat that changes by the season and might, according to availability become, say, rhubarb fizz or blackcurrant fizz, and can be made with prosecco or with sparkling water, as a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

A page of moderately priced wines offered in no less than four measures (glass, pitcher in two sizes and bottle) introduces a shortish list with all the hallmarks of a pleasurably considered personal selection. But perhaps the best is kept until last as – reflecting the recent surge of craft brewing in Ireland – the list ends on a high note with craft beers and ciders including some excellent beers from Dungarvan Brewing Company and Eight Degrees Brewing, and artisan ciders from Nohoval Brewery, Kinsale and Longueville House, Mallow – all made in counties Waterford and Cork.

*** Sadly, we have learned that O’Brien Chop House will shortly close its doors, in Lismore at least. This will be a great loss, to the town as well as to those involved, but all the good things that have been said about the Chop House, including its excellent wine and drinks list, will hold true in whatever new location it may eventually pop up again – and will hopefully lead to its longterm success in a busier location.

PUB OF THE YEAR 2013

Nancy’s Bar, Ardara, Co Donegal

Banning the term ‘gastropub’ generated acres of publicity for a UK food guide last year – and they were quite right; it’s unpleasant and over-used – and, like the ubiquitous ‘eatery’, is not in the Guide’s vocabulary. But we’re all in favour of pubs that do great food, of course – and many of our best had been doing just this for many years before the unfortunate term ‘gastropub’ saw the light of day.

It’s not all about the food of course – character, friendliness, comfort, a sense of community, all those things are part of what makes a great pub – but good food is an important focus for all of our Star Pubs, including Nancy’s Bar, which has been a key part of this little heritage town renowned for its tweeds and handknits for far longer than anyone can remember. The original Nancy, who ran the pub in Victorian times, was the great great great grandmother of the present owner, Charlie McHugh and, together with his wife Ann (who’s responsible for developing the food side of the business), he has ensured that everything is done just as it should be. It’s a charmingly higgledy-piggledy place which simply oozes with character and warmth, there’s great live music and the food is traditional Irish cooking at its best: only gorgeous! No wonder everybody loves Nancy’s, it’s just a perfect Irish pub.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 2013

East Café Bar, The King Sitric, Howth, Co Dublin

This is always one of our most hotly-contested wards – by which I mean that 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? It’s mainly the closures that have been hitting the news in recent times, of course, but there have also been a number of new openings – and we’re always looking out for the best ones, that will be here to stay.

Paradoxically our Newcomer is, in a sense, also an oldie of the hospitality world, as this contemporary smart-casual café-bar has taken over the ground floor of one of Ireland’s longest-established seafood restaurants – and, by doing so, not only transformed and revitalised the highly-respected fine dining parent business, but also re-positioned the culinary focal point of this popular seaside destination. Now, with attractive seating outside, jaunty striped awnings and its lovely Georgian doorway inviting you in, this is a place it would be hard to pass by – and, supplied by the main restaurant kitchen, it’s a class act with quality at its core. It’s run by the Aidan and Joan MacManus of the King Sitric and their son, Declan, who manages the new café-bar with his girlfriend Susan McKiernan. Unsurprisingly, this family enterprise is proving a real winner; offering a limited menu, fantastic food and great value, plus stylishly casual surroundings it’s just what people want today – and they can’t get enough of it.

FAMILY FRIENDLY HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2013

Hotel Westport, Westport, Co Mayo

Our Family-Friendly award is more highly valued each year, as times change and more people opt to holiday at home. 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 break. This year we’ve made this category a priority, with a team of young families testing special breaks all over the country on behalf of the Guide. The results have been very mixed, showing up a big divide between those who do it well, like our winning hotel, and the rest. What’s very clear is that a lot of hotels need to clean up their act and stop treating families like some kind of second-class guests filling in until the ‘real’ ones start coming back again – and there are huge opportunities in this area for well-run businesses, who can gain a new young clientele by catering to this market with respect by genuinely meeting their needs.

With their leisure centres and other all-weather activities, the best family-friendly hotels are a very good holiday option indeed, and this large, well-managed hotel deserves its place as a favoured destination for families. It’s at the centre of an interesting tourist area and its convenient location – quiet, yet almost town centre situation (no need to keep taking out the car) – is a big plus, also the helpful ‘can-do’ attitude of friendly staff. Great facilities include a white flag leisure centre & spa, also a Panda Club for 4-12 year old children during Irish school holidays and mid-term breaks. Constant refurbishment and upgrading is the norm, food is well above average for an hotel, and it’s good value too – all of which will make it a happy choice for any family.

HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR 2013

Moy House, Lahinch, Co Clare

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.

The west coast has timeless appeal as a place to get away from it all, and this gorgeous country house overlooking Lahinch Bay ticks all the right boxes as a hideaway…. warm and welcoming, with an open fire and fresh flowers in the hall, a spiral staricase and a deliciously decadent drawing room to relax and take in the view, it’s as atmospheric as get out and downright luxurious to boot. Most of the stylishly, sumptuously appointed bedrooms have sea views and the main rooms are wonderfully spacious, some with canopy or four-poster beds; one extra-luxurious suite even has a private conservatory overlooking the Atlantic – the ultimate hideaway! All this and good food too, it’s nothing short of an occasion of sin.

PET FRIENDLY HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2013

Cromleach Lodge, Lough Arrow, Co Sligo

We hear a lot about the difficulty of winning over the UK market but, as a country, we’re missing a trick when it comes to pet friendliness. We know that the English love to travel with their dogs but we lag way behind our UK neighbours in this; if you google an area in Britain looking for somewhere to stay, chances are that pet friendly options will pop straight up. In my native Cornwall, contented dogs bring their owners into the pub after country walks – and the county’s beaches are officially listed online as dog-friendly or (equally importantly) dog-free. But maybe we’re beginning to see the light. Many establishments here have quietly welcomed dogs for years, and many more are seeing opportunities in this market – including, interestingly, some 5* star hotels. And why not, if you want to persuade both visitors and Irish holidaymakers to by-pass the airport…

Christy and Moira Tighe of Cromleach Lodge have definitely spotted an opportunity here, and have taken things a step further than most. Cromleach has long been renowned for its high standards in many areas – wonderful food, great hospitality, exceptional standards of housekeeping, stunning lough views, and even romantic weddings. All manner of good things actually, but one you mightn’t have thought of is pet friendliness. But these enterprising people are not content with pampering their guests – they’ve also embraced the fact that many of them like to travel with their four-legged friends, who are not only very welcome at Cromleach Lodge but they can be pampered too, by making an appointment with Cromleach’s professional dog groomer, Blathnaid O’Connell (call her directly, 071 9664678). Dogs may stay in the bedrooms with their owners, under supervision, and there are plenty of walks locally, or they can be walked on the hotel grounds. Now how cool is that for Fido.

CASUAL DINING RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2013

The Beach House, Buncrana, Co Donegal

The leading restaurants in major cities, and their chefs, tend to hog the spotlight at awards and, while the size of the population means more top rank establishments to choose from, excellence is no respecter of location – or style. The Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year aims to highlight the quality of smaller establishments, especially those serving outstanding daytime food.

Lovely views across Lough Swilly may be the trump card at Claire McGowan’s smart-casual restaurant, but it has plenty else going for it too. Finding this well-named spot is a joy for a lot of happy visitors – who then have the added pleasure of walking off their meals on the lovely sandy beach afterwards. Welcoming signs at the door ensure that nobody passes unknowingly and, once inside, the stylish yet laid-back two-storey restaurant and a bit of banter from friendly staff will have you hooked. And they are blessed with their talented head chef, Peter Cheesman, who has an enviable reputation in Donegal for showcasing local produce – and it is well earned, as he cooks with stylish simplicity; everything is freshly made on site, and top quality ingredients translate into very good food indeed. What’s not to like about this charming place.

ATMOSPHERIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2013

West End House, Killarney, Co Kerry

Irish diners place a high premium on atmosphere – often rating it even above the quality of food when choosing where to eat out – but West End House, 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

Originally run by the Fassbender family, this listed building has been home to one of Killarney’s best-loved restaurants since the mid 1980s and is currently run with hands-on enthusiasm by new proprietor-manager Oliver Hefferenan. Since the Fassbenders’ retirement, it’s been given a highly sympathetic makeover and their Tyrolean theme was retained in the downstairs bar, where a huge feature fireplace in the end wall sets an atmospheric tone for a series of romantically cottagey rooms with opulently quirky décor: a wonderful setting for inspired food by head chef Paul Carew, who constantly introduces original new dishes with key ingredients always from Kerry and West Cork. A magic spot, with a fascinating history.

ETHNIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2013

Michie Sushi, Dublin

There has been an ‘Ethnic Restaurant’ category in our awards since their inception in the early ’90s and this year’s winner is an excellent example of the authenticity we admire.

Michel Piare’s business began as a take-away service and, as word-of-mouth spread, expanded to accommodate demand with a tiny 17-seater restaurant that includes a small counter perfect for locals awaiting their take-out orders. It’s down a narrow laneway tucked in between a few mews houses and business lock-ups  but, despite an obscure location which has never enjoyed the benefits of passing trade, this tiny restaurant with decidedly modest décor serves up simply stunning Japanese food. While most Japanese places are still serving pre-made sushi to varying standards Michie Sushi has raised the bar, delivering what may well be the finest Japanese food in the country, made with real flair and talent. Signature dishes feature taste sensations – like Fire Dragon roll, made with fresh eel, avocado, sushi rice and teriyaki rolled in piquant seven spices – while cooked dishes offer sublime Jenditions of Japanese classics. Michie Sushi is a little gem.

CAFÉ OF THE YEAR 2013

The Wooden Spoon, Killaloe, Co Clare

One of the questions I am most often asked is whether I would like to have my own restaurant, and the answer is unequivocal: while I admire a well run restaurant more than most, I’ve never felt tempted to get involved myself. But, had I been asked about a bakery and tea shop, now that would have been a different matter. I’ve always had a special grá for baking and this area of hospitality is comfortingly homely. So we keep an especially keen eye out for good bakeries and cafés, and it’s been good to see them taking off lately – although some of those new to the business might be surprised to hear that running a good bakery/café business amounts to a lot more than digging out a few old mismatched bits of china and donning a pinny.

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. Our main aim is to seek out good simple cooking based on quality ingredients – and especially the home baking that can be the highlight of a day out.

An atmospheric setting always adds to the pleasure of eating, and it’s one of the many reasons that Laura Kilkenny’s charming bakery and café is among our favourites. Tucked into a steep hillside west of the bridge in Killaloe, it was formerly a characterful traditional pub. There’s still a sense of the old bar – complete with a welcome fire down at the far end – but now the counter tops are piled high with freshly baked scones and cakes and every kind of temptation you could think of, notably a huge bowl of meringues… And you can have a really tasty and (perhaps surprisingly) healthy, hot meal here too. A gorgeous big bowl of homemade soup with predictably delicious freshly baked brown soda bread, perhaps, or a generous, richly flavoured beef and Guinness stew, served with a generous dash of real hospitality. The Wooden Spoon is a hidden treasure and deservedly popular.

NATURAL FOOD AWARD 2013

Glenilen Farm Dairy Products, Drimoleague, Co Cork

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 specifically celebrating 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”. This category now also includes the food products, producers and retailers listed in our regional food tourism guide, Ireland for Food Lovers.

The growing number of local artisan and speciality foods offered on menus has enriched our travels around the country enormously of late, and does so for all discerning visitors to Ireland. It’s great to see that speciality dairy products are on the increase, and they have given us particular pleasure this year, on tables at every type of establishment from B&Bs to 5* hotels, cafés and pubs to fine dining destinations – especially the handmade butters, which have lifted many a meal into the memorable class. Particularly praiseworthy, due to their simple excellence and wide distribution (despite containing no preservatives), are Alan and Valerie Kingston’s range of Glenilen Farm Dairy Products, made on their small West Cork dairy farm. It is always a treat to spot the lovely yoghurts in their cute glass jars on a breakfast buffet, or a pat of their deep golden butter with its little signature Glenilen greaseproof paper ‘cap’ in a restaurant – and it tells you a great deal about the high standards upheld by any establishment that is proud to showcase these special products.

It’s the small owner-run places that visitors like best when they visit Ireland, as they love the personal touch and local knowledge that you only get with hands-on owner management and small scale. By contrast, the Irish generally have a preference for hotels – but a stay with any of the next four award winners could change all that!

COUNTRY HOUSE OF THE YEAR 2013

Carrig House, Caragh Lake, Co Kerry

Many city folk harbour a dream of moving to the country and living in a lovely old house set in its own grounds. Only a pipe dream for most, so a weekend away in one is a treat to be treasured – especially as ‘proper country houses’ aren’t that easy to find nowadays.

Romantically clothed with climbers and just a few yards from the lake shore, Frank and Mary Slattery’s country house is a lovely serene place to stay just off the Ring of Kerry – a perfect escape from the modern world. It’s a place where you can lose yourself for hours with a book, or playing chess, cards or board games in the games room, wandering in the gardens (a map is available), or boating out on the lake. The house is welcoming and full of character, with very friendly and helpful staff (the owner himself carries the luggage to your room) and a relaxed atmosphere. Choose your favourite  spot in one of the charming sitting rooms where you can chat beside the fire or have a drink before a very good dinner –  and enjoy the views across the lake to the Magillicuddy Reeks. Frank and Mary have made this lovely old house a uniquely homely destination – and it’s well worth a detour.

GUESTHOUSE OF THE YEAR 2013

Drumcreehy House, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare

Competing with hotels is no joke for the owners of guesthouses and B&Bs these days, but they often have the edge when it comes to providing a memorable visitor experience

Armin and Bernadette Grefkes’ immaculate guesthouse may be a little less obvious than places in the village centre, but that gives a sense of discovery – and visitors are delighted to find it. A quieter location and plenty of space are among the advantages – there’s a sea view sitting room with an open fire, and even a bar. You’ll get a very good breakfast (continental in style) and even a hot water bottle sent up to your room if you’re feeling stiff after a day out walking. Family-friendly, pet-friendly and moderately-priced, this spotless guesthouse is a delightful place to stay in a beautiful area. And, if you visit in early summer, you may just hear the cuckoo too.

B&B OF THE YEAR 2013

The Archways B&B, Rosslare, Co Wexford

What makes a great B&B? The best are lovely, friendly places to stay, with comfort, good food and interested hosts who anticipate their guests’ needs yet givethem space – and who enjoy nothing better than helping their guests to explore the surrounding area.

If you’re lucky they may even dinner, as they used to do. If you’re visiting south Wexford then you’re in for a treat, as seriously good food, including evening meals, is the USP at Chris & Eileen Hadlington’s outstanding B&B. Seasonal, local and home produced is the ethos, so you may look forward to the best from local artisan producers, seasonal locally caught seafood, and local wild game, along with house specialities that include sweet and savoury preserves, many with an unusual twist. Great food and genuine hospitality go hand in hand here and, for those arriving on the ferry and facing a long drive, this is the perfect place to overnight – even late arrivals are catered for, with home made soup and sandwiches on offer.

FARMHOUSE OF THE YEAR 2013

Annaharvey Farm, Tullamore, Co Offaly

For many people – especially families who live in cities – an Irish farm stay is just about the most idyllic holiday imaginable. And you won’t do better than this one.

There is a lovely homely feeling about Henry and Lynda Deverell’s restored grain barn near Tullamore and, with its pitch pine floors and beams, log fires and very comfortable accommodation, it makes a great base for a relaxing holiday offering all the pleasures of the outdoor life. The setting is very rural with plenty of horses in the fields and the welcoming smell of an open fire in the car park as you arrive Good home cooking has always been a central feature here, and Annaharvey was a founding member of the ‘Offaly Delicious’ local food producers network. A daughter, Rachael Deverell, operates a highly-regarded artisan food company (Annaharvey Farm Foods) and she makes delicious home-baking and preserves for the retail and catering trade. Although now produced in Bunclody, Co Wexford, this is where she learned to cook, and guests staying at Annaharvey Farm will not be disappointed by the good home cooking offered at this hospitable and relaxing place.

IRISH BREAKFAST AWARDS 2013

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is true in hospitality as well as ‘real life’. It’s an area that can be – and often is – a USP. Not just for the breakfast itself, but also because the spirit of generosity and true hospitality, that giving so much more than the basic requirement implies, is carried through into all other aspects of these special places.  Breakfast is the last meal guests will have before leaving any place where they have stayed the night, and the memory will linger – and the last before paying the bill, so it can sweeten the departure process too.

NATIONAL WINNER: Dunraven Arms Hotel, Adare, Co Limerick

BEST HOTEL BREAKFAST: Dunraven Arms Hotel, Adare, Co Limerick

The Dunraven Arms has earned an unrivalled reputation for the quality and value of short breaks offered. Yet, despite the keen prices, there is an ongoing determination to combine personal service and quality with value, which makes this family-run hotel an outstanding example of contemporary Irish hospitality at its best. This dedication to quality extends to the superb breakfast offered – an area where many hotels have been seeking savings in recent years, to the detriment of the overall guest experience. Not so at the Dunraven Arms, where the dining room is set up as smartly for breakfast as it is for dinner in the evening and well-slept guests are treated to an extensive buffet display of the freshest foods and drink, including fruits and juices, yogurts, cheeses and cold meats, a range of freshly baked goods and a magnificent ham set up for carving to your liking. Cooked to order breakfasts are equally impressive, with a lovely range of dishes offered and everything served, perfectly cooked, to your table by helpful staff.

Other category winners:

Guesthouse Breakfast: The Quay House, Clifden, Co Galway

B&B Breakfast: The Archways B&B, Rosslare, Co Wexford

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