• Cyril McAree

Independent Guide Gives Recognition To Ireland’s Best Food, Drink & Hospitality


Representatives of the very best in Irish hospitality gathered at Bord Bia in Dublin today, for the announcement of the 2019 Georgina Campbell Awards. An annual celebration of excellence associated with the trusted Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides, and Ireland’s longest-established independent hospitality and travel website www.ireland-guide.com, these are Ireland’s longest-running independent food and hospitality awards, and highly respected by the industry.

Anonymous assessments undertaken by Georgina Campbell and her team of experienced assessors are the foundation of these awards, and have been since the early 1990s, when Georgina established them for the famously independent 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.

Putting these Awards in context, Georgina remarked, “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’s a perfect illustration of what is different about our Awards - we’ve spent over 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.”

Commenting on this year’s Awards, Georgina said “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.”

Commenting on the lead up to the Awards, Georgina Campbell said, “We’ve 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 2018 designation for Galway-West of Ireland was a huge achievement for Galway and the region, and we have a special three-in-one Spirit of the 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 leadership from 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.”

On trends, Ms Campbell commented that, “Despite the huge popularity of casual dining in 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.”

Of the 2018 season, Georgina Campbell said, “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 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. On the all important subject of competitiveness, Ms Campbell said, “Rising hotel prices are 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 value in 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 directly and 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.”

The Georgina Campbell Awards always include some unexpected choices and out of the way surprises – and, said Ms Campbell, “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.”

Top award winners on the day included: Ronan & Jennie Sweeney, Balloo Inns, Killinchy, Co Down (Georgina Campbell ‘Hospitality Hero’ Award, in recognition of a special contribution to Irish food & hospitality); The Twelve Hotel Barna, Co Galway/Gannet Fishmongers, Galway/Beechlawn Organic Farm, Ballinsaloe, Co Galway (joint winners of the three-in-one Spirit of European Region of Gastronomy Award); Adare Manor (Hotel of the Year); The Strawberry Tree Restaurant, BrookLodge & Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow (Restaurant of the Year); James Coffey, Park Hotel Kenmare, Co Kerry (Chef of the Year), and Pot Duggans, Ennistymon, Co Clare (Pub & Atmospheric Venue of the Year).

Georgina Campbell Guides are grateful to Bord Bia, sponsors of the “Just Ask!” Restaurant of the Year Award, who kindly hosted the event.

For a full list of winners click here

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