TWO recession-era restaurants have scooped the top honours in the Georgina Campbell awards.
VM Restaurant in Longford won Restaurant of the Year 2014 while Chef of the Year went to Stephen McAllister of The Pig's Ear in Dublin.
Both restaurants have defied the age of austerity with their success, having set up in the last five years just as the recession kicked in.
Shepherd's pie like his mother used to make has been one of the most popular options offered by Stephen at the Pig's Ear on Dublin's Nassau Street.
Together with his wife, Andrea Hussey, he opened up the restaurant five years ago offering modern Irish cuisine.
Specialty of the house and top-seller is the "Pig's Ear" Lough Erne Milk-Fed Lamb Shepherd's Pie for €18.95.
"It's literally my mother's recipe and I can't get over how popular it is," he said.
Stephen worked at nearby One Pico before opening up the Pig's Ear and said he'd always dreamed of opening his own restaurant at his current venue, overlooking Trinity College, when he worked in its previous incarnation as Jacob's Ladder.
Offering people somewhere they can grab a reasonably-priced meal after work or go to for a special occasion was the key to succeeding, he said.
Restaurant of the year, meanwhile, is VM at Viewmount House – a guesthouse in Longford town where owners, James and Beryl Kearney, had talked for years about expanding with a restaurant open to both guests and visitors.
"Our guests heard us planning this for years but when we finally opened the door on it five years ago, of course the economy was gone," said James.
However, the restaurant has thrived thanks to its innovative menu and four acres of gardens, making it a draw to visitors from near and far.
Popular dishes served up by head chef, Gary O'Hanlon, include Wild Wicklow Sika Deer in Herb Panko with Hickory Smoked Chestnut Puree, Candied Turnip and Valrhona Chocolate Berry Sauce.
Georgina Campbell said the restaurant "changed the perception of a midlands town by becoming a destination restaurant that has always managed to be warm, inviting and friendly to locals and visitors alike".
She said there had been a marked upturn in restaurant business this year, especially in Dublin, though sadly some rural family-run businesses had closed their doors.
Dining pubs and bistro/brasserie-style options showed the continued trend for casual dining, but the recent rush to tapas-style menus wouldn't last, she predicted.
"Irish diners like a good feed, so I think tapas will go back to what it's supposed to be as something to accompany drinks rather than the main event," she said.
Vegetables and seaweed were also starting to come into their own with restaurants such as Oscar's Seafood Bistro in Galway serving up delicious sides of samphire, leek, peas and beans, she noted.
The Government should not increase the VAT rate from 9pc to 13.5pc in next week's Budget as it could damage the recovery in the hospitality sector which is vital for jobs and Ireland's image abroad, Ms Campbell said.