Lucinda O’Sullivan dishes out the awards for her personal best and worst dining experiences of 2012
It's been a year of new restaurants opening like there was no tomorrow. Value menus and early birds are de rigueur as 7pm becomes the new 8pm, and wine snobs of yore suddenly find that 'pert little house wine' irresistible. Pop-ups and pop-offs abound whilst cheffy tweeters have been known to shoot themselves in the foot.
So here are my 'Awards' for another colourful dining year.
Mouth of the Year
Chef Martijn Kajuiter of the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore who, in response to a moderate review by another critic, tweeted "bollocks about the portion sizes ... not well written ... guess the great MPW (Marco Pierre White) is right, we are judged by people who know less than we do." So, it seems like a case of eat what you are given and shut up.
Strictly Come Eating Gong
Gourmet Food Parlours in Dun Laoghaire, Swords, Malahide and Ballyboughal. As Bruno Tonioli might say of the two Lorraines (Byrne and Heskin) and their tapas-style food: "It's hot, it's steamy, it's castanets all the way."
The Polar Prize
Bear Restaurant in Dublin and its proprietor Joe Macken who, on his enquiry, was acquainted with the unpleasant service we had endured in his establishment. Instead of "taking care of that", as he said he would, in trying to be cool, he promptly tweeted, "just had the most bizarre experience with @lucindasireland in @bearDUBLIN". Cool or fool?
Kiss & Make Up Award
Jay Bourke, whose failed objection to Dylan McGrath's drink licence application, didn't stop the pair appearing 'all pals' on the opening night of the Masterchef's Fade Street Social restaurant in Dublin.
The Confusion Cross
Cinnamon Cafe in Ranelagh where, on our visit, the service was so all over the place that we wondered were we on the set of a staff training video on how not to treat customers.
Man For All Seasons
Bill Kelly of Kelly's Resort Hotel in Rosslare, whose great emporium caters for all ages and where every guest is treated like a movie star.
Comeback Kid 2012
Kevin Hui of China Sichuan who, in 2012, not only cycled from Paris to Nice for charity, but has successfully resurrected the China Sichuan in Sandyford where I was greeted again with an inscrutable, unsmiling expression – either he wasn't happy to see me or maybe he was just saddle sore.
Rubber Tyre Award
Lock's Brasserie Dublin and Aniar in Galway, who were recipients of Michelin Stars.
The Overtyred Order
The 'new' Asian fusion Bamboo on Parliament Street in Dublin which, with dreary Spanish decor and music, proved on its first night to be no more than a change of menu!
What Recession? Award
Mexican restaurant and tequila cocktail bar 777 on South Great George's Street in Dublin, which is packed to the rafters despite its cocktail prices being over the border!
The Pop-Off Prize
Rigby's of Dame Street, the much vaunted second enterprise of chef James Rigby, who billed himself as "the chef critics love to hate". Rigby's Dame Street Popped Up and Popped Off in the blink of an eye.
The Mr Modesty Medal
Chef Mikael Viljanen who moved from Gregan's Castle in Co Clare to the Greenhouse on Dublin's Dawson Street. Heaped with excellent reviews, Viljanen declared that critics in Ireland were too soft. Did he not think he deserved the praise?
Great Gastropub Gong
The longstanding Jim Edwards Bar & Restaurant in Kinsale, which is ever reliable and ever popular.
My Favourite Room
La Stampa in Dawson Street, Dublin, even though I was thrown out of it in a previous restaurant incarnation for doing my job, its Versailles-style beauty makes it still my favourite room.
Small is Beautiful Award
La Reserve in Ranelagh where chef Jerome Fernandes has imbued the variable Ranelagh strip with some really good French food in a chic ambiance.
The Three Coins in the Fountain Award
Dunne & Crescenzi on Frederick Street in Dublin, whose Italian food and wines are such that you want to throw your coins in their 'fountains' to make sure you return again.
First Past the Post 2012
The White Horses Restaurant in Ardmore, Co Waterford, where the great food of the three sisters, Christine, Geraldine and Angela, is proof of French gastronome Brillat-Savarin's statement that "good food cooked simply and eaten in surroundings in which everyone can feel at home".
The War & Peace Award
N Square in Cork, the length of whose menu rivals Leo Tolstoy's great tome!
The Here's Your Hat – What's Your Hurry Award
Mak's in Ranelagh where the lady in charge in an empty restaurant, having offered us a tiny table for two in the middle of the floor, then grudgingly moved us to a better table, but as we sat down then declared she wanted it back in an hour and a half. We left it with her. Talk about fast food!
The Star of the East
Kevin O'Toole's wonderful Indonesian Chameleon restaurant, which has not hidden its light under a bushel since it first opened its doors some 18 years ago when Temple Bar was but a pup.
Most Welcome Brit Award
Jamie Oliver's Italian in Dundrum Town Centre, which has had queues out the door to try the one-time Naked Chef's take on Italian food.
Cookbook of the Year
Paul Cadden's cracking Saba Thai Restaurant, whose Saba The Cookbook not only benefits Crumlin Children's Hospital and the Thai Red Cross, but is so beautiful you could leave it on your coffee table – if you could trust your visitors!
Tower of Strength Award
The Martello Hotel, whose al fresco dining and pleasant service brings a touch of the Riviera to Bray seafront. Like Bray's famous daughter, Katie Taylor, it's a winner on points.
Rear of the Year
It is not a physical attribute this year but instead goes to Kevin Aherne's great casual Sage Restaurant tucked away under an archway behind Midleton's Main Street.