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Katy McGuinness: The 2019 food awards

 

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Big on flavour: Korean fried chicken at Chimac

Big on flavour: Korean fried chicken at Chimac

Cooking up a storm: Young chef Gráinne Mullins. Photo: Frank McGrath

Cooking up a storm: Young chef Gráinne Mullins. Photo: Frank McGrath

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Big on flavour: Korean fried chicken at Chimac

From best newcomer to the most innovative pop-ups and most promising chefs, we bring you the standouts of 2019.

The Hello Award for Best Newcomers

I'm splitting this between two outstanding new restaurants....

AIMSIR

Ever since they opened their restaurant at Cliff at Lyons in Co Kildare back in May, Jordan Bailey and Majken Bech-Bailey have worked their socks off to deliver a food and hospitality experience unlike anything seen in Ireland before. Their achievement in gaining two Michelin stars in less than six months is nothing short of miraculous, yet you'd be hard-pushed to find anyone that begrudges the couple their success. Of course, reservations for the tasting menu (you might get anything up to 18 courses, served either with matching wines from sommelier Cathryn Steunenberg or Majken's signature juice pairings) are like hens' teeth; my top tip is to gather a few friends and sign up for the waiting list. If there are four, six or eight of you ready to make the trip at short notice, you might just get the call.

VARIETY JONES

Very different, but also recognised by the Michelin folk with a shiny new star, is Variety Jones on Thomas Street in Dublin 8. Keelan and Aaron Higgs' restaurant opened just before Christmas last year and you'd be forgiven for missing its low-key exterior as you walk by. Keelan cooks over an open hearth, and the food is served family-style, in keeping with his belief that it's fundamental to his job to get people together round a table to enjoy one another's company while they share good food. Great wines from sommelier Vanda Ivancic too.

And Goodbye to those that we'll miss...

Two restaurant closures that took everyone by surprise this year were Luna and Chameleon, the latter after 25 years in business. Eastern Seaboard in Drogheda was another casualty of the chill winds blowing through the industry. Restaurants need regular customers, rather than the people who clamour to get a booking in the latest hotspot during the early weeks, post their presence on social media and then never darken the door again. We are in danger of ending up in a situation where independent restaurateurs cannot survive, and every restaurant is part of a chain or 'hospitality and entertainment' group.

The Phoenix Award

Liath

There were nervous moments in the Hurlingham Club in London in October, when Damien Grey of Liath wasn't called up on stage with the rest of the new recipients of Michelin stars. Thankfully this was down to a technicality - as Liath occupies the premises formerly home to Heron & Grey, and as Grey is still the chef, Liath's star is regarded by Michelin as retained rather than newly awarded. Phew. This is a restaurant that continues to evolve and excite; Grey's ambitions go further.

The 'What were they thinking?' award

Etto

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Etto lost its Bib Gourmand earlier this year, without any explanation from Michelin. I ate there recently, my first time since Vish Sumputh took over as head chef, and I'm none the wiser. Bastible also controversially lost its Bib. I'll review both in the new year.

The Dish of the Year award

1. Hare Royale at The Greenhouse

I had lunch at The Greenhouse in September, a couple of weeks before Mickael Viljanen won his second Michelin star. It was the first day of hare royale, an autumn signature dish. Sweet baby Jesus, what a dish.

2. Flan de queso at Uno Mas

Sweet stuff of dreams.

Pop-Up of the Year

The Sea Hare

The Sea Hare's summer suppers in Cleggan in Connemara were a delight - bringing life back to an underused pub and sourcing ingredients hyper-locally.

Menu Cliché of the year award

Côte de Boeuf

Restaurants - unless you are buying Very Good Beef, please steer clear. Your customers can tell. And, while we're at it, croquettes. They don't have to be on every menu.

Korean Fried Chicken is the new burger award

Chimac

Big flavours, small prices, Irish free-range chicken, deadly cauliflower wings… what more could you ask for? Watch it fly.

Food Truck of the Year award

Misunderstood Heron

The backdrop of Killary Fjord is spectacular, but the food would taste as good anywhere.

The Salad Doesn't Have to be Boring award

Tiller & Grain

Clair Dowling's café on Dublin's South Frederick Street is the gold standard when it comes to lunchtime salads. Never mind all the places serving great-looking, Ottolenghi-style food that tastes of nothing; this is the vibrant, tasty real deal.

The Future is Bright award

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Cooking up a storm: Young chef Gráinne Mullins. Photo: Frank McGrath

Cooking up a storm: Young chef Gráinne Mullins. Photo: Frank McGrath

Cooking up a storm: Young chef Gráinne Mullins. Photo: Frank McGrath

 

Gráinne Mullins

Congratulations to the 25-year-old chef who won the EuroToques Young Chef of the Year competition last month, beating the other seven finalists. You can taste her work at Lignum, Danny Africano's restaurant in Loughrea, in Co Galway, Mullins's home town.

 

Ups/downs

HOORAY FOR...

Restaurants taking sustainability seriously.

Looking after regular customers.

Menus with creative and, crucially, tasty vegetarian and vegan options.

Warm welcomes.

Staff who are knowledgeable about wine.

Chefs that don't allow bro culture to rule kitchens.

BOO TO...

Style over substance.

Staff who fail to wear their wine expertise lightly.

Restaurants buying in imported produce from supermarkets rather than supporting local farmers.

No-shows. Not fair.

Customers with made-up food intolerances.

Lazy restaurants that rest on their laurels.

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