'Pretty darn close' to perfection: Georgina Campbell announces 2016 award winners
Georgina Campbell Awards 2016
Gregans Castle has been named Hotel of the Year at the Georgina Campbell Awards 2016 this afternoon.
The awards, which are the longest-running of their kind in Ireland, also saw Belfast's James Street South voted Restaurant of the Year.
Dylan McGrath was named Chef of the Year, while MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere, Co. Cork, took the 'Pub of the Year' accolade for 2016.
Special awards for their contribution to Irish food and hospitality were given to Kevin Sheridan and Evan Doyle of the TASTE Council of Ireland, and to J.P. McMahon of EatGalway and foodontheedge.ie.
The winners, chosen following anonymous visits by independent inspectors who paid their way, were announced at Bord Bia in Dublin today.
- Hotel of the Year: Gregans Castle, Co. Clare
- Restaurant of the Year: James St. South, Belfast
- Chef of the Year: Dylan McGrath
- 'Just Ask' Bord Bia Restaurant of the Year: Rua, Castlebar
- Taste of the Waterways Award: Larkin's, GarryKennedy, Co. Tipperary
- Seafood Restaurant of the Year: La Cote, Wexford
- Outstanding Guest Experience: The Mustard Seed, Co. Limerick
- Host of the Year: Declan Maxwell, Luna, Dublin
- Business Hotel of the Year: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Dublin
- Pub of the Year: MacCarthy's Bar, Castletownbere, Co. Cork
- Wine Award of the Year: Stanley's, Dublin
- Newcomer of the Year: Maisons, Rostrevor, Co. Down
- Family Friendly Restaurant: StoneCutters Kitchen, Doolin, Co. Clare
- Pet-friendly Hotel of the Year: Lough Inagh Lodge, Co. Galway
- Hideaway of the Year: Bervie, Achill Island, Co. Mayo
- Casual Dining of the Year: Isaacs Restaurant, Cork
- Atmopsheric Restaurant of the Year: Bodega, Waterford
- Ethnic Restaurant of the Year: RAW, Galway
- Cafe of the Year: Teach Nan Phaidaí, Aran Islands
- Natural Food Award: Arbutus Bread
- Country House of the Year: Temple House, Sligo
- Guesthouse of the Year: Greenmount House, Dingle, Co. Kerry
- Farmhouse of the Year: Trean House, Co. Donegal
- B&B of the Year: Strandeen, Portstewart, Co. Derry
- Hotel Breakfast of the Year: Gregans Castle, Co. Clare
- Country House Breakfast of the Year: Temple House, Sligo
- Guesthouse Breakfast of the Year: Greenmount House, Dingle
- B&B Breakfast of the Year: Strandeen, Co. Derry
Gregans Castle, a Blue Book property snuggled away in the Burren, was one of several businesses that came "pretty darn close" to perfection, Campbell said.
"We are not seeking perfection, but hospitality with real heart, and we’re finding it in clusters of excellence all over the country," she explained.
She singled out Northern Ireland, The Burren, Connemara and the North-West for "especially good experiences" throughout the year, and also credited growing activity on the Aran Islands.
Business is rebounding after recession, she noted, with plenty of new openings in most parts of the country, and thriving fine and casual dining scenes.
It wasn't all good news however, as Campbell cautioned against a shortage of chefs and a trend towards rising prices, not always in tandem with rising standards.
"Poor service continues to be an issue in too many establishments of all types and, this year, very disappointing experiences in owner-run establishments when the proprietors were away have underlined yet again the need to understand the value of investing in staff training," she said.
"Some of our worst experiences have been in four and five-star hotels."
She credited the Wild Atlantic Way for bringing extra visitors to the West, but highlighted what many local businesses see as a growing problem of ‘nuisance traffic’ - i.e. low budget coach tours that stop only briefly at big attractions.
Another problem for Irish hospitality is the issue of unregistered accommodation, Campbell said, with an increasing number of established businesses opting to de-register from Fáilte Ireland's Approval scheme to reduce their cost base.
On food trends, she noted many diverse influences in Irish cooking - including Asian, North European, street food and Spanish.
At their best, these reflect "stunningly artistic creativity", but her assessors also commented on "the confusion of flavours" on too many plates.
Fans of the gourmet burger may also note her observation that Ireland's burger boom "has swamped mid-range menus and maybe it’s time to move on.”
See more at ireland-guide.com.