It is immensely encouraging to see so many Taste of Ulster chefs achieving recognition at this year’s Georgina Campbell Awards and particularly to see OX in Belfast being named as Ireland’s Top Restaurant – the second year in succession – in the influential Food and Wine magazine awards. I recently had the privilege of talking to Stevie Toman, his dedication and that of the Ox team is outstanding.
The Georgina Campbell Awards are vital because they showcase the fabulous restaurants and hotels here, especially to potential visitors across Ireland, who know they can count on Northern Ireland for exceptionally tasty and creative food combined with professional service.
While we’ve seen significant growth in visitors from Ireland in recent years we still need to continue to focus resources on marketing all that we have to offer there. It’s a market that we are working on with InvestNI to create opportunities for food and drink producers to achieve faster growth. This has included hosting presentations with dozens of smaller companies in Dublin, Galway and, most recently, as the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow, one of the biggest business opportunities in the Republic this year. We’ll also be taking a group of smaller producers with InvestNI to the big Gifted Show in Dublin in December.
There was very well deserved recognition in the Georgina Campbell Awards for Michael Deane of Deane’s restaurants in Belfast, including the Michelin starred EIPIC. Michael is a superb ambassador for our food and drink and hospitality and has long been an inspirational supporter of local producers. It was wonderful to see him named Hospitality Hero for Ireland 2020.
Our warmest congratulations to Michael Deane and the many other winners. They include Stephen Toman from OX in Belfast who was Highly Commended in the Chef of the Year category. The wonderful chef Darragh Dooley and Jason Foody General Manager at Killeavy Castle in Armagh won Newcomer of the Year while No 14 at the Georgian House was Highly Commended in the same category. The restaurant, led by chef Jim Mulholland, is making a hugely important contribution to the dining out scene in Comber, North Down and East Belfast.
The Hideaway of the Year section saw commendations for both Newforge House in Armagh and Ardtara House in Derry both were Highly Commended. Chef Danni Barry’s Overwood at Balloo House in Co Down won Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year while Niall McKenna of James St in Belfast, another tremendous ambassador for Taste of Ulster and Food NI, won the Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year. The Hatch from Castlewellan was Highly Commended in the Street Food of the Year Award.
Companies in hospitality, as well as food and drink, don’t always receive the recognition they deserve for their enterprise, innovation, ambition and achievements. Yet we have some of the most progressive and ambitious smaller businesses here, innovation seems to run in their veins. We’ve seen dozens of companies successful in Great Taste and in Blas na hEireann, Irish National Food Awards in Dingle this week and I look forward to writing about the results in next week’s column.