Hospitality Awards: And the Stella goes to . . . .

Posted: 9/1/2012

If she says so herself, Ms Morris’s list of Stella performances for 2011 is a choice few cuts above the rest.

I look back every year at the previous year’s ‘Best of’ list before putting the current one together, and am usually smug-u-like with my choices and how well they bear up to close scrutiny the following year.

This year I have also been to a number of the country’s leading hospitality awards ceremonies, so I now know – for a fact – that if you were to eat, drink and stay based on my selections as opposed to those of some of the big organisations representing restaurants, hotels and catering establishments, you’d be having a much better time with me. As the actress said to the bishop.

If you have been paying attention, most of the below will come as no surprise. In fact, if you read the same page last year there are some reappearing names – not a bad thing, as consistency, in hospitality anyway, is a pearl beyond price.

So, to the awards . . . 


Best Newcomer

Aniar. Galway’s latest slice of cool is a terroir-based venture, where the menu reads like a handbook to the world around it. Despite the fact that its pale green, clean and minimal looks might suggest scrubs as the approved dress code, the Claddagh-via-Copenhagen explosions of flavour on the plates (and so pretty too!) make it well worth the visit. 


Best Dining Room

The Long Room at Doonbeg. I should be given some world-wide roving ambassador status for Doonbeg at this stage, as I have probably spent more woman hours persuading people to try the place than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The Long Room’s rich mossy green carpets, oak panelling, foxed mirrors, squeaky brass-wheeled trolleys, casement windows with crashing Atlantic outside, and its reassuringly accomplished food make it somewhere I look forward to going back to. Look forward? I dream about it. 


Best Hotel Restaurant

La Fougère at Knockranny House Hotel. Seamus Commons is on fire. Thankfully not literally, as that would be a shocking waste of an immense talent, but he is a man at the top of his game. Such sophistication, such a palate, such fanatical attention to every last detail of what goes on every plate is very rare, and when speaking to him, you really get the feeling that he’s only just getting started, getting into his stride, taking everything he’s ever learned, ever eaten, ever seen and making it his own. He has an incredibly supportive hotel behind him and he is also turning out award-winning and talented chefs from his kitchen. 


Best Seafood

Matt the Thresher. An excellent selection of fishy stuff, beautifully put together in a bright and airy pub, a terrific wine list and exceptionally pleasant staff. What’s not to love? They also have a small snug for the chillier days, with a great selection of books, as well as a full menu of burgers, pies etc but the Stephen Caviston-led fish menu is the reason to go.

Runner-up: Farmgate in the English Market really know how to cook fish.


Best Bustle

Deanes Seafood Bar. The optimum restaurateur Michael Deane has been liberated from the tyranny of his Michelin star and has gone into an overdrive of reinvention, with the Circle upstairs, the new menus in the main Howard Street restaurant and the Seafood Bar, cheery, busy, delicious and great value.


Runner up: Coppinger Row for their charity leanings and their superb cocktails, plus Troy Maguire and Billy Scurry’s grown-up job-shared menu and incredible value.

Best Hotel Room

Doonbeg. I should just cut and paste this one annually. Ideally an ocean view suite, please, but really, any room will do. I’m in love with the epic level of finish, the fantastic bed and proper coffee, the satisfying sound of more hinges than necessary closing the door, the turf smoke and sea salt and charm. Now that I have recently become an adept golf-buggy driver (a better way to get around a golf course than my usual mode of transport, cycling, would be) I am looking forward to a whole new experience of Doonbeg on my next visit – attempting to not drive myself over the edge and into the sea.

Runner up: Ballyfin. Incredible restoration work, a magnificent house, just a squeak (or three) over my budget…


Best Bar Food

The Salty Dog. Bangor’s red brick Victorian gem The Salty Dog has some of the very best food in the country, well worth travelling for, not just out from Belfast but up from anywhere in the country. Chef Derek Creagh is smart, talented, ambitious, focused and fun, and his food is absolutely sensational.

Runner up: Mike Hanrahan from  Pat Shortt’s Bar  has done a brilliant job since he started, producing simple, satisfying food that showcases great ingredients.


Best Restaurant

La Fougère at Knockranny House Hotel. I haven’t spent any time in the kitchen with Seamus Commons, where I imagine he’s a hard taskmaster, but outside of it he’s an absolute dote, and his food is gorgeous. Gorgeous.

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