Food for thought!

The eye catching achievements of our talented chefs are helping to enhance Northern Ireland’s reputation as a European centre of culinary excellence, a standing which is adding substantially to our appeal to tourists seeking a destination with a variety of attractions including great food. This is extremely important because research shows that upwards of a third of visitor spend is on food and drink. They expect to experience locally sourced food produced by people dedicated to excellent products with outstanding success.

What’s also extremely important is that our award winning chefs use our superb local ingredients. Skilled and creative chefs are helping to showcase by using the ingredients to create imaginative and original menus on a par with the best available elsewhere. Indeed, High Life, the highly regarded in-flight magazine of British Airways recently named Belfast as one of the best places in the world for good food.

The awards in major competitions and reviews in national newspapers and magazines show potential visitors that they can expect highly creative menus here with dishes using wholesome ingredients with safety and provenance.

Recent successes include three Belfast restaurants on the North Coast:

  • OX in Belfast winning the Menu of the Year Award in the Cateys, the ‘Oscars’ of the UK hospitality industry;
  • James Street South, also Belfast, being named regional winner in the Waitrose Good Food Guide’s Reader’s Restaurant of the Year;
  • Howard Street, in Belfast being acclaimed by one of London’s top food writers in the Guardian newspaper; and
  • Harry’s Shack in Portstewart winning a National Restaurant Award as the Best in Northern Ireland.

In addition, the premium quality and outstanding flavours of contemporary Northern Ireland cuisine were showcased in this year’s prestigious Irish Restaurant Awards. Indeed, it was a record year for Northern Ireland restaurants in this, the Irish hospitality industry’s most important competition.

Northern Ireland restaurants, which specialise in using ingredients from local suppliers, mostly artisan enterprises, won a record four of the top categories in the awards.

The awards, the biggest, brightest and best-ever, especially for Northern Ireland, are another significant boost for our local food and drink industry as we gear up for next year’s planned Year of Food and the year-long celebration of the very best of food and drink being produced, particularly within the dynamic artisan sector that includes dozens of companies which were extremely successful in this year’s UK Great Taste Awards.

The recognition for excellence being achieved by local restaurants supports the work of Tourism Northern Ireland in the drive to attract visitors from the Republic and other international markets. It shows that they are now able to find superb cuisine in restaurants specialising in local food and drink across Northern Ireland.

Over 30,000 nominations were received for restaurants, chefs, gastro pubs, hotel restaurants and restaurant managers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland category winners were:

Best Gastro Pub in both Ireland and Ulster – The Poacher’s Pocket, Killnchy, Co Down

Best Newcomer in both Ireland and Ulster – Deanes EIPIC, Belfast

Best Wine Experience Kindly in both Ireland and Ulster – OX, Belfast

Best Restaurant Manager in Ireland -Saul McConnell of Deanes at Queens, Belfast

Best Restaurant in Ulster– Ox, Belfast

Best Chef in Ulster – Neven Maguire of MacNean House and Restaurant, Cavan

Best Hotel Restaurant in Ulster – Ardtara Country House, Derry

Best Casual Dining in Ulster – Graze, Belfast

Best Customer Service in Ulster – Church Street Restaurant, Derry

In addition to the awards, several Northern Irish products were featured in the gala menu for the dinner at the awards ceremony in Dublin. These were salmon from Keenan Seafoods in Belfast, which was cooked using Broighter Gold Rapeseed from Limavady and Red Hand Ale from Tyrone.

The all-Ireland cheeseboard featured Causeway speciality cheese with dulse that’s produced by Fivemiletown Creamery, now owned by Dale Farm, our biggest dairy co-operative, in Co. Tyrone.

Congratulations to all our wonderful chefs. Keep up the good work!