‘Ugly’ hotels out as Campbell toasts quality

ONE of the country’s best-known food and accommodation critics has panned the proliferation of “ugly and uninteresting” mid-range hotels springing up across the nation.

Author and cook Georgina Campbell claimed many of them were also badly managed and she warned the trend could damage the reputation of Ireland’s valuable hospitality industry abroad.

Ms Campbell, who presented her annual awards for excellence last night, said overall the quality and diversity of places to stay and eat in Ireland were at an all-time high, but she said there were some issues that should be addressed.

“There are certainly some areas where we would like to see more care — the seemingly endless stream of uninteresting new mid-range hotels, which are often ugly and badly managed, does little for this country’s reputation.”

Ms Campbell and her husband, the sailing journalist, WM Nixon, and a panel of experts travel the length and breadth of the country each year checking out restaurants, hotels, pubs, bed and breakfasts and guesthouses to find the best for inclusion in her respected “glove box bible”, Georgina Campbell’s Ireland.

The author has also produced cookbooks and specialist guides, ranging from Ireland for Gourmet Golfers to Ireland for Weddings and Honeymoons. Despite her pointed remarks against some elements of the industry, she said generally, standards had never been better.

“With so many wonderful and deserving establishments and individuals raising their standards year-on-year, it is becoming increasingly difficult each year to decide who we should include in the guide and even more difficult to select the tiny proportion to be specially commended through our awards. This is a good complaint, however, and I am happy to say that we are truly spoilt for choice.”

The 2008 Guide selects more than 1,250 establishments across the 32 counties for recommendation and while some old reliables have been included many times, there are also 150 recommendations for places making the grade for the first time.

Last night’s awards picked the best of the best for mention in 31 different categories. Among those honoured were the matriarch of traditional Irish cookery, Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, whose citation praised her for a lifetime’s work and for “recapturing forgotten flavours and preserving those that may soon die”.

The Georgian-era Merrion Hotel in Dublin received the Hotel of the Year award; the authentic Olde Glen Bar in Carrigart, Co Donegal, was named Pub of the Year while the modern Deane’s Restaurant in the centre of Belfast took the accolade for Restaurant of the Year.

Ms Campbell said other establishments could take example from the winners — especially in developing higher standards of service. She also said there was room for more eateries to develop menus based on local ingredients and “conveying a sense of place”.

Best for bed and board

Hotel of the Year: The Merrion Hotel, Dublin 2.

Restaurant of the Year: Deane’s Restaurant, Belfast.

Pub of the Year: The Olde Glen Bar, Carrigart, Co Donegal.

Chef of the Year: Paul Flynn, The Tannery, Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Hideaway of the Year: Coxtown Manor, Laghey, Co Donegal.

Seafood Bar of the Year: Mary Ann’s Bar & Restaurant, Castletownshend, Co Cork.

Seafood Restaurant of the Year: O’Grady’s on the Pier, Barna, Co Galway.

Ethnic Restaurant of the Year: Furama Restaurant, Dublin 4.

Atmospheric Establishment of the Year: Hunter’s Hotel, Rathnew, Co Wicklow.

Country House of the Year: Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, Co Limerick.

Guesthouse of the Year: Whitepark House, Ballintoy, Co Antrim.

Bed & Breakfast of the Year: McManamin’s Townhouse, Wexford town.

Farmhouse of the Year: Castle Country House, Millstreet, Cappagh, Co Waterford.

Newcomer of the Year: Inis Meain Restaurant, Aran Islands, Co Galway.

Natural Food Award: Jacques Restaurant, Cork.

Féile Bia Award: The Chart House Restaurant, Dingle, Co Kerry.

Food Extra Award: Enniscoe House, Crossmolina, Co Mayo.

The Wine Award: Ashford Castle, Co Mayo.

Host of the Year: Martina Sheedy, Sheedy’s Hotel, Lisdoonvarna.

Business Hotel of the Year: Clontarf Castle, Dublin.

Family Friendly Hotel of the Year: Ferrycarrig Hotel, Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford.

Best Hotel Breakfast & Best Overall Breakfast: Waterford Castle Hotel, Ballinakill, Co Waterford.

Best Country House Breakfast: The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary.

Best Guesthouse Breakfast: Number 31, Dublin 2

Best B&B Breakfast: Marble Hall, Dublin 4

SPECIAL AWARDS: * Caviston’s, Sandycove, Dublin: Creative seafood.

* Avoca Cafes: For making great food accessible to all

* Renvyle House Hotel, Connemara, Co Galway: For creating the best Irish experience

* Paul & Jeanne Rankin: For awakening the taste for good food in Northern Ireland

* Myrtle Allen, Ballymaloe, Co Cork: For recapturing and preserving forgotten flavours.

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