Georgina Campbell Awards: Searching for hospitality ‘with real heart’

Irish hospitality might have weathered the recession but poor service continues to be an issue in too many establishments, food critic Georgina Campbell has warned.

Georgina Campbell Awards: Searching for hospitality ‘with real heart’

Announcing her 2016 awards yesterday, Ms Campbell said the “soggy summer” did not appear to have dampened spirits at all with business well up almost everywhere this year.

Every year, Ms Campbell and her team of experienced assessors look for the best food and hospitality experiences.

However, this year they had some very disappointing experiences in owner-run establishments when the proprietors were not present.

Isaacs Restaurant in
Isaacs Restaurant in

Owners needed to understand the value of investing in staff training, she said.

Equally worrying was the number of poor meals her team experienced this year, even in previously reliable restaurants.

Michael and Catherine Ryan of Isaacs Restaurant in Cork received the Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year Award from Georgina Campbell, right
Michael and Catherine Ryan of Isaacs Restaurant in Cork received the Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year Award from Georgina Campbell, right

Ms Campbell and her assessors found that most parts of the country are experiencing plenty of new openings — most often in the dining pubs or bistro-brasserie categories, as well as tea rooms and cafe/bakeries.

Fine dining was also thriving, despite frequent warnings of its imminent demise. There were meals cooked with real finesse where the service style was quite relaxed and some really excellent traditional fine dining.

However, a new problem emerging in the accommodation sector was while prices are rising again, customers are not always enjoying a corresponding increase in standards.

Pub of the Year was awarded to MacCarthy’s Bar, Castletownbere, Co Cork.
Pub of the Year was awarded to MacCarthy’s Bar, Castletownbere, Co Cork.

Poor value for money was not restricted to any particular category, said Ms Campbell. Again this year, some of their worst experiences were in four and five-star hotels.

Ms Campbell said her team was not seeking perfection but hospitality “with real heart” and they were finding it in “clusters of excellence” all over the country.

Ms Campbell said it was difficult to see where the main focus was on food trends because there were so many diverse influences at work at the moment.

Asian cuisines, including Japanese, were strong but Northern European influences were still present and there were plenty of others too, including the cuisines of Spain and South America.

Outstanding Guest Experience went to TheMustard Seed, Ballingarry, Limerick
Outstanding Guest Experience went to TheMustard Seed, Ballingarry, Limerick

“Stunningly artistic creativity still characterises the work of some top chefs yet, conversely, assessors comment on the confusion of flavours on too many plates and many diners would like to see simpler, more direct styles.”

Ms Campbell said it was important chefs were taking vegetables more seriously, although the artistically commendable offering on the plate might bear very little resemblance in appearance or flavour to the carefully grown and often organic product when it had arrived in the kitchen.

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