Members shine at the Irish Restaurant Awards #FoodOscars


Over 400 people gathered to be wined and dined last night at La Mon Hotel and Country Club for the 10th annual Irish Restaurant Awards’ Ulster Regional Final. From its humble beginnings back in 2009 these awards are fantastic in showcasing what’s being served up in Ulster

La Mon Hotel and Country Club was packed to the rafters last night with teams working in the hospitality and tourism sector who had gathered to find out if their shortlist for the Irish Restaurant Awards would be turned into a regional award or not.

A total of 135 awards were handed out and the awards covered a wide range of venues. The winners from each of Ulster’s nine counties were selected from the following categories:

Best Casual Dining; Best Emerging Irish Cuisine; Best Kids Size Me; Best ‘Free From’; Best World Cuisine; Best Restaurant Manager; Best Wine Experience; Pub of the Year; Best Café; Best Customer Service; Best Gastro Pub; Best Hotel and Guesthouse Restaurant; Best Newcomer; Best Chef  and Best Restaurant including a special regional award for Ulster’s Local Food Hero.

Those who weren’t lucky enough to be there were glued to #FoodOscars on Twitter as names of bars, cafes, restaurants, chefs were announced covering Ulster’s nine counties.

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Live It Experience It member, Chef Robert Curley, of The Slemish Market Supper Club, attended last night after being shortlisted for seven awards in County Antrim.

While Chef Edgars Ratniks was there to represent Live It Experience It member, Digby’s Bar and Restaurant, for County Armagh. This popular country bar and restaurant was shortlisted for;

Claire Macklin of Digby's Bar and Restaurant won Best Restaurant Manager in the Irish Restaurant Awards Ulster Regional Finals

Also attending was Aussie Chef Dean Coppard who was nominated and shortlisted for Best Chef for County Down.

Speaking at the awards, Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said: “Now in their 10th year, the Irish Restaurant Awards continue to showcase the exquisite and admirable calibre of food available in our restaurants and pubs nationwide.

“Online nominations have increased from 9,000 in 2013 to over 80,000 this year, and, with the increase in interest comes an increase in standards, making the judging process more difficult than ever.

“Our small island boasts everything from fine dining to high quality gastropubs, from the exotic taste explosions of world cuisine to the comfort of traditional dishes. We have an appreciation for what we eat, for the journey of our food from farm to fork, and for the dedication of those working in the food industry to serve up Ireland’s finest food.”

Bearing this in mind it is an absolutely tremendous achievement for Digby’s Bar & Restaurant and The Slemish Market Supper Club to walk away with a regional award each.

Chef Rob Curley walked away with the award for Best Emerging Irish Cuisine for County Antrim.

While Chef Edgars Ratniks picked up the award, on behalf of Claire Macklin, for Best Restaurant Manager for County Armagh.

Edgars Ratniks picking up Claire Macklin's award at the irish Restaurant Awards Ulster Regional Finals 2018

Speaking about being awarded Best Restaurant Manager, Claire Macklin said: “I can’t believe we have won this award. It’s fantastic and it’s testament to the hard work and dedication of the whole team here at Digby’s Bar & Restaurant. We pride ourselves in being a traditional country bar and restaurant and our customers are extremely loyal.

“I want to thank all of our staff for working so hard to make our food and drink offering a pleasurable experience for our customers and I want to thank our friends, family, neighbours and tourists for their ongoing support.”

Chef Robert Curley too is thrilled with his award.

Chef Robert Curley picking up his award at the irish Restaurant Awards Ulster Regional Finals 2018

Speaking after a night of celebrations, Rob said: “The Slemish Market Supper Club is achieving great things and the feedback we get from people who attend is phenomenal. What we do is different and people like the intimacy of the supper club, how we cook and how we serve. Keep an eye out on our Facebook Page and then come and join us. I am thrilled with this award so thank you to everyone who nominated The Slemish Market Supper Club.”

Next stage is that each of these county winners will receive a mystery guest inspection in the next few weeks. The Irish Restaurant Awards are the only awards in the country to send independently conducted mystery guest inspections to each and every restaurant who wins at the county level.

Mystery guest inspections will count for 40 per cent of the final score in choosing the ultimate winners in each category. The panel of experts will choose their top restaurants in this round (60 per cent).

This rigorous process behind the Irish Restaurant Awards makes it the most coveted and credible restaurant awards in the country.

Live It Experience It’ is a group of journalists and travel writers who tell the story of our members. We work  collaboratively with our members, which are tourism businesses, to promote Northern Ireland through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. Together we let our visitors know of all of the amazing things Northern Ireland has to offer.  To become a member business in of ‘Live It Experience It’ call our office on 028 3756 8436 or please submit your information through our online form. T&Cs apply –  Sign Up Here Let us tell your story! Live It Experience It is the NW200 tourism partner for 2018. 

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Eleanor McGillie

About Eleanor McGillie

Eleanor spent eight years working in the south west of England - one of the UK's most popular tourism hotspots. During her stint working with key players in the tourism sector she developed a love for all things outdoor adventure. As a journalist she got to travel to remote corners of the world to write travel features about the experiences of a particular place. Northern Ireland's story needs to be told and needs to reach new audiences. Live It Experience It aims to attract tourists from outside Ireland, people from Ireland and people who live in Northern Ireland but aren't aware of the extent of the adventures on our own doorsteps. Eleanor is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) at Associate Level