The Awards, which took place recently at the Bord Bia offices in Dublin, are Ireland’s longest-running food and hospitality awards and are associated with Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides and Ireland’s most popular independent hospitality and travel website www.ireland-guide.com.
While Irish pubs in general are going through a challenging time, the pub experience remains one of the highlights of a visit to this country for visitors from abroad who love the unique atmosphere and the craic, stated Georgina Campbell at the awards, “And as long as there are family-run pubs as good as this one – which would make no claim to be a ‘food pub’ incidentally, but anything it serves is honest (simple and delicious) – the future of the Irish pub is assured”.
She continued, “There’s been a lot of talk (too much perhaps) about authenticity of late – but when we see it we recognise it and there’s no question but that it’s the real thing.
“Such is the case with a real Irish pub – it doesn’t need flashing lights or a voiceover, it’s just itself. And the one we’re honoured to have as our Pub of the Year this year, Adrienne MacCarthy’s timeless West Cork bar in Castletownbere is a supreme example of the genre, totally unaffected by its great fame – people travel from all over the world to see it for themselves and never, ever, is anyone disappointed by what they find.
“It still has the traditional shop at the front (a working shop, not a museumpiece) where fishermen and local workmen drop in for a pint; the bar is a pleasing jumble of memorabilia associated with the pub itself and the MacCarthy family’s distinguished history.
“The (coincidentally, not artlessly!) mismatched furniture is comfortable enough for eating (anyone for a simply superb crab sandwich?) and if you can get a seat for a night out enjoying their famous music sessions, they don’t make them like this any more, although they certainly try. A true gem.”
Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, won the Hotel of the Year award.
Of this hotel, she stated, “We don’t look for perfection and we certainly don’t expect to find it, but occasionally something comes pretty darn close – there are several examples of that in this year’s awards line-up as it happens and if the Guide’s recent experience is anything to go by, this second-generation family-run hotel is certainly one of them”.
Larkin’s Bar & Restaurant in Garrykennedy, County Tipperary, took the Taste of the Waterways Award.
Of the 2015 season so far, Georgina Campbell said, “With business well up almost everywhere this year, the soggy Summer doesn’t seem to have dampened spirits at all and some owners are cheerfully reporting business back to pre-recession levels.
“Improved access through Shannon and strong promotion of The Wild Atlantic Way has brought a lot of extra visitors to the West although too many of them are just passing through and many establishments mention ‘nuisance traffic’ (low budget coach tours, stopping only briefly at major attractions) rather than extra business.”
She described most parts of the country as seeing plenty of new openings – most often in the dining pubs or bistro/brasserie categories.
However she also noted the creeping return of poor standards of service in many premises, stating that, “Poor service (including wine service and ‘poor attitude’) continues to be an issue in too many establishments of all types and this year very disappointing experiences in owner-run establishments when the proprietors were away have underlined yet again the need to understand the value of investing in staff-training. Equally worrying is the number of poor meals we’ve experienced this year, even in previously reliable establishments.
“Standards are very variable which may be at least partly due to the current chef shortage which is now an ongoing crisis. Some apprenticeship schemes have been initiated, in some cases by individual chefs and such admirable enterprises should be encouraged but, on a larger scale, we support the Restaurants Association of Ireland’s call for government measures to tackle the skills deficit, including the re-establishment of the former state tourism training agency CERT.”