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02 February 2009

The Bridgestone 100 Best Guides 2009

The new Bridgestone 100 Best Books for 2009 – the 100 Best Restaurants and The 100 Best Places to Stay – are in the shops and almost out of our lives and on their way to – hopefully – connecting nice curious people to nice, satisfying places to eat and stay throughout the country. Lots of ace new places to eat and stay, lots of lovely new creative people discovered. Aidan Crawley of The Irish Times quickly and unobtrusively took this lovely shot, above, when we launched the books in Dublin's peerless L'Ecrivain restaurant.

A friend asked us to reflect a little on what might be coming next, to ask what the smart guys who are ahead of the pack are up to. Here is what we suggested...

Food miles is an issue already being addressed by the smart guys, whether it is Ross Lewis and Derry Clarke buying all their vegetables from Wicklow growers and fish from east Coast fishermen, or Carmel Somers at Good Things Café down here who sources within probably a two or three mile radius.

But the smart guys are taking it even further: consider Paul Flynn of The Tannery with a garden in the centre of a town! or Martin Kajuiters of The Cliff House in Ardmore who gardens to produce his own flowers, and has a Camphill community delivering to his spec. Ruari and Marie-Therese de Blacam who are planting their own veg garden on Inis Meain. Catherine Fulvio in Wicklow doing the same.

Of course, the country houses got there first, but these are radical steps, and one I fancy will be much copied, as they should be. The county houses are taking it a stage further also: Rathmullan House has its gardener blogging on their website, and where they are also growers, then places like Longueville House go one further, becoming farmers market sellers as well as restaurateurs.

In fact, this multiplicity of activity thing is one of the key drivers now: Aroma in Donegal retail their breads through a dozen different outlets in the county, and sell their dressings, relishes and so on, selling them to people like Mary McAleese. Paul Flynn has gone from restaurant to restaurant with rooms, to restaurants with rooms and cookery school with garden and polytunnel. Good Things is almost more of a cookery schoo and shop (books, saucepans, food to go) than a restaurant, and brilliant at everything.

So, in the near future, expect to read on the menu the miles the food that you are eating has travelled. Expect to be able to see the kitchen garden from your seat. Expect restaurants that are also schools, shops, market gardens, farmers' markets sites, whatever. And expect to see lots of optimism, for optimism is what drives hospitality and cooking. It is, even in the best of times, a crazy thing to open a restaurant, B&B or hotel. But crazy, brilliant people do it all the times, so the recession can go hang!

The 2009 Bridgestone 100 Best Guides cost €12 each. You can order them through this site, or find them in all good bookshops