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16 December 2009

New Discoveries

So, who makes the best cupcakes in Kilkenny? Who makes the best black pudding in Tipperary? What oil should you have on the table instead of extra virgin olive oil? Who makes the best salted caramels in Limerick? Which is the hottest restaurant in Leitrim? And which is the hottest restaurant in Longford?

Why is the Barking Dog painfully fashionable? Where can you get a dainty cup of tea in Kenmare? Which Kerry tearooms is a century old? Who is the finest new market baker in County Clare? Where would you find ooooby? In which Westport restaurant do they recite poetry when you are having your dinner? It’s Thursday, you are on Mespil Road in Dublin, so what are the chances of finding a Poulet Bonne Femme?

There is so much exciting new stuff in the Bridgestone Irish Food Guide that we could make up questions like this all day long. It’s been such a treat to discover so much dedicated new talent, and to give the following people our Megabites Awards for 2009.

Restaurant of the Year: Campagne, Kilkenny

Garret Byrne and Brid Hannon hit the ground running in 2008 in Campagne. In 2009 they cranked the perfection parameters so high that the only term anyone uses about Campagne is “flawless”. The level of sheer perfection sees off any other contenders in 2009.

Producer of the Year: Mary McEvoy: A Slice of Heaven, Kilkenny

Mary McEvoy is one of the greatest patissiers in Ireland, and her cupcakes leave everyone else in the cupcake industry that has mushroomed in Ireland in the dust. You want to see and taste perfection? Here it is.

Newcomer of the Year: Nicole Dunphy, Pandora Bell, Limerick

You want to see and taste perfection? here it is, again. Nicole Dunphy's salted caramels and nougats and lollipops are of a standard no one in Ireland has ever achieved, and she has just started her Pandora Bell business, so what awaits us in the future? We can't wait.

New Food Award: Jane Russell & Gubbeen Smokehouse

Ms Russell gets the gong for her brilliant new black pudding. Fingal Ferguson gets the gong for his brilliant new white pudding. Both products are not anything like the style of food from which they have emanated: the Gubbeen white pudding is more porky than any other pudding; the Jane Russell black pudding comes somewhere between a French boudin and an Irish blood pudding but confidently stakes out its own, unique, turf.

Megabites Achievement Award: Jim Ahearne, Kelly's Hotel, Rosslare

35 years in the kitchens of Kelly's Hotel, creating goodness out of local foods: what an achievement, what an example for every other Irish cook the most gifted and genial Mr Ahearne is. And here's the thing: just what has Jim's use of local produce over 35 years meant to the local economy? Happy retirement, Jim!

Megabites County of the Year: Mayo

There has been ferocious competition to see which county is the most improved in the new Food Guide. Longford, perhaps? Roscommon, maybe? These sort of dark horse places are beginning to stand up and offer the sort of cutting edge food producers and cooks they have never enjoyed in the past.

But when push comes to shove, one county edges on other out. Kilkenny's star has never been brighter, its restaurants never better, its food producers never more confident. But in 2009 it's County Mayo that gets the gong. Across the board, from wine guys like Liam Cabot to artisans like Sean Kelly to cooks like Seamus Commons, County Mayo is firing on all cylinders like never before. The West: Awake!

Cookery Books of the Year:

Prannie Rhattigan's Irish seaweed Kitchen (Booklink)

Carmel Somers: Eat Good things Every day (Atrium)

Two books by two determined Irish women that represent a lifetime of learning and discovery, and which gift to you a lifetime of pleasure in the kitchen as you use them to explore the culinary canon. These are two outstanding books, and you need them both in your life.

Megabites 2010 Award: Sheridan's on the Docks

This is the restaurant you are going to hear most about in 2010. Seamus Sheridan and Enda McEvoy are pushing the culinary envelope in Sheridan's, the most exciting restaurant arrival in Galway since Gerry Galvin arrived in the city.