The winners of the Naturally North Coast Menu Competition were announced at an exclusive awards ceremony at the Old Bushmills Distillery on Wednesday 19th January. Gerry Lavery, Permanent Secretary, DARD, presented specially commissioned plaques to representatives of the three winning eating establishments in addition to a special supplier award.
The ceremony, which was hosted by Nicola Weir of the BBC, was the climax to this year’s competition and saw a wide variety of the North Coast’s eating establishments battle it out for recognition as best in their category. Naturally North Coast is funded by the Department of Agriculture & Rural Developments’ NI Food Programme, and is a joint initiative by the four councils in Moyle, Coleraine, Ballymoney and Limavady. The menu competition encourages restaurateurs in the North Coast to use locally sourced ingredients in their menus.
Awards were presented in three categories: Best Restaurant, Best Hotel Restaurant, and Best Coffee Shop. Three additional eateries were presented with “Highly Commended” in each of the three categories.
The winner of the Best Restaurant category, deemed to be “an excellent advertisement for the Naturally North Coast Initiative” by the judges, was Gary Stewart of Tartine, the Distillers Arms, Bushmills. Gary’s array of unique menu choices, from Pan seared scallops with “Ballycastle” crab and lobster risotto to Rich red wine & juniper marinated venison casserole with celeriac mash offered, in their opinion, excellent variety, value for money, service, atmosphere and delicious food created by locally sourced produce. The Highly Commended award was given to husband and wife team, Richard & Trish Wilson of Harmony Hill Country House & Restaurant in Ballymoney.
The winning award in the Best Hotel Category went to Dermot Friel & Kieran McGilligan of the Bushtown Hotel in Coleraine. The Bushtown was awarded top marks in most of their categories and especially in their customer service. Overall, the Judges said: “The Bushtown’s Naturally North Coast Menu available was carefully thought out and infused with many local ingredients…making their dishes simply mouth-watering”. The Highly Commended award in this category was presented to Trevor Kane of the Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae.
Winner of the Best Coffee Shop went to Neil Campbell of New Society in Coleraine, who received an accolade from the judging panel that stated “The quality of food and service can match any cafe bistro in London or Dublin and is an incredible asset to Coleraine”. Ronan Boyle, of Boyle’s Cafe, Ballycastle received a Highly Commended from the judges. Trading for just over a year, Boyle’s Cafe specialises in homemade dishes with an emphasis on great food, great drinks and great service.
The final award on the day was the Best Supplier Award, which was a special award for the company judged to be the most inspiring and innovative supplier of local produce. This went to McAtamney’s Butchers, a family owned business dedicated to providing quality to their customers with all of their produce guaranteed local. McAtamney’s has eight branches in counties Antrim and Derry (Kilrea, Garvagh, Limavady, Maghera, Magherafelt, Ballymoney, Ballymena and Coleraine) and employs approximately 50 employees. Suppliers to Caterers, Hotels, Restaurants, Cafes, and Nursing Homes among others, McAtamney’s are strong champions for supporting local producers. It was felt by the judges that McAtamney’s embody the true ethos of the Naturally North Coast initiative.
Speaking at the ceremony, Permanent Secretary, Mr Gerry Lavery, conveyed best wishes from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew and stated that the Minister holds in “very high regard the work done by Moyle District Council in the promotion of local produce and their support for local producers over several years through the Menu of Moyle initiative and now through the Naturally North Coast Menu Competition.”
He went on to offer his congratulations to all of the councils involved, and also thanked all of the competitors for their efforts in promoting the North Coast and Northern Ireland as a place for very fine dining. Using Bushmills as his reference, Mr Lavery reminded the audience “of what a global success a local product can become when it is nurtured, presented and promoted in a correct way”.
Concluding the awards ceremony, Margaret Craig, Economic Development Officer, Moyle District Council thanked everyone who had participated in this year’s competition and reminded those present that the standard had now been set for the 2011 awards. She concluded “The success of the initiative in recognising the growing trend among consumers for quality food by actively promoting local produce to both commercial and domestic food consumers is one dependent upon developing relationships at all levels and we are delighted at the support we have received both from DARD, our local councils, our food producers and local businesses. We look forward to building upon the achievements recognised here today in 2011 and for a long time to come”.