Three Northern Irish
hospitality establish-ments were named in the annual and very prestigious Geo-
rgina Campbell Awards for
Excellence in food and hos-pitality.
The three local winners were Balloo Inns in Killinchy, Walled City Brewery and Restaurant in Derry, and Blackwell House in Banbridge. All three are active members of Food NI/Taste of Ulster.
The Walled City Brewery, a hugely successful venture by master brewer James Huey, was named Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year. The restaurant is run by Huey’s sister Jill McKillop, an experienced chef who has transformed spent gr-ains from the brewery into breakfast granolas under the funky Grainola Goddess brand.
All three specialise in developing original dishes featuring locally sourced ingredients.
Ireland’s oldest and in-dependent scheme, Georgina Campbell’s Awards for Ex-cellence, is based on the Georgina Campbell Guides hospitality selection, which is totally consumer focused and not affiliated to any trade association or marketing group.
The Walled City Brewery was launched at the Culturetech Craft Beer Festival in Londonderry in 2014, the first craft brewery in the city centre for more than 100 years.
Georgina Campbell descr-
ibes the business as “handsomely located in the old military pay office on Ebrington Square, which dates back to 1890, a craft brewery and restaurant in the same building which is another first for Northern Ireland.”
She continues: “With its original beer-themed decor and terrific ‘local tapas’ food to match the beers, all thanks to talented family members, the atmospheric bar-rest-aurant is a destination in itself. For a complete taste of Northern Ireland, Walled City Brewery is a must-visit.”
Quite an accolade for the ambitious and innovative small business. It has also won Restaurant Association of Ireland awards and has been named Ireland’s Gastro-Pub of the Year.
Huey has also developed a range of innovative beers, including the recreation of a recipe of an ale dating back to 1688. Other beers reflect the city’s historic and industrial traditions, especially Boom linked to the siege, and Stitch, which represents its position as once Europe’s shirt making capital.
James Huey, responding to the award, says: “Amazing … absolutely delighted at this hugely prestigious award.”
Husband and wife team Ronan and Jennie Sweeney of Balloo Inns collected the coveted Hospitality Hero award at the announcement of winners at the VIP event in Dublin. Their award was given “in recognition of the contribution made by exceptional individuals in Irish food and hospitality”.
“The contribution that Ronan and Jennie Sweeney have made to standards in hospitality, and especially in the casual dining sector, is remarkable,” says Georgina Campbell. “Their ambition, when they took over the famous 19th century coaching inn Balloo House at Killinchy, County Down, in 2004, was to restore its reputation as one of the finest country dining pubs in Northern Ireland. This they achieved with spectacular success – and it was just the beginning.
“Together with head chef Danny Millar, who is one of the region’s culinary leaders and a champion of local seasonal produce, the couple had hardly established Upstairs at Balloo as the area’s premier dining destination when another old pub, Lisbarnett House in Lisbane, came onto the market in dire need of tender loving care and the team struck again.
“It soon became The Poacher’s Pocket, with its terrific Poacher’s Pantry selling top quality meat, fish and game in season as well as bakery, deli products and premium drinks.
“Next came the charming Marquis of Downshire in Hillsborough, which was renamed The Parson’s Nose and was recently given the Sweeney gold dust treatment, emerging as an even more impressive old-meets-new dining destination last year.
“The three Balloo Inns sum up all that is best about Northern Ireland food and hospitality for many regular visitors, and they have become the benchmark for quality pub dining. The Sweeneys make it all seem so easy and the core team has remained in place as their employee base gradually rose to well over 100.
“But this was real life and there were challenges along the way, not least with health issues, which inspired them to take action in a number of ways not only to benefit themselves and their staff, but also the wider population. To this end they started to raise awareness of – and funds for – Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS).
Ronan Sweeney, comment-ing on the recognition, says: “We are very touched by this special award from Georgina Campbell, it is completely unexpected, and we are very grateful to receive this national recognition at the prestigious ceremony in Dublin.
“It is continually an en-joyable journey honing our
offering to the highest possible standard and work-ing with fantastic suppliers to serve the finest locally-sourced food across all three of our dining pubs.”
Guesthouse of the Year was awarded to Blackwell House, Scarva in County Armagh. Georgina explains why the award went to Blackwell House: “Competing with cut price hotels has been no joke for the owners of guesthouses and B&Bs in recent years, but the best have unique selling points that allow them to thrive regardless of any such challenges – notably hands-on hospitality and home cooked food.”
The house is owned by
Stephen and Joyce Brown-lees.