National Award for the Wicklow Escape

Representing the four corners of Ireland, the winners of the 2021 GeorginaCampbell Irish Food & Hospitality Awards have been announced and the Wicklow Escape based close to Donard has picked up the most Memorable Experience award . 

If one of Ireland’s most talented chefs cooking hyper-local produce in one of the island’s most under-discovered beauty spots sounds like your kind of food experience, then an all-inclusive night or two at this rustic-chic West Wicklow ‘mountain lodge for foodies’ could be the dream short break.

With celebrated chef Danni Barry cooking you breakfast and brunch, a hiking-friendly picnic lunch, plus an informal wood-fired feast and a luxury long-table dinner, what’s not to love? Produce comes from the kitchen garden and greenhouse just metres from the all-female kitchen and other key suppliers are within a three-mile radius. 

The highlight of this short-stay foodie escape is the long table dinner on the second night, hosted at a bespoke oak table in a stylishly renovated dining room at heart of the original stone cottage. Taken to fine-dining heights with Danni’s signature saucing, this is where she gets to flash the panache that saw her become one of Ireland’s most famous female chefs. Rustic-chic accommodation boasts lovely touches like bespoke spalted birch furniture, but the wonderful food and the outdoor beauty on your doorstep are the stars of this highly unusual experience.

Owner Lisa Wilkinson posted on Social Media following the announcement

“We are delighted to receive The Georgina Campbell Memorable Experience award 

Thanks to our amazing team, Head Chef Danni Barry and chef Niamh Barry. Front of house Conrad, Rebecca, Conal, Tatiana, Zoe, Conrad and Liz. Special thanks to Jodie, Daisy and Kendle. And all our guests who took Big up to Operation Manager Jill Robins who held us together. Amazing!!!” Lisa x

Head Chef Danni Barry

Celebrating 23 years in their current incarnation, the Georgina Campbell Awards recognise and honour Ireland’s standard-bearers in food and hospitality in Ireland with particular emphasis, this year, on the industry heroes who have maintained quality and put out the welcome mat with a smile whenever permitted during the pandemic.

Celebrating the bravest and the best
Describing this year’s awards as ‘a kind of love letter to Irish food and hospitality’ Georgina Campbell, one of Ireland’s foremost food and hospitality writers, says that despite everything that we have gone through in the last eighteen months, Ireland’s food, tourism and hospitality is a very exciting and ever-developing story. “I am lost in admiration for all of the brave and dedicated people in the sector who have stretched themselves to the limit to keep their businesses (many of them family owned) going, keep their staff together if at all possible, and provide incredibly creative alternative services to customers ,” said Georgina Campbell. 

“Despite the early worries about mass closures, the most surprising thing about the last couple of years is the number of new openings, especially restaurants, cafés and, of course, food trucks – alongside some superb pivoting and diversification, notably the excellent retail operations that many restaurants have developed alongside, or sometimes to replace, the core business. And, although there’s been a lot of complaining about rising prices and falling standards, in the main, standards are holding up better than might be expected. So much so, in fact, that selecting the finalists for these awards was an even more demanding task than usual and it must be emphasised that the few selected for special praise today are just representative of many, many more who are equally deserving of recognition – and we are especially conscious of the challenges that many hotels face, as they may have less options for pivoting than smaller buisinesses  On the question of pricing, if quality-led businesses are to be sustainable we must expect to get used to paying fair prices – the alternative is a race to the bottom. And this is a good time to mention that those who have been predicting the end of fine dining in recent years are being proved way off the mark. While there is undoubtedly a swing towards more casual styles, and the pandemic has emphasised that, you have only to look at our Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year – among others in this year’s awards selections – to see that the very finest of fine dining is very much alive and doing extremely well, thank you. And it’s providing a strong foundation for the food tourism which will undoubtedly blossom as the pandemic recedes.”

Sustainability, staycations and the great outdoors 
Georgina added, “This year, in tune with the times, we have also been looking particularly at sustainable development – a topic which has been focusing many minds of late and the art of reinvention is in top gear. As Niall Rochford, General Manager of Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle, said a while ago, “If 2020 was the year in which we all learned how to pivot, 2021 will be the year of reimagining.” And – as is reflected in our awards selections – it will be reimagining with the experience of the pandemic as a backdrop, creating meaningful experiences for people whose lives have been brightened by staycations, outdoor activities, gardens, pets, baking, community awareness and mutual support in recent months.”  

Sourcing and provenance 
Speaking about the awards, Georgina Campbell had praise for the improvements in sourcing policies. “The pandemic and the need to support  our local communities has made provenance even more important to consumers and it is good to see more establishments highlighting the origin of produce on their menus, thereby supporting Irish suppliers,” said Georgina.

Georgina Campbell’s Ireland’s rigorous programme of anonymous assessment visits is a year-round process and winners are nominated solely by an independent assessment team. 

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