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2011 Megabytes Awards

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.
  • 2011 Megabytes Awards




Artisan Food of the Year: Sheridans Cheese Biscuits.
Never mind the deliciousness of the new Sheridan's Brown Bread Crackers. It's the smartness of this product that wows! us: the animating brilliance of Sheridan's, baking by the great Richard Graham-Leigh, Macroom Mills stoneground flour, Bandon Co-Op butter, Cronin family farm buttermilk. Now that is how you make the best cheese biscuit in the world. Nothing less than genius.

Artisan Producer of the Year: Toon's Bridge Mozzarella
Toby Simmonds and Johnny Lynch make mozzarella so good, so fresh, so true, that when you give it to Italian friends, they disdain it. Of course they do, for how can you admit that one of the cornerstones of one of the world's greatest cuisines can be made with such expertise in a wee, old dairy at Toonsbridge, near to Macroom. Sacriligeous to Italians, sublime to the rest of us, Toonsbridge mozzarella is going to conquer the world.

Chef of the year: Enda McEvoy, Aniar
Enda McEvoy's tinkering with the structures and pairings of restaurant food have been the highlight of the year in restaurant terms. Yes there are foraged elements to his cooking, but this is not just another Noma mimic-moment. What McEvoy does is quite different: his cooking is avant garde, yet steeped in Irish tradition, and it's this combination that makes Aniar such a thrill. The service is as good as the cooking, and that is really saying something.

Retailer of the Year: Peter Dunleavy, The Markets, Killarney
You might expect to find a groovy, hip shop like The Markets in Galway, maybe Cork. But here is this funky, delightful emporium, with its superb foods, cheeses, chocolates, wines and local vegetables, in Killarney, of all places. Proof that Killarney is waking up and seizing the high ground. Peter Dunleavy and his wife, Sandra, who runs the unique Miss Courtney's Tea Rooms in the town, are the Brangelina of Irish food.

Farmer of the Year: Castlemine Farm, Roscommon

The Allen brothers have shown a revolutionary way for Irish farmers to work. They have a new shop in Roscommon, they have a brilliant range of cooked pies using their own beef, and the Castlemine farm produce is outstanding. Derek and Brendan aren't just farmers: they are Players.

Restaurant of the Year: Kai, Galway/La Cucina, Limerick
Jess and David Murphy's Kai in Galway is, if you like, the Megabytes Newcomer winner, the hottest new address in a city that has always had good mainstream restaurants but which has never had enough of the funky, left-field style of eating house that the character of the city calls for. Kai brings on that funk and that left-field style, and how. Mrs Murphy's food is a marvel. But awards should also go to those who keep on getting better, and Lorraine and Bruno Coppola's La Cucina in Castletroy in Limerick just keeps on getting better and better. The five McKennas ate five different bowls of pasta here one lunchtime, and every one was perfect, every one was distinct, every one was as good as it could be. That's great modern cooking.

Food County of the Year: Tipperary
The competition hots up every year in this category, with once rank outsiders – such as Mayo – trying to scramble up to get in on the elite act of counties such as Cork, Kilkenny, Wicklow and others. But Tipperary really has its act together, even managing to present a stall selling the produce of 14 Tipp producers at Electric Picnic, not to mention organising their superb annual Long Table Dinner

Destination of the Year: Jam
Miserable? Depressed? At your wit's end? Here is the solution: go into any one of the branches of James Mulchrone's Jam cafés and bakeries – Cork; Killarney; Kenmare; Tralee – and the staff will have you smiling in seconds. We do not know of any place that has better staff – period. These girls are so friendly, so caring, that they make our heart sing. The best!

Megabytes Best Service Award: Pay As You Please, Killarney
Rob and Barry's PAYP is so hip, so post-modern, so out there, that it would be easy to overlook the practicalities of what they do: they cook nice, simple food in a great room and they serve it well. And that service – chatty, knowledgeable, full of grace – is a key element of the pleasure of PAYP. Do not miss it, and another hurrah! for Killarney. Who knew?

2011 Megabytes Award: Kilbeggan Organic Oats

Pat Lalor's description of the difference between his organic Kilbeggan oats and ‘conventional’ oats has been the story of the year. Mr Lalor tells the story quietly, adroitly and modestly, but when you hear it, you will never forget it, and you will rush out and buy his wondrously fine porridge oats. So, any chance you get to hear this inspiring farmer talk about his oats and his attitude to farming, don't miss it: this is philosophy made real, this is philosophy made delicious.

Inspiration of the Year: The Taste Council Summer School, Brook Lodge Inn, Macreddin
Some events are important because they create a new language with which we can dicuss the things that matter. The first Taste Council Summer School, orchestrated by Evan Doyle and held at Macreddin's Brook Lodge Hotel, was just such an event and its three sessions, on Middle Farm Agriculture, Education and Food, and Brand Ireland, have given Irish food a new lexicon within which we can frame the debate of the future and our food. The evening feast, with all the food coming from Wicklow (save for David Llewellyn's Dublin wines), was one of the greatest events in Irish culinary history.

Design of the year: QC's, Cahirsiveen, Co Kerry
Some rooms are so well designed, so smart, so colourful, so cosy, so echt, with their feng shui perfectly balanced, that they make you swoon with anticipation. QC's, a truly lovely seafood restaurant in Cahirsiveen, has those rooms, and those rooms have your name on the door. Kate and Andrew Cooke have made something really special here. Your excuse is that you are walking the Kerry Way, incidentally.

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