NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 2017: Nook Café and Restaurant, Collooney, Co Sligo

Free repro – please credit Paul SherwoodGeorgina Campbell Guide Awards 2017, held at Bord Bia, September 2017

Georgina Campbell Guide Awards 2017, held at Bord Bia, September 2017

This is always one of our most exciting awards … the ‘short list’ is anything but – and how could it be otherwise when the establishments under consideration are all fresh and new and full of enthusiasm? Recent openings have mainly been in cities, especially Dublin, so it is particularly pleasing to give recognition to an excellent new small restaurant, opened in a village setting by a young and very dedicated owner chef.

Small but with a perfectly formed culinary ethos, this little gem of a café only opened in May but it soon earned a following for its seriously impressive menu and good cooking. Oilcloth-lined tables, jugs of fresh flowers and a large kitchen dresser filled with cookbooks and mismatched teacups give it a homey feel, almost like being in a friend’s kitchen, but don’t be fooled by the relaxed ambience as the owner-chef has an impressive culinary pedigree and an exceptional commitment to quality. The first thing you’ll notice about the menu – besides how tempting every dish sounds – is the focus on fresh, local artisan ingredients, from the meat to the cheese and right down to the beautiful salad leaves. Dishes that could be ordinary in lesser hands, take on special character here: a burger served on a brioche bun with Gubbeen cheese and the house burger sauce, for example, or Jordan’s Atlantic Seaweed sea salt and herb crusted fish of the day with house fries, slaw and chunky Markree herb tartar sauce. For something lighter, there is a salad of the month – for September it’s smoked mackerel, Macroom buffalo cheese, local beetroot, potatoes from Carraroe, and pickled Sligo rhubarb – or there might be a vegan taco on offer. Even the drinks are special (homemade lemonade, coffee by Art of Coffee in nearby Carrick-on-Shannon) and a real highlight is the kids’ menu, which reflects the overall focus on quality and freshness. A delightful addition to the area, this charming spot is already becoming a destination in its own right.”

Photograph courtesy of Paul Sherwood, Georgina Campbell Guide Awards 2017.