2016 Award Winners RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2016

James St. South, Belfast

Restaurant of the Year 2016

Informal restaurants may be very on-trend, but fine dining is far from dead. This year’s awards shortlist proved yet again that many of the country’s most creative chefs are continuing to produce sublime classical food in the fine dining style, sometimes with some unexpected benefits – and this Restaurant of the Year proves the case.

Many fans would travel great distances for the pleasure of a meal at Niall and Joanne McKenna’s famous Belfast restaurant, and a meal here is always sure to be a memorable occasion Head Chef David Gillmore cooks like a dream - without ever forgetting that, however sophisticated, what people enjoy most is ‘real food’ - and the highly professional front of house team provides superb engaging service of both food and wine, creating an exceptional experience.

And there is even more than this to James St. South. A real point of difference from other excellent fine dining operations is the inspired vision of the owners, something that has established this restaurant as the heart of a carefully developed group encompassing a range of styles (from fine dining and bistro fare to breakfast and fast food) - very different, yet all based on the philosophy of using the very best quality local and seasonal ingredients.

A highly popular on-site Cookery School works in tandem with the restaurant under the direction of Niall McKenna, promoting the same principles of good cooking, and is invariably booked out way ahead of schedule.

Then, last year, came the most exciting development of all: in a move reminiscent of the great classical kitchens of old, a chef apprenticeship scheme was established; in the first year they employed and trained 8 young people (aged 16 to 24), and this number has risen to 12 in 2015. Working with the local college, they are trained by the restaurant's team of chefs and at the Cookery School, to City & Guilds NVQ level 2 in Professional Cookery. What this means in practical terms is that the young chefs are fully trained on leaving and - unlike those coming out of most colleges today - ‘kitchen ready’.

This restaurant is in a city with a real buzz, where the food story is developing in exciting ways, and other restaurants have been in the limelight of late - but the vision, leadership, and solid achievements of this restaurant and its associated endeavours merits the highest recognition.


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