Michelin's magnificent 7... and they're all in Co Down
There must be something in the grub in Down.
Seven Northern Ireland pubs – all from the county – have secured listings in the prestigious 2014 Michelin Eating Out In Pubs Guide which was published yesterday.
The book covers a range of establishments from country inn to urban gastro pub.
But despite the strong showing from Down in the guide, no pubs from any of the other Northern Ireland counties merited a mention.
The successful listings are The Pheasant in Annahilt, Coyle's in Bangor, Lisbarnett House in Comber, Grace Neill's and Pier 36, both in Donaghadee, and The Parson's Nose and The Plough Inn, both in Hillsborough. Lisbarnett House is a new listing while Grace Neill's is alone in securing an 'Inspector's Favourite' commendation.
"We are absolutely delighted to be included in the book for the ninth or 10th year running," said Hans Arthur, the operations manager at Grace Neill's.
"I couldn't say why it is only Co Down pubs which feature.
"It could be something to do with our incredible local produce and the fresh fish that is available along the coast here."
Produced by leading tyre manufacturer Michelin, this year's guide recommends 577 pubs spread across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland of which 70 are new entries and all of which are selected for the quality of their food.
Thirty-four pubs in the Republic and Northern Ireland have been included in the new guide. Co Down scores the highest number of awarded pubs in any county in Ireland, while Dublin had just one listing.
Noting that no one has to put up with bad food in a pub anymore, editor Rebecca Burr said that all pubs listed in the guide had been "rigorously inspected" by a team of full-time inspectors – the same team who produce the famed Michelin Great Britain & Ireland restaurant guide.
She believed that reports of the death of the pub "have been grossly exaggerated".
"We now recommend more pubs than ever before," she said.
"Chefs looking to open their own place without having to spend huge amounts of money are also finding pubs to be the perfect choice."
An impressive toll, but did inspectors get a flat tyre?
By Joris Minne
Listings are like wedding invitations. It's not who to invite which presents the challenge, it's who you leave out. Similarly with the Michelin Eating Out In Pubs Guide which manages to leave out five of our six counties.
The seven Co Down pubs which do feature deserve the recognition – and heartfelt congratulations to them. In fact, all the more so as Down scores the highest number of awarded pubs in any single Irish county.
But what about the snubbed pubs? Was the Michelin inspector only given a bus pass to cover the few miles out of Belfast which would get them to Hillsborough, Comber, Bangor and Donaghadee?
How else can you explain the award-winning Brewer's House in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, not making the grade. There are others: Enniskillen's Cafe Merlot in Blakes of the Hollow, Digby's in Armagh and a good few more pubs in Belfast (Cafe Vaudeville), Derry and Antrim would arguably match the quality of those in the Down list. Northern Ireland pubs and restaurants have been absent from Michelin guides for too long.
This reflects more on the guide's inconsistencies than the quality of the offer. But it's still a great day for Down!
Joris Minne is the Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic