Belfast Telegraph

It's success on a plate for NI restaurant and cheese maker at awards night

Mike Thomson with some of his Young Buck cheese
Mike Thomson with some of his Young Buck cheese
Young Buck cheese
OX restaurant in Belfast
OX restaurant in Belfast
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

It was success on a plate for Northern Ireland companies at the Food and Wine Awards in Dublin - with three All-Ireland winners.

Michelin-starred OX Belfast was the biggest success at Sunday's awards at The Shelbourne, lifting the best restaurant and best chef (Stephen Toman) in Ulster titles, as well as the overall best restaurant award for the second year in a row.

Belfast's Mike Thomson of Young Buck Cheese in Newtownards was crowned best producer, while Northern Ireland couple John and Sally McKenna, who are known for their McKenna's Guide plaques, received the hall of fame award.

The Food and Wine Awards are considered the pinnacle event of the year for the Irish food industry and were attended by some of Ireland's best chefs.

OX's head chef Stephen Toman is known for creating some of Ireland's very best food, while the Oxford Street restaurant is popular for its inventive menu choices.

Alain Kerloc'h from OX said: "We have a great team. It's amazing to win it two years in a row.

"It's brilliant for the city because people will come to visit Belfast. We are very proud of that."

Meanwhile, John and Sally McKenna are famous for their guides of all the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland, offering an in-depth and unique view into all things local.

Mike Thomson, proprietor of Mike's Fancy Cheese on Little Donegall Street in Belfast, said he was thrilled to even be nominated for the best producer award for his Young Buck blue cheese, which is made in Newtownards.

His shop, which focuses on providing the best Irish cheese, opened its doors in December, while his Young Buck is Northern Ireland's first blue cheese created with local raw milk.

Mr Thomson had to get a friend to collect the award on Sunday because this time of year is busy for the business as he produces enough cheese in time for the Christmas rush.

"We never enter awards or anything like that," said the 33-year-old. "We were nominated by somebody, which is always super-nice. Just to be nominated was great and winning it was fab.

"It was just great to see really good representation from Northern Ireland across the board. OX won best overall restaurant and Lazy Claire Patisserie on the Castlereagh Road was nominated as well. It's amazing to see places like that being nominated."

This is not the first accolade Mr Thomson has received. He also won an Irish Food Writers' Guild award earlier this year.

Explaining how his Young Buck cheese came about, Mr Thomson said that working in Arcadia deli on the Lisburn Road gave him the urge to learn how to create cheese with the ultimate aim of delivering Northern Ireland's first raw milk delicacy.

"The local cheeses [in Arcadia] would have been from down south or over in England so that's where the idea came about of going away and learning how to make cheese and then doing it in Northern Ireland," he explained.

"I did a course in England and worked on a few different farms, always with the idea of moving back to Northern Ireland."

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