Monday night's Covid-delayed annual Michelin awards presented by Davina McCall was a game of two halves for Northern Ireland. Saul McConnell, manager of Noble restaurant in Holywood, scooped a Michelin Revelation Award for Best Service in Great Britain and Ireland.
But a strong Irish flavour to this year's awards did not herald a new wave of recognition for local restaurants. While the Paddy McKillen-owned Connaught Hotel restaurant secured three stars for the first time thanks to chef Helene Darroze, and our own Bushmills woman Clare Smyth was upgraded to three stars for her recently opened Core restaurant in London, we lost two Bib Gourmands when we should have added at least three to last year's seven.
The starscape in Belfast remains unchanging with a star each for returning restaurants Ox, Eipic and Muddler's Club. But the Bib Gourmands matter just as much in commercial terms. The award offered to restaurants which provide a set menu for €35 (or £32) and under, were won by incumbents Noble in Holywood, Balloo House in Killinchy, Wine & Brine in Moira, Deane's at Queens and Home both in Belfast. But surely to leave out James Street South, Clenaghans and Fontana who held a Bib each previously is an injustice?
The core strength of our restaurant sector is its bistros and excellent bar restaurants run by passionate food lovers at a price range which encourages us to eat out. Yet this is the very sector which has been reduced to five Bib Gourmands? If this was a region of France, restaurants such as Browns in Derry, Catalina in Lough Erne Resort, Stock in Belfast and a few others would have been judged to be well within the criterion of quality. Something is not right.
Congratulations to the trio who retained their stars. But Ox continues to exceed expectations, and even three-star Paris restaurant owner Alain Passard, one of the world's greatest chefs, says the time came long ago for Ox to be granted its second star.
We were robbed.