Simply delicious . . . people power decides our favourite places to eat

Best in the visitor attraction category was Hillsborough Castle Café
Best in the visitor attraction category was Hillsborough Castle Café Best in the visitor attraction category was Hillsborough Castle Café

FOOD and drink represents a whopping £5 billion industry for Northern Ireland and sustains more than 100,000 jobs, with pubs, hotels, restaurants and other eating establishments forming an integral part of this.

Indeed in the UK as a whole, people will eat out more than 11 billion times in 2019 and will spend almost £60 billion, as the casual-dining and fine-dining sectors continue to experience huge growth.

And whether you chose to dine out in a Michelin-recognised eatery, a five- or four-star hotel, a modest bistro or even your local coffee shop, consumers always want a memorable and delectable experience, given that we're now considered a cosmopolitan and gastronomically-literate region.

But a bit like choosing your favourite sporting team (Liverpool/Man City?) or your favourite player (Messi/Ronaldo?), there's always a hunger for debate about who's the best.

So today we can reveal our readers' choices as the cream of the crop after voting was counted and verified in our inaugural Irish News Great Places to Eat Awards, held in association with Food NI and Henderson Foodservice.

Close to 5,000 individuals cast a separate vote for the winners in a dozen categories - and today we reveal that the winners, who were located from Moy to Moville, Ballynahinch to Ballycastle, are:

• Casual dining restaurant: Anzac Bistro (Ballycastle)

• Café/coffee shop: Café Marmalade (Banbridge)

• Fine dining restaurant: Coco (Belfast)

• Pub/gastro pub: The Yellow Heifer (Camlough)

• Hotel restaurant: The Catalina Restaurant (Lough Erne, Enniskillen)

• Sunday lunch restaurant: The Foyle Hotel (Moville, Co Donegal)

• Visitor attraction café: Hillsborough Castle Café

• Local produce restaurant: The Café at Montalto (Ballynahinch)

• Family friendly restaurant: La Dolce Vita (Newry)

• ‘Free from’ restaurant: Wolf & Devour Burger Bar (Belfast)

• Social enterprise café: An Croí (Maghera Co Derry)

• Brunch restaurant: The Moy Larder (Moy)

The overall winner – that's one of the above 12 who topped our overall poll and was voted as Greatest Place to Eat - will be announced in the food section of the Irish News Weekend edition this Saturday.

Food NI chief executive Michele Shirlow said: “There seems to be a food critic inside every one of us, so it's no surprise that there has been an overwhelming response to this initiative - and a quite exceptional clutch of winners.

“We constantly talk about places that are great to eat and about the quality of our food scene. Clearly the public thinks so too and has expressed an opinion via thousands of votes.”

Cathal Geoghegan, managing director of Henderson Food Service, said: “We already knew the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland was booming - and the response to the Great Places to Eat Awards merely underlines that.

“With so many great flavours, cuisines, cooking techniques and innovation coming into play in the eating out market, it’s been an exciting time for the public to highlight the best we’ve got, and those who've emerged as winners thoroughly deserve that accolade.

“They're places we'll all now want to eat in!”

Irish News marketing manager John Brolly heralded the “brilliant partnership” between the newspaper, Food NI and Henderson Foodservice, adding: “We urged the public to demonstrate their passion for food by voting for their favourite places to eat - and they responded in their thousands.

“This list of winners includes a range of dining experiences with a wow-factor, and among them there's a perfect gourmet treat for every occasion and every budget.

“Given what we have on our own doorstep, choosing a restaurant or eating-out experience can often be difficult.

“But now that our readers have had their say and given their favourite places a personal endorsement, hopefully that choice has been made a little bit easier.”