Let's give a tasty salute to our 'Food Champions'

Food Champion Award for outstanding customer service and overall winner is Café Marmalade in Banbridge
Food Champion Award for outstanding customer service and overall winner is Café Marmalade in Banbridge

LOCKDOWN hasn't necessarily meant knock-down for the north's ever-adaptable hospitality sector, despite many restaurateurs and eateries being forced into a repivot and improvisation of their businesses.

And this has been underlined by the overwhelming response to the Irish News 'Food Champions' initiative, held in partnership with Food NI and Henderson Foodservice, BD Foods & Foodco.

We had asked readers to tell us how their favourite food outlets had gone beyond the normal during these unprecedented times to ensure customers were still able to avail of an enjoyable gastronomic experience.

Votes were cast in their thousands over the last month in our special poll, with readers anxious to tell us how their favourite eateries were inventing new solutions and coming up with answers to questions they’ve never had to consider previously.

And today we can reveal our list of exemplary Food Champions across a number of categories, including innovation, outstanding customer service, sourcing local, free from, home delivery and adaptability.

The overall ‘Champion of Champions’ award has gone to Café Marmalade in Banbridge, a small but inviting coffee shop in the town's main thoroughfare which thrives on making good quality food accompanied by exceptional beverages.

With each Stormont Executive announcement Café Marmalade has adapted to the changes, including extending its opening hours in periods when it could trade, and even introducing a sumptuous takeaway street food menu.

Irish News marketing manager John Brolly said: “These Food Champion awards have underlined the unique contribution the Northern Ireland hospitality sector makes to our lives and has shone a light on their resilience and resolve in these hugely challenging times, and we're thrilled at the public response.”

He added: “It's vital we support the local hospitality industry and highlight the huge contribution it makes to our lives.

“While the list of winners reflects a combination of different types of outlets, the overriding theme is the resilience our Food Champions have shown to keep going, both for their staff and their customers.”

Cathal Geoghegan, managing director of Henderson Foodservice, said: “Many congratulations to our winners and all nominees.

“We’ve been delighted with the number of votes, which demonstrate the support for the hospitality sector and local businesses during an extremely tough 2020. Here’s to a stronger 2021 and getting our industry thriving once again.”

Food NI chief executive Michele Shirlow said: “All the nominated businesses have shown a spirit of determination to pivot and adapt to customers needs, so well done to them all.

“Overall winner Cafe Marmalade demonstrated a real passion for their business which readers responded to. Best wishes to them and all of the entrants for a successful return to normal business in the near future.”

The Food Champion winners in the various categories are:

:: Outstanding Customer Service – Café Marmalade (Banbridge)

:: Excellence – The Taphouse Bar & Restaurant (Bellaghy)

:: Innovation – Square Bistro (Lisburn)

:: Sourcing Local Food – Sugarcane Café Bistro (Comber)

:: Above & Beyond – Barrel & Bean (Dromore)

:: Quality Food – Tullymill Restaurant (Florencecourt)

:: Free From – Fulla Beans (Warrenpoint)

:: Lockdown Home Delivery – The Yellow Heifer (Camlough)

:: Adaptability – Nugelato (Newcastle)

:: Service to NHS workers – McCooeys (Newry)

:: Authenticity – Spaghetti Junction (Derry)

:: Overall winner ‘Champion of Champions’ – Café Marmalade (Banbridge)