Two Cork eateries make new World Restaurant Awards shortlist

A vegetarian restaurant and a hotel dining room see off former World’s 50 Best winners Noma, Eleven Madison Park and El Celler de Can Roca

Two Irish restaurants have been shortlisted for awards at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, which will be revealed at a ceremony for 60 guests in Paris on February 18th.

Paradiso, a vegetarian restaurant in Cork city, is shortlisted in the Collaboration of the Year category, seeing off competition from among others Noma in Copenhagen and Hisa Franko in Slovenia, for its work with organic growers Ultan Walsh and Lucy Stewart of Gort-na-Nain farm near Nohovel.

Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry has been nominated in the Trolley of the Year category, its desserts service seeing off competition from luminaries of the international restaurant world including former restaurants of the year Eleven Madison Park in New York and El Celler de Can Roca in Girona.

The World Restaurant Awards is a rival to The World's 50 Best Restaurants, an annual international ranking order decided on by an "academy" of more than 1,000 members. However London-based writer, editor and broadcaster Joe Warwick, who is creative director of the new awards, and was one of the co-founders of the 50 Best, believes there is room for both.


“I don’t really want it to be seen as a competition. We’re trying to do something different. We want more diversity in terms of the type of restaurant experience and not just make it about high-end restaurant experiences, although we do have those in there in the various categories. We want to be a bit more eclectic in the categories [of awards],” he said.

The new awards are also being judged by a panel of experts, just over 100 of them, from 37 countries, including Galway-restaurateur and Irish Times columnist JP McMahon. There are 18 awards across a range of categories, and the organisers say their aim is "to celebrate restaurants as culture, considered in the same way as film, art and music." Nominations for each of the categories were made and voted on by members of the judging panel.

Denis Cotter, who set up the former Cafe Paradiso, now known as Paradiso, on Cork's Lancaster Quay 26 years ago, described the nomination as "a shock", and said he had ignored emails about the awards.

"We get lots of emails from people purporting to be from awards, so I assume that they are all scams. I totally ignored this one. But then I did get a couple of emails congratulating me," he told The Irish Times.

Paradiso and Gort-na-Nain Farm are now in a shortlist of five in their category, the others being Franzen in Stockholm, Mirazur in Nice, and Single Thread Farm and Vespertine in the US.

“Now I’m taking it seriously, that’s amazing,” Cotter said, on learning of his rivals for the award. He has been collaborating with Walsh, a former academic with a sideline in handcrafting bouzoukis, mandolas and mandolins, for the past 15 years.

“A constant conversation” is how Cotter describes the relationship between the restaurant kitchen and the nine-acre organic farm which supplies it.

JR Ryall, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House, is currently on a two-month sabbatical, but news of the nomination reached him in the US, from where he said he was “thrilled to be shortlisted and in such incredible company”.

Ballymaloe's dessert trolley, a dining room offering initiated by the late Myrtle Allen, is a popular feature of the hotel and restaurant's dinner menu. It faces competition from Otto's in London and The Grill in New York, in its category.

The new awards have the backing of many of the industry's leading lights including chefs Massimo Bottura, Virgilio Martinez, Elena Arzak, Clare Smyth and Daniel Humm, as well as restaurateurs and food media professionals.

“We are trying to look at the whole gamut of restaurant experiences, not just those places that we all talk about the whole time,” Warwick said, noting thatthere is a category for restaurants where reservations are not required, and another for “house specials”, which includes a place in Portugal serving spicy chorizo in a bun for €4. “We can have a bit of fun and be more reactive to trends,” he added.

Significant changes to the judging process for the World’s 50 Best awards were also announced recently. Previous winners will no longer be eligible for consideration, instead being elevated to a newly established Best of the Best division and opening up the awards to be headed by some new names.

Just seven restaurants have filled the number one spot since The World’s 50 Best was initiated in 2002, with El Bulli in Spain triumphing on five occasions, and Noma in Denmark winning four times. Three restaurants – The French Laundry in the US, Osteria Francescana in Italy, and El Celler de Can Roca have topped the table twice, and The Fat Duck in the UK and Eleven Madison Park on one occasion each.

In addition, the composition of the voting panel for The World’s 50 best has been altered to reflect a 50/50 gender balance. The 2019 awards will be announced in Singapore in June.