The owners of one of Dublin's best restaurants have said they are "devastated" at the loss of one of their two Michelin stars.
Thornton's at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, St Stephen's Green, which has had two stars for the past five years, has fallen down the rankings in a bad year for Irish restaurateurs in the new Michelin Guide.
A Michelin spokesman said yesterday that a drop in "food quality" had been responsible for the decision to give Thornton's a lower rating in its 2006 guide.
"Obviously the food is still good because it got one star, but it was not as good as before," the spokesman told The Irish Times.
Muriel Thornton, who owns the restaurant with her husband, chef Kevin Thornton, said: "We are devastated by it, really shocked."
However, she said, they had to take the good with the bad from a group of judges with whom they had had "a long relationship".
"We set our own standards, and as far as we are concerned we have maintained them. But the Michelin Guide know their stuff, so there is no point is saying we feel hard done by. We have to look at their reasons and deal with it," Ms Thornton said.
The decision leaves Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin as the only one with a Michelin two-star rating in the Republic.
L'Écrivain on Baggot Street, Dublin, retained its single-star rating.
Ms Thornton said she had arranged to meet the guide's editor in Dublin in the next fortnight to discuss the decision. "It's really important to know why this has happened. They have not indicated to us why," she said.
"We are really shocked. We were not expecting it at all. We had no idea they were even thinking of doing this."
Regarded as the industry's Oscars, Michelin stars can have major financial implications for restaurants. While some people in the food industry say that business is boosted hugely by Michelin stars, Ms Thornton said the effect was "not quantifiable".
"I was thrilled when we got our second star, and you only really know the enormity of it when you lose it," she said.
On the other hand, she said, "sometimes having two stars can exclude people, particularly in an Irish context. Realistically, it does not pay the bills."
There was bad news for restaurateurs in Northern Ireland, too, with the number of Michelin entries slipping from three to one.
Restaurant Michael Deane in Belfast retained its one-star rating, but the Oriel in Gilford, Co Down, lost its single star, just two years after gaining it.
Shanks of Bangor, Co Down, which has been closed until further notice following the death last summer of its proprietor-chef, Robbie Millar, has also been deleted from the 2006 guide.
One of the best-known restaurants in the southeast, the Tannery in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, lost its Bib Gourmand status for quality cooking below €38 a head. There were no Irish gains in the category.