The north west was the biggest winner in the first Northern Ireland Food and Drink Awards on Thursday night.
Londonderry's hospitality and food saw it praised as a must-visit area after it won the Destination Delicious award at Tourism NI's Year of Food and Drink Awards in association with the Belfast Telegraph. Around 300 representatives from the tourism and food industries attended the glittering event, hosted by broadcaster Sarah Travers at the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast.
- View photos from the NI Year of Food and Drink Awards event in our gallery above
- Don't miss the 12-Page NI Year of Food and Drink Awards supplement in the Belfast Telegraph on Feb 7
Guests were served a sumptuous five-course banquet planned and prepared by Culloden head chef Paul McKnight.
While Londonderry won the top award, Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon, Comber and the Sperrins were celebrated for their contribution through tours and events during the Year of Food and Drink.
Products including Mash Direct's crispy vegetable bake, free range Cavanagh Eggs from Co Fermanagh and Lough Neagh eels were also praised, with the crispy vegetable bake winning an award for food innovation.
Tourism NI was the awards' main sponsor, while categories were sponsored by catering firm Sodexo, Invest NI, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Spar, Moy Park and Food NI.
Welcoming guests last night, Belfast Telegraph managing director Richard McClean said that while the year had passed, the legacy of the Year of Food and Drink would continue.
He added: "We are here to make a simple point and that is to remind ourselves that the Year of Food and Drink was the ignition key to a much longer-term commitment to the sector."
He also noted that the signs for the future of the industry were "very good".
"Our dairy, beef, pork and poultry exports are well established success stories.
"Close behind them are the fast developing seafood and produce industries carving for themselves an international reputation for excellence," he said, adding Northern Ireland had only just learned to shout about its success in food and drink.
"We are still too often surprised by how good our food is. This is maybe down to our inherent sense of modesty or maybe it's a clever ruse which allows us to keep the best for ourselves.
Mr McClean observed that things were now changing.
"The truth is that the message is starting to get out," he said.
"What we make and grow, what we cultivate and harvest and what we nurture for future generations is a sustainable industry which creates job stability for thousands of people and raises our visibility as an exporter of highest quality."
As representatives from Londonderry's council and food businesses collected the Destination Delicious award, judges praised the area's collective will "to progress the city and county into a food and hospitality destination for tourists and locals to enjoy".
The winners were selected by an esteemed panel of judges - Professor Una McMahon Beattie of Ulster University, food critics Charles Campion and Georgina Campbell, and Belfast Telegraph food writer Joris Minne.
The banquet featured culinary delights such as Glenarm organic salmon as an appetiser, followed by a starter of local chicken terrine, paired with a Comber leek jelly and Northern Ireland's famous Nutty Krust Bread.
For a main course, guests were served Carnbrooke braised short rib beef with an Abernethy Butter mash.
The dessert consisted of panna cotta with Farmview Dairies cream, and Culloden signature shortbread was served with a Northern Irish coffee.
Each course was also paired with a delicious locally brewed craft beer.
Who picked up the prizes
Best Food Story sponsored by Invest NI
Food Heartland Forums, Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
Best NI Food Event or Festival sponsored by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
Legenderry Food Festival, Derry City & Strabane District Council
Best NI Local Market sponsored by Belfast Telegraph
Comber Farmers' Market, Comber Regeneration Community Partnership
Food Innovation sponsored by Food NI
Crispy Vegetable Bakes, Mash Direct
Growing for the Future sponsored by SPAR NI
Foodovation Centre, North West Regional College
Roots to Market sponsored by Sodexo
Food Heartland Initiative, Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
Best NI Tours & Trails sponsored by Tourism NI
Cycle Sperrins, Far & Wild
Best Marketing Achievement
sponsored by Moy Park & Food NI
Eel-Eat, Lough Neagh Partnership
Derry-Londonderry & the North West