What a night: the country's top chefs, food writers, restaurateurs and photographers, celebrating the best in British food and drink, from established stars to unsung heroes. The Observer Food Monthly Awards have long been heralded as the top event of the year, and not just for the legendary goody bag which is almost impossible to lift off the floor. At the bar, on the way in, I glanced up and noticed I was standing next to Rick Stein. A few yards away, there was Tom Kerridge. Fergus Henderson. Nigel Slater and Yotam Ottolenghi. Outside in a courtyard, Swedish Michelin-starred chef Niklas Ekstedt was cooking up a feast over an open fire. But the point of these awards – voted for by Observer readers as well as an expert panel – are also to seek out the unusual, the inspiring and the unexpected, from the canteen at a school for autistic children to a seafood shack on the remotest fringe of the Irish coast.
I caught up with Derek Creagh, chef at Harry's Shack in Portstewart, who has a stellar background cooking at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Riverside Brasserie. His latest restaurant, perched on the northern-most corner of Northern Ireland's northern coast, almost got washed away by gigantic waves and he now warns prospective customers: ‘It is simply not safe to come near us. Do not even attempt it.’ The weather, he told me ‘does get a bit stormy. A bit cold in winter. But in summer, it's just glorious.’ So too, by the sound of it, is the food: the freshest caught fish, the sheer quality of the local ingredients, the expertly made desserts. In fact it's so good that one of Ireland's leading food guides crowned the place restaurant of the year after it had been open just a few months. Customers, they said, ‘literally ate every piece of food the restaurant had until there was none left to serve.’ Some mornings, they have to turn hundreds of people away. The north coast, says Creagh, is now buzzing.