In a hotly contested 2010 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards last night, Rust en Vrede and chef David Higgs won all three top categories of the Awards, in being named the number 1 restaurant in the country, Top Chef, as well as the restaurant offering Top Service.   Even before the Top 20 finalists were announced, we had predicted that Rust en Vrede would be named as the best restaurant in South Africa, for the excellent work of Higgs and his team.  

With four Eat Out Top 10 restaurants now in Stellenbosch (Rust en Vrede, Overture, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine and Terroir), there can no longer be a debate about Stellenbosch being the new Gourmet Capital of South Africa.   Cape Town, Paarl, and Franschhoek each have one restaurant in the Top 10 list.

But it was the other Top 10 winners on the list that caused some upsets, in that it appeared that being invited to cook for the Awards evening is no longer an indicator of instant inclusion on the Top 10 list (of the four chefs preparing the meal, only Higgs was in the Top 10 list).   Also having been on the Top 10 list last year was no guarantee of being on the list this year.   So, for example:

*   Number one restaurant for two years running, and 12th ranked restaurant in the world, La Colombe did not make the Top 10 list.  Luke Dale-Roberts, now consultant chef to La Colombe and owner of his new restaurant The Test Kitchen, suffered the same fate as George Jardine did last year, in falling off the list due to the new restaurant.   No doubt Dale-Roberts will be back on the Top 10 list next year.

 *   Number 2 restaurant in 2009, and Top Chef last year, and cooking at the dinner, Chantel Dartnall of Mosaic Restaurant in Pretoria, did not feature on the Top 10 list

*   Aubergine and Bosman’s are back on the Top 10 list, after an absence of many years for both restaurants

*   The Roundhouse made it to the Top 10 list last year, but fell off this year, and chef PJ Vadas also cooked.  Eric Bulpitt from Jardine also cooked for the gala dinner, but did not make the Top 10 list, despite the judges’ emphasis on foraging as an important source of ingredients, something Bulpitt does with his team on the slopes of Table Mountain.

The judges looked for passion (this was emphasised) in restaurants they evaluated, as well as ambiance, seafood sustainability in following the SASSI list for seafood, the pairing of wine and food, service levels, consistency of delivery, the plates used, the relationship with suppliers, serving real food, sincerity, and a new trend - foraging.  Ultimately, the test was whether the restaurant offered their patrons a memorable experience.

The Top 10 Restaurant List, as ranked by the Eat Out judges Abigail Donnelly, Pete Goffe-Wood, Arnold Tanzer and Anna Trapido, is as follows:

1.   Rust en Vrede, Chef David Higgs, Stellenbosch

2.  The Tasting Room, Le Quartier Francais, Chef Margot Janse, Franschhoek

3.   Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Chef George Jardine, Stellenbosch

4.   Bosman’s ,Grand Roche, Chef Roland Gorgosilich, Paarl

5.   DW Eleven-13, Chef Marthinus Ferreira, Johannesburg

6.   Terroir, Chef Michael Broughton, Stellenbosch

7.   Aubergine, Chef Harald Bresselschmidt, Cape Town

8.   Roots, Chef Allistaire Lawrence, Johannesburg

9.   Overture, Chef Bertus Basson, Stellenbosch

10.  Hartford House, Chef Jackie Cameron, Mooi River

The remaining finalists on the Top 20 shortlist were the following:   The Greenhouse (Peter Tempelhoff), Jardine(Eric Bulpitt), La Colombe (Luke Dale-Roberts), Linger Longer (Walter Ulz), Mosaic Restaurant (Chantel Dartnall), The Restaurant at Waterkloof (Gregory Czarnecki), Restaurant Christophe(Christophe Dehosse), Reuben’s (Reuben Riffel), The Roundhouse (PJ Vadas), and Zachary’s (Geoffrey Murray).

A newly named Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award went to chef Walter Ulz of Linger Longer, a Top 20 finalist, and celebrating his 30 years of involvement with the restaurant, as well as the restaurant’s 50th anniversary on 1 April next year.   Margot Janse read a most moving tribute to Lannice Snyman, the first editor of Eat Out.

The Top 10 restaurant award list countdown only commenced after a four course dinner was served at the Westin Grand.  The hotel’s chef Grant served the canapes, enjoyed on arrival, and I loved the clever mini- “Magnums”, frozen cheese coated in chocolate and on a stick, looking like the ice cream brand in miniature form.   The starter was prepared by Chef PJ Vadas from The Roundhouse, and was a beautifully floral minimalist Buffalo Ridge ricotta served wrapped in pickled Magic Man beetroot and drizzled with Morgenster Olive Oil and balsamic vinegar.  It was paired with La Motte 2009 Chardonnay.

The first main course was prepared by Chantel Dartnall of Mosaic Restaurant, and was called “Land and Sea”, linking langoustine tails to pea purée and asparagus, served with a  langoustine foam, and paired with La Motte’s 2010 Pierneef Chardonnay.   David Higgs of Rust en Vrede prepared the second main course, pan roasted fillet of beef, a sweetbread and caper sausage, warm salad of tongue and cabbage, with a smoked raisin purée, paired with 2007 Rust en Vrede Bordeaux Blend.

Eric Bulpitt of Jardine served his “Pear in ember’ dessert on their trademark wooden boards, with pear jelly, smoked and dried pear ice cream, chocolate streussel, black sesame and walnuts, paired with Nuy White Muscadel.

Given that there are 8000 restaurants in South Africa, all restaurants having made Top 20 on the Eat Out shortlist are worthy of congratulation, said Abigail Donnelly, Eat Out editor.  More than 3000 restaurants are listed in the 2010 Eat Out Guide, which is available in outlets from today.

The 2010 Eat Out Top 10 Awards evening was most enjoyable – the lovely company of the Veritas team, led by Duimpie Bayly and his wife Sue, as well as of Bennie Howard, and Eat Out staff, including writer Annette Klinger, the granddaughter of our neighbours in Wellington from many moons ago, next to whom I was lucky enough to sit.   We were the last to leave, with the lovely Anel and Jan from Spit or Swallow blog.

I cannot wait for the 2011 Eat Out Awards, with the outstanding new restaurants that have opened recently, which will challenge the Top 10 winners of this year, particularly Pierneef à La Motte with Chris Erasmus, Babel at Babylonstoren with Simone Rossouw, the new Tokara with Richard Carstens, and The Test Kitchen with Luke Dale-Roberts.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4: It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and will leave Rust en Vrede in mid-June.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage