Last night the country’s top restaurants and their chefs were crowned in the annual 2011 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards, held at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay. Despite controversial changes to the running of the Awards, most attendees appeared happy with the results, which saw Cape Town regain its crown as the Gourmet Capital of South Africa with five Top 10 restaurants, after a dip last year. Stellenbosch has three Top 10 restaurants, and Franschhoek and Johannesburg one each, giving the Cape nine out of the Top 10 restaurants.
Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly came under fire this year, for announcing herself as the sole judge of the 1000 restaurants in South Africa, letting go of her fellow judging panel of Pete Goffe-Wood, Arnold Tanzer, and Anna Trapido, and instead relying on the 70 000 Eat Out ‘reviewers’ posting on the magazine’s website, with the risk of them being open for manipulation, and not necessarily ‘fine-diners’. In the Eat Out 2012 magazine we received last night, 19 ‘reviewers’ were listed, being ‘these people ate their way around the country on our behalf’. The reviewers include bloggers Andy Fenner and Dax Villenueva, as well as food and/or wine writers such as Graham Howe, Greg Landman, Fiona McDonald, and Clifford and Maryke Roberts.
The Cape Times on Friday described Mrs Donnelly’s judging criteria of the ‘hidden gems and forgotten favourites’ restaurants (this description was not a reflection of the Top 10 list): that the chef had been at the restaurant since last November (an exception was made with the Azure chef, who fell a few weeks short of this criterion), the owners and chef must be passionate about their business (odd in that Mrs Donnelly did not chat to all chefs of the restaurants that she visited, booking under a false name often), must be dedicated to ‘upliftment of the industry’ (a new criterion), the chefs must care about the sourcing of their produce, and the restaurant must be consistent in everything it does. Food counts for 70% of the evaluation, and is scored on menu composition, seasonality, presentation, taste, price and value, wine choice, and dishes eaten. Within menu composition, Mrs Donnelly evaluates choice, cooking techniques, variety of ingredients, and dietary requirements. For seasonality, the variety of ingredients is evaluated, as is use of ‘local ingredients’, choice of fish, use of imported products, and out of season produce. Food presentation is judged on visual appeal, reflection of menu description, garnishing, and plates used. Taste of the dishes is evaluated on balance, texture and complementary flavours. Additional criteria are food and wine pairing recommendations, service levels, linen, cutlery, the bathrooms, reservations and arrivals, and the billing. Interesting is that Mrs Donnelly says that 2011 is the ‘year of the egg and the wild sorrel’. She adds: “Many chefs have displayed a strong sense of nature through foraging in forests or veggie gardens, and pure South African storytelling has also been celebrated”.
In the past the Top restaurant was usually awarded the Awards for Service Excellence and Chef of the Year too, but this year this was awarded separately, making the top accolade shared across three restaurants:
Service Excellence Award: The Roundhouse
The Top 10 Restaurants were announced as follows:
1. The Greenhouse, with Peter Tempelhoff, Cape Town
2. The Test Kitchen, with Luke Dale-Roberts, Cape Town
3. The Tasting Room, with Chef Margot Janse, Franschhoek
4. The Roundhouse, with Chefs PJ Vadas and Eric Bulpitt, Cape Town
5. Overture, with Chef Bertus Basson, Stellenbosch
6. Terroir, with Chef Michael Broughton, Stellenbosch
7. DW Eleven-13, with Chef Marthinus Ferreira, Johannesburg
8. Jordan Restaurant, with Chef George Jardine, Stellenbosch
9. Nobu, with Chef Hideki Maeda, One&Only Cape Town
10. La Colombe, with Chef Scot Kirton, Cape Town
The other restaurants that were Top 20 Finalists were Azure Restaurant, Babel, Bosman’s Restaurant, Hartford House, Pierneef à La Motte, Planet Restaurant, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Restaurant Mosaic, Roots, and Tokara.
The winners of the newly introduced Restaurant category Awards were announced at super-speed, and what was interesting was that no nominees nor finalists were mentioned per category (some had been announced for some categories in the Eat Out newsletter in the last few weeks), with the exception of the Boschendal Style Award. We requested details of the nominees of the categories, but were refused these, only being sent the Boschendal Style Awards nominees list. No criteria were revealed for these awards, and seemed to be Mrs Donnelly’s personal pick:
Boschendal Style Award: Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House was the winner, a surprise in two respects – the R10 million newly constructed and decorated restaurant only opened its doors in September, a month before the Eat Out magazine went to print, and Mrs Donnelly is a consultant to the restaurant! The designer was Etienne Hanekom, the art director for VISI, a sister publication to Eat Out at New Media Publishing! The other finalists, out of 18 nominees, were Babel, Kream in Pretoria, Hemelhuijs, and, very surprisingly, The Test Kitchen!
Best Steakhouse: The Local Grill in Johannesburg (29 nominees)
Best Italian Restaurant: No other contenders appear to have been evaluated, the award predictably going to 95 Keerom. (The full list of Italian restaurant contenders was revealed today – 23/11)
Best Asian Restaurant: Kitima in Cape Town (no nominees list)
Best Bistro: Bizerca Bistro (43 nominees)
Best Country-Style Restaurant: A surprise win for the unknown The Table at De Meye, no nominee list having been revealed
City Press ViP Sunday Breakfast Award: Salvation Café at 44 Stanley in Johannesburg (this award was not pre-announced, and does not even appear in the Eat Out magazine with the other award listings).
The Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award : Garth Stroebel
In the past the food has always been prepared by Finalist chefs, and increasingly those invited to prepare the food were the ones that did not make Top 10. However, this year each one of the invited chefs was from a Top 10 restaurant. One admires the challenge of the chefs to prepare the meal for 360 persons, and Pete Goffe-Wood was the co-ordinator of the event on the food side. Chef Peter Tempelhoff made the canapés, but these were not seen when Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut 2007 was served on arrival. The ‘bread’ came from Giorgio Nava, it was said, but was croissants and other sweet pastries from Caffe Milano, it appeared. Chef Hideki Maeda prepared a baby spinach salad with dried miso and crayfish starter, which was paired with Groot Constantia Reserve White 2009. This was followed by Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ Ballotine of rabbit and gammon, duck liver purée, red cabbage crumbs and relish, and Everson’s pear cider jelly, paired with Chamonix Chardonnay 2009.
Michael Broughton’s trompette dusted fillet of beef with cep butter sauce, baby beet, asparagus and parsley was my favourite, for its sauce in particular, paired with Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. George Jardine served his dessert of Valrhona Ivoire torte, raspberries and Ivoire chantilly on a slate plate, and this was paired with Jordan Mellifera Noble Late Harvest 2010.
The food and wine service has been disappointing for the past three years that I have attended the event, with serving staff contracted in, last night’s staff leaving much to be desired, there being no wine service initially, no ice buckets on the table for the white wine and water, and bottles arriving at the table but not linked to the course they were meant to be paired with, and other wines not listed on the menu arriving as well. What the event needs is a Manager on the service side, walking the floor, to check on the satisfaction of the guests and the smooth flow of the event. There were no steak nor fish knives, and many of the aspects which Mrs Donnelly mentioned as her criteria in judging the Top 10 restaurants were lacking on the food and wine side of the event. The Eat Out Restaurant Awards should be a showcase of food and wine service perfection, at R1000 a ticket, but this has not been the case in the past three years, and particularly not last night.
The Eat Out DStv Food Network Awards did not award any Top 10 positions to any new restaurants, a disappointment, all restaurants making the Top 10 list having been on it before, with the exception of Nobu, but some with new chefs. Some excellent chefs were overlooked, in our opinion, ‘safe’ selections having been made!. Perhaps a Top 20 finalist list should not be pre-announced, as was the case in the past. The Restaurant category Awards may need some consistency in announcing all or no finalists/nominees, and in providing a motivation why a restaurant has won a category. Scope exists for different categories, while some current ones could be dropped. The conflict of interest by Mrs Donnelly acting as a consultant to restaurants cannot be acceptable.
POSTSCRIPT 21/11: On Twitter this morning, in reaction to this blogpost, there is feedback that The Table at De Meye is owned by an ex-photographer for TASTE magazine, a sister publication to Eat Out, and of which Mrs Donnelly is Food Editor.
Eat Out 2011: www.eatout.co.za Twitter: @Eat_Out
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage