Thu 7 Feb 2013
Speaking to some of the chefs whose Eat Out Top 20 restaurants were bashed by blogger Bruce Palling in the past few days, a new picture emerges, in that he appears to have enjoyed our South African wines so much that he seems to have made a number of errors in his ‘reviews’ of the restaurants, writing about them six months after visiting them, misspelling wine and dish names, and even getting the meat types he was served wrong! He has done our country’s restaurant industry great damage and harm, and demoralised our country’s best chefs.
Palling had two bottles of wine per meal on average, and four bottles per day, on each of 15 days, a total of 60 bottles he blogged proudly, now an expert on South African wines too! Some of Palling’s faux pas were the following:
* Ordering Steenberg at Planet Restaurant, which he called ‘Steenburger’!
* He couldn’t spell Biesmiellah and denningvleis, even though he Tweeted about his (private) meal directly from the restaurant!
* He got the Vriesenhof variety he BYO’d at Makaron Restaurant incorrect, mistaking the Chardonnay for Pinot Noir, and wrote about the ‘waitress’ shaking the bottle! He had to apologise to sommelier Josephine Gutentoft on Twitter when she corrected him about the variety, and explained that she was turning the bottle to cool the wine! He referred to the yellowtail as ‘kingklip’, the restaurant being very SASSI marine sustainability conscious, and not serving this orange-rated fish type. The ‘vanilla’ ice cream was actually crème fraîche ice cream, and said so on the menu, of which Palling took a copy with him! Makaron found the review ‘hilarious’, with its many errors, especially as Palling only spent 45 minutes at the restaurant, eating three courses, because he rushed off to Cape Talk for an interview! The funniest part of all was that Palling poured the remainder of the Vriesenhof Chardonnay left over in his glass back into the bottle, and took it with him - ouch!
* He slated The Roundhouse for its springbok via Twitter when he first arrived, but the restaurant has not served this meat type for the past two years, Palling confusing it with fallow deer!
* He could not remember the ingredients of one of The Test Kitchen desserts, and of a number of the dishes at Pierneef à La Motte!
* He could not spell ‘hartebeest’! One would expect that a blogger and occasional journalist would spell-check or Google each foreign food name before publishing his blogpost!
* He did not know the correct name of Pierneef à La Motte!
* He went off on a tangent, finding a book inscribed by our ‘colourful’ politician ‘Piet Kornoff’ (sic).
In a Google search yesterday, we came across an article on Gastromondiale, slating Palling for containing ‘minor and major errors’, in his review of Ibia in San Sebastian in Spain, confusing chorizo with chistorras, incorrectly calling kokotxas of merzula ‘hake cheeks‘, confusing pork with veal, and described a ‘mild curry sauce‘, the writer Vedat Milor protesting that Ibai would never serve anything curried! The writer complains about the ‘mischaracterization’ of the Ibai dishes by Palling!
Palling posted his final restaurant missives yesterday, seeming to have run out of energy, not posting a ‘review’ about each of the 30 restaurants he visited, as he bragged. We know that:
* He did visit and write ‘reviews’ about The Test Kitchen, The Tasting Room, Jordan Restaurant, The Roundhouse, Tokara, Overture, Nobu, Belthazar (not evaluated for Eat Out), Babel, Planet Restaurant, Bizerca Bistrot, Rust en Vrede, Hartford House, Makaron, and Pierneef à La Motte.
* He did visit but did not ‘review’ Delaire Graff and Indochine restaurants at Delaire Graff wine estate, The Pot Luck Club (this restaurant had to be removed from the Top 20 shortlist when it was pointed out to Eat Out on this blog that the restaurant had not been open for the required 12 month period since opening), The Greenhouse*, La Colombe, Restaurant Mosaic, DW Eleven-13, and (privately) Biesmiellah. One wonders why he did not review these restaurants, perhaps running out of steam, or possibly threatened with legal action by New Media Publishing or by individual restaurants? This takes us to 23 restaurants, with another seven out of the 30 restaurants he ate at unaccounted for.
We know how difficult it is to remember all the small details when one writes a review a few days after the meal. To remember the intricate details six months after is almost impossible, no matter how good one’s notes and photographs may be. Palling’s photographs were generally excellent, but a number were dreadful (e.g. for The Test Kitchen. The Tasting Room, Pierneef à La Motte, Bizerca, Planet), not doing all chefs’ dishes justice.
These are his views about a further collection of our top restaurants:
* Palling was most complimentary about Chef Luke Dale-Roberts and The Test Kitchen, faulting nothing about it at all, and awarding it two Michelin stars, were it to be in London: ‘I was blown away by the menu here and the complete self-assurance of a professional chef. I could finally see why people raved about food in South Africa. Amongst the best meals I have had anywhere in recent times. Luke Dale-Roberts understands the need to integrate the ingredients on the plate so that they create a symphony rather than an ill-assorted collection of competing sonatas. Test Kitchen also offered the best wine pairing I had on my visit. It was rightly chosen by us as EAT OUT’s best restaurant of the year’.
* Palling pointed out a number of service issues which should be a no-no at a restaurant of the calibre of The Tasting Room, including bringing the coffee to the table too early, not serving petit fours with it, and not handing his wife her coat back. He also found Franschhoek to be ‘too perfect’, was not too charmed with the beetroot dish, and criticised the restaurant interior as being ‘a bit too Sixties’, having just been completely redone by Chef Margot Janse’s brother. Palling asked as recently as last week if it had the best interior in Africa, in the BA Highlife article! He liked the tables not having tablecloths, the superb food composition, the dishes not having any oversweetness, and presentation with ‘real flair‘.
* Terroir came out of Palling’s parlance reasonably unscathed, being praised for its attractive interior, ’seasonal awareness‘, well presented ‘real food’, for being ‘warm and amiable’, for its Tarte Tatin, and its good service. Negatives were that there was no view outside, that the explanation of each dish was overdone and he had to stop the staff doing it, and the loin of Karoo lamb did not appeal to him at all, describing it as ‘slightly crude gamey verging on abbattoiry taste’.
* Poor Pierneef à La Motte came in for Bruce-bashing too, only praising the interior as being ‘in reasonably good taste’ and lamb tripe. He slated the interior as being over the top, ‘reeks of huge expenditure’, being on a large winery attached to it, owned by the Ruperts (well, actually only one!), described the pappardelle as ‘thick as leather’ and the panga ‘overcooked’, and the Meerlust Rubicon 2006 as being ‘too young‘! He seemed very surprised that he received second best treatment, as Chef Chris Erasmus had left for his stage at Noma in Copenhagen on the day that Palling ate at the restaurant: ‘The problem here was that the attempt to do classic traditional South African recipes did not have enough innovation in the dishes, so there was a sense of disappointment at the results. They ended up being like copies of the real thing without any gesture towards contemporary cuisine, so for me they were therefore rather dull and unimaginative‘.
* Makaron restaurant at Majeka House received a hammering, Palling clearly not liking anything about it, other than its anchovy-flavoured mayonnaise and the bread on the bread plate! He complained about it being difficult to find, there being no signage with the restaurant name in the ‘housing development’, the exterior of the restaurant was ‘relentlessly Post War New World Suburban‘, no seasonal food, the amuse bouche of soft-boiled egg with maple syrup and sweet brittle bacon was ‘disgustingly sweet’, the rabbit was raw in the middle and underseasoned, the sweet corn served with one of the dishes was best fed to ‘livestock’, the kingklip was overcooked, a salad was a ‘mess‘, the Tarte Tatin slice was too large and the vanilla ice cream tasteless. Overall, he felt that the restaurant suggests fine-dining but that this is a ‘misnomer’. He seemed to not be able to marry what he experienced with what he had heard about Chef Tanja Kruger and her stage last year at L’Aperge. Clearly Palling does not know that Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly was a consultant to the restaurant when it was set up the year before!
* Overture passed with flying colours, not one negative being mentioned other than the balsamic vinegar having been added to the olive oil. It offered the best service of all the 30 restaurants he ate at, with good bread.
* The Greenhouse*: Palling posted this review today, having written and posted the rest of the blogpost yesterday. He clearly is annoyed that Chef Peter Tempelhoff wouldn’t help him identify his photographs of the meal five months ago, and one can see it in that he made three typing errors in one sentence, showing that he was in a rush to post the ‘review’, and a-Palling-ly did not proofread it at all: ’The fur (sic) choices were further broken down into four categories - Lightly Chilled, Somewhat cooked, Medium to rare nd (sic) Somthing (sic) Sweet, which was a pleasant enough artifice’. Palling liked the glossary of South African food terms in the menu, the short wine list and the reasonable wine prices, it ‘reeked of seasonality’, and the good service, dishes presented without too much explanation. He described Chef Peter as ‘technically a highly competent chef’ - did he know that The Greenhouse was South Africa’s number one Eat Out restaurant in 2011?! The tasting menu he described as a ‘bit of a bumpy ride’, some dishes being first rate, and others too sweet or not having ‘enough oompfh’ (sic)! He hated his table (they did know he was coming, as he stayed over at the hotel that night, and therefore they had his real name), so one wonders why they didn’t give him the best table in the house. He implied that a starter had been copied from Heston Blumenthal, and a course of eggs stuffed with lobster was similar to a dish he had eaten at Noma! The Greenhouse ‘review’ is poorly proofread, as he implies that the abalone and tuna/snoek dishes were equally ’soggy and tepid’, but it did not come across as he is missing some verbs and adjectives relating to the abalone! The final insult: the presentation was ‘far too fiddly with too many things going on‘!
The Bruce-bashing of restaurants may have come to an end now, but it has seriously impacted on the souls of some of our country’s best chefs, with Palling stomping all over their creative egos and talent. We are surprised that New Media Publishing still has not issued a media statement, to tell the industry what it thinks of the unprofessional abuse of its confidential restaurant evaluation information for Palling’s own gain. It appears that the Eat Out publisher has called some Top 20 shortlist chefs, and will be interviewing them one on one, to shape the 2013 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards. Most restaurants and their chefs are inspired by other restaurants, and it has been commendable that a number of our top chefs have sacrificed their family time to sweat out stages at top international restaurants. It is no surprise that they will be inspired by a chef such as Noma’s Rene Redzepi, and will create their own interpretation of top dishes, such as Michel Bras’ Gargouillou, the first garden dish created years ago with 50 - 60 ingredients, reports the New York Times.
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: New Media Publishing has promised a media statement for Monday, more than a week after Palling began his Eat Out Top 20 shortlist restaurant bashing!
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Andy Fenner has spoken out against Palling on Twitter, in response to Twit-idiot Michael Olivier, who tried to convince Fenner of Palling’s value: ‘So Bruce whatshisname comes here and slates our restaurants. Everyone goes crazy. Heston raves about his experience. Hardly anybody notices‘!
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Palling has added his ‘review’ of The Greenhouse*, and we applaud Chef Peter Tempelhoff for standing up to Palling, in refusing to assist him with information five months after his meal there! We have added our summary of it into this blogpost.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage