Poor New Media Publishing. They are bravely trying to fix the image of what was once their prestigious restaurant awards, given the radical decision two years ago to cut the committee which helped editor Abigail Donnelly judge our top restaurants, and has commendably embarked on a journey to engage with the industry to hear its feedback and suggestions. Now its judge for the 2012 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant awards, the UK blogger Bruce Palling, is posting a blow by blow review of each restaurant he was sent to by Mrs Donnelly, for evaluation as a Top 20 restaurant. Not even Mrs Donnelly has sat with the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Awards shortlist chefs, to pass on feedback to them.
To save face from the judging debacle of 2011, when Mrs Donnelly chose to fire her judging committee of many years, and appoint herself as the sole judge, New Media Publishing decided that they needed an international judge to give the publication credibility for the 2012 awards. Whoever at New Media Publishing chose to appoint Bruce Palling should be fired, for his vindictive and unprofessional utterings whilst he was in our country as their guest, and currently, seeming to take great joy in slating almost everything about our restaurant and wine industry after having been in our country for a total of only 15 days!
Picking up that Palling had arrived in the country via his Tweets, and finding out via Google searches that he was nothing of the calibre that Eat Out had made him out to be, we wrote a number of blogposts about Palling’s indiscretions whilst he was on his tasting orgy (200 dishes, 30 restaurants, 60 wines in 15 days, he proudly gushed in BA Highlife!). He retaliated immediately on Twitter, writing that I am a ‘pig ignorant peasant‘! A complaint to New Media Publishing CEO Bridget McCarney about their invited judge’s rudeness took forever to be replied to, and was simply dismissed. One senses in retrospect that he would have ignored it anyway, coming across as a MCP and boorish bully. In his latest missives, published on his blog since Sunday, he scathingly refers to our blogposts about him, trying to find a link between my writing about Palling, and a supposed issue between my son and Eat Out – this may come from trouble-making supermarket wine promoter Michael Olivier. Quite the opposite is true – Mrs Donnelly has praised my son’s service regularly, and did so again last week at our meeting about Eat Out 2013. Palling does however appreciate how much traffic his blog received due to our blogposts! He writes: “The idea was that I would be booked into these places anonymously and simply pay in cash so as to not reveal my identity, but that was quickly impossible because of the gleeful reproduction of my photograph on the web by some person who had a grudge against Eat Out for family reasons. There was also an element of nationalist chauvinism peeping through here – who is this bloody ignorant unknown foreigner to come and lecture us about our fabulous food? Well, I suppose only having to deal with one Laager Lout is pretty good going. I later had reason to be grateful for this twisted person, as these bizarre rants against me guaranteed far wider media interest than I probably deserved. Everyone else I was in contact during that fortnight, couldn’t have been more polite, helpful and solicitous. It really is irrelevant whether or not a restaurant knows your identity anyway, as you can always tell if you are being singled out for special treatment. Besides, several of the places, which addressed me by my real name on arrival, served unpalatable food” (our underlining)!
The brief was that Palling eat at Mrs Donnelly’s proposed Top 20 shortlist, score each restaurant on her magazine’s evaluation criteria, and not Tweet about his meals, to not identify where he had been. He likes to ‘eat and Tweet’, so he was left to photograph the copious bottles of wine he was drinking at his meals. He caused affront with his initial Tweets about our boring and bland springbok (which he ate at The Roundhouse, it now emerges).
In his blogpost Palling has a go at our country’s past history, commenting on the staff profile relative to the guest profile: “One thing I did find disturbing was the heavy imbalance of European diners over Black guests at all of the places I visited. There were usually more Black staff than Black customers at every place I went to. The only exception to this was DW-Eleven-13 in Johburg” (sic)!
In the meeting I was invited to by New Media Publishing to discuss improving the Eat Out 2013 Awards last week, Mrs Donnelly still was defensively loyal to Palling, saying that their scores for the top three restaurants (The Test Kitchen, The Tasting Room, Jordan Restaurant) were spot on the same. In Palling’s blogpost he makes Mrs Donnelly out to be an ignoramus when it comes to our local restaurants (we know that she ate at all the restaurants she sent Palling to less than a month before), dismissing many of them outright, and having chosen some others, hinting that it was his influence that they made the Top 20 shortlist. So, oddly Nobu was on the Top 20 shortlist as he had to eat there, despite not being eligible due to the chef change, and Bizerca Bistrot and Babel were not on the initial shortlist, but did make it.
As we saw in the BA Highlife article released on Friday, Palling dissed most of our Top 20 restaurants – he is still releasing additions to his blogpost every few hours:
* Bizerca Bistrot: ‘All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable meals I had as it was simple and straightforward with decent ingredients that weren’t too mucked about. This was the sort of place I would happily go to regularly in any city as a local bistro‘. The highlights were the ‘jolly relaxed atmosphere’, the salad with pancetta and croutons, and the tarte tatin. Palling slated the (original) location in a ‘soulless shopping mall’, the oysters had too many additives and herbs, the ‘slab of fish piled too high on the plate, which was distracting‘, the lamb was poorly plated, being ‘lumped in the centre of the plate’, and the tuna tartare was ‘vertically challenged’!
* Babel was not on Palling’s Eat Out Top 20 list, but he went there anyway, getting it onto the Top 20 list. He described it as ‘biblically beautiful’, and having the best chips he tasted in our country. The Zorgvliet 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was ‘stupendously alcoholic’, and the steak had not been hung for long enough, making it tough.
* Rust en Vrede should not have made the Top 10 restaurant list, given Palling’s criticism of its ordinary cutlery, ‘zero seasonality’, ‘in no way exceptional’ scallops, the tasteless dishes, the long wait of 15 minutes between courses, and the bottle of the Rust en Vrede 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon not coming to its own right, despite being decanted and left to breathe. He did however like the Riedel glassware, and the reading glass selection they offered his wife.
* Planet Restaurant at the Mount Nelson: His opening shot was completely negative, and it never improved for the restaurant: ‘Why was I sent here? I thought that the Nobu meal was going to be hard to beat in the inedibility stakes, but the Planet deserves a Gold. The composition of the menu wasn’t the problem as it looks inviting and interesting – it was just the poor execution that ruined the meal. Things got off to a tedious start as all of the staff greeted me by name with big grins, even though I was not actually staying here at the time of my visit’. He really didn’t like anything about it all, including its usually charming Sommelier/Restaurant Manager Carl Habel, whom Palling described as a ‘bully‘ regarding the wine choice, who was overbearing, and who tried to eavesdrop on Palling’s conversation! Palling himself chose the ‘Steenburger’ (sic) Sauvignon Blanc 2011, he writes. The springbok was tasteless, the swordfish had been frozen, and ‘the pudding was edible but uneventful’, summarising it as ‘hotel food circa 1970’! He described the hotel and restaurant as a ‘faded film star’, and compared it to the last night before the sinking of The Titanic, without the panic.
* The Roundhouse: Poor Chef Eric Bulpitt and owner Fasie Malherbe! Chef Eric was the first local chef to do a stage at Noma, just after it became the world’s number one restaurant, and Palling has made him out to be close to a fraud, for copying the Noma dishes without acknowledgement. Arrogant Malherbe’s Let’s Sell Lobster service training company is deemed by many to be the best in the industry, yet Palling was not impressed with it at all! He found little to praise except for its setting and the ‘proficient display of cooking skills’, saying that there was ‘no originality’, ‘the service was also incredibly demonstrative’. He was welcomed by name on the menu (a big no!), Chef Eric ‘ripped off’ Noma’s signature dish, most of the dishes were ‘tasteless’, and the organic carrots were ‘overcooked and uneventful‘.
* Hartford House: Palling was most impressed with this restaurant, which he rated to be comparable with Royal Mail in Australia and Faviken in Sweden, for its remote location. He enjoyed all the dishes, especially the quail, except the dessert, which was too sweet. The trip to get to the hotel was the worst he experienced.
* Jordan Restaurant: Despite Chef George Jardine’s swipe at foreign judges evaluating our local restaurants from the stage at the Eat Out Awards in November, Palling raved about the chef and his restaurant. The only negative was the ‘slightly too alcoholic’ Luddite Shiraz 2006 (at 14 %)! The meal was described as ‘superb’, it being the ‘most low key leading restaurant’, a ‘proper meal’ and not a tasting menu, and the ‘flavours were all straightforward and bold’.
* Tokara Restaurant: Palling praised the many Asian ingredients (being surprised that Chef Richard Carstens is ‘actually South African in origin’ – did they not meet?), and the ‘exceptionally well presented ‘ dishes. He criticised the heavy use of wasabi, the use of between 5 – 9 ingredients in each dish causing an ‘absurd amount of conflicting flavours’, little seasonality in the vegetable and fruit usage, the use of too much sugar, a ‘quite tasteless’ pear puddding, blue mould on the cheddar cheese, the recommendation of a Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010 was ‘infanticide to drink right now‘, and there was ‘little harmony in any of the dishes‘.
Interesting is the Twitidiots who have lauded Palling for trashing our restaurant industry, including unsurprisingly Michael Olivier, Jane-Anne Hobbs. and Skye Grove! One wonders how Grove can keep her job at Cape Town Tourism, when she supports the annihilation by Palling of a number of top Cape Town restaurants, nclusing Bizerca Bistrot, which her CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold likes to spend her generous entertainment allowance at!
Eat Out and its publisher New Media Publishing owe the restaurant industry an explanation and an apology for Palling’s behaviour, and for publishing his opinions and experiences about our country’s top restaurants. Surely any judge should sign a confidentiality agreement?! It is clear that Palling is getting back at New Media Publishing for not flying him back to Cape Town for the Eat Out Awards gala dinner, the relationship between the two parties having broken down after his visit in September. When I called Eat Out GM-to-be Aileen Lamb yesterday afternoon, it seemed as if she was barely aware of the damage that Palling was causing to their brand, and the company had not even thought of preparing a statement to apologise to the industry for the public humiliation our top restaurants, and talented chefs and sommeliers are suffering at the hands of Palling! We have requested a statement from New Media Publishing, which has been promised for this morning.
Every restaurant that didn’t make the 2012 Eat Out Top 20 restaurant shortlist must be thanking its lucky stars to have been spared the a-Palling humiliation!
POSTSCRIPT 5/2: We received the following disappointing ‘statement’ from Eat Out GM-to-be Aileen Lamb: “Thank you for your request for comment of yesterday. As discussed in our meeting with you on Wednesday 30 January 2013, we recognize that certain of the decisions we have made in order to grow and develop the Eat Out brand have not been as well received as we would have hoped. To this end we are committed to our extensive research where we will be interviewing chefs, restaurant owners, bloggers, consumers and certain media to gain a 360 degree view of our brand in the market. This research coupled with our expertise will form the basis of the 2013 Eat Out strategy. Our core objective is to be completely transparent in our judging process and to ensure we are answering the needs of the consumers who engage with our content. We now want to move forward from last year and make positive steps towards the future and I trust you will continue to work with us to the benefit of the Eat Out brand”.
POSTSCRIPT 5/2: Palling is on the Twit-attack, referring to me as a ‘laager lout’, and asking if poor Mrs Donnelly ‘deserves better than to be trashed’ by ourselves. if anyone is doing the trashing, it’s Palling! Michael Olivier has promptly Tweeted about it on his abuse account, as if he is Palling’s new friend, just because he did an interview with Palling last year!
POSTSCRIPT 6/2: We note that Palling has made some copy changes to his blogpost of 3 February, adding extra insults at our comment that the BA Highlife article did not include The Test Kitchen other than showing a photograph of one of its dishes! He seems to also have selectively deleted certain paragraphs and sentences, probably to remove errors!
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: We have written a (hopefully final) blogpost about further Eat Out Top 20 restaurants evaluated by Palling on his blog yesterday (Pierneef à La Motte, Overture, Makaron, The Test Kitchen, The Tasting Room, and Terroir), and highlighted Palling’s poor attention to detail in his writing!
POSTSCRIPT 7/8: Bruce Palling has left the Wall Street Journal Europe and has joined Perowne Charles Communications to set up its food and drink division. ‘Palling will lead PCC’s account team representing well-known food and drinks brands, Michelin-star chefs as well as new launches, with clients including Epicure at Le Bristol Paris and Aziamendi at Iniala Beach House in Phuket‘. Funny is reading the agency’s blogpost about Palling’s appointment, clearly written by him and how he quotes his Eat Out excursion in his ‘CV’!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage