‘Rossouw’s by Diners Club 2015 South African Restaurant Guide’ is back, 13 Cape Town and Winelands 5* restaurants!


Rossouw's by Diner's Club South African Restaurant GuideAfter a one year absence, the Rossouw’s Restaurant Guide is back, with a new name, new sponsor, new editor, and a new methodology of recognising top restaurants.  Restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands still dominate the 5-star restaurant list by far, with 13 out of 20 restaurants in the Western Cape, out of 300 restaurants evaluated in total!

Yesterday ‘Rossouw’s by Diners Club International 2015 South African Restaurant Guide’ was launched in Johannesburg, now sponsored by Diners Club, the same company also sponsoring the Platter’s by Diners Club 2015 South African Wine Guide.  Anna Trapido has been the editor for just more than half a year, writing individual reviews about restaurants on their website, and has compiled the new Guide, awarding twenty restaurants with 5 star ratings nationally, another change, as the Rossouw’s restaurants only achieved a maximum of 3 stars in the past, when it was run by previous owner JP Rossouw.  The publication format now matches that of the Platter’s Guide.  A 5-star rated restaurant is defined as a ‘consistently superlative restaurant in its category – with no/almost no issues’!  To obtain a 5-star rating the restaurant had to achieve a score in excess of 90%, errors in food being unbalanced, or wines and foods not matching, counting against a restaurant, for example.  Every element of the restaurant visit, from making the telephonic booking to the departure, was scored.  All meals were paid for by Anna’s reviewers, all largely unknown to the restaurants (unlike Eat Out‘s team of highly visible judges!).

Anna sent an email, to explain her categorisation of restaurants, another change, having created categories into which the 300 restaurants evaluated fell: ‘Luxury’ (only two Cape restaurant won a 5 star rating in this category), ‘Smart Casual’ (8 Cape restaurants), ‘Casual‘ (3 restaurants in the Cape) and ‘On the Edge‘ (none in the Cape).  Anna’s reasoning was that restaurants should be compared within segments, e.g. ‘casual’ restaurants should be evaluated against other casual restaurants, but in my opinion it is a total misnomer to have a 5-star Casual restaurant!  Her ‘Smart Casual‘ restaurant inclusions would be described as ‘Fine Dining’ in the Cape, sounding more like a dress-code, and is an insult to the calibre of the restaurants she has labeled as such.

Given that the bulk of the 5-star restaurants are Cape Town and Winelands based (13 of the twenty), it was extremely odd that the Rossouw’s Restaurants launch was held in Johannesburg.   Anna and I discussed the launch when we saw each other at the disastrous Diners Club Winelist of the Year Awards held at Shimmy Beach Club last month!  She felt that I should attend, but did not tell me that it would be held up north.  I received an invitation to attend from the Diners Club PR company African Sky Communications, and thought it was a joke that they sent me the Johannesburg invitation and not the Cape Town one.  The PR representative told me that the function would only be held in Johannesburg, given that Platter’s was launched in Cape Town!  I was also told that I would have to fly to Johannesburg at my own expense if I wanted to attend, the hallmark of amateur PR!  At the Platter’s launch I was invited again, by African Sky Communications Group CEO Elzilda Becker, and promised a flight too, but I never heard anything further from her.  The logic of the choice of Johannesburg, in giving the city’s restaurants a little consolation prize in hosting the function there, when the bulk of the best restaurants are in the Western Cape, is not understandable.  No attempt was made by the PR company to get the Rossouw’s Guide delivered to us during the course of yesterday, despite a request during the course of the day, a promise late yesterday afternoon being made for tomorrow, and then revised to later today.  It is clear that the PR company has no understanding of how we operate (in the Cape!), that we certainly are not ‘copy-and paste’ bloggers (like the notorious Michael Olivier), and like to receive as much information as possible to write our blogposts.  All we received was a media release e-mailed late afternoon, when the results had already become known earlier in the day via Twitter!  It smacks of poor planning and poor media understanding!  Diners Club did fly up the 13 top Western Cape restaurant chefs, as well as the Durban one, to join the six Johannesburg chefs at the event!

The 5 star restaurants (with the category judged in) are as follows:

*   Western Cape:

+   Luxury: Aubergine (what a category misnomer for this restaurant!), and The Greenhouse

+   Smart Casual :  Carne (no comment!), Jordan Restaurant (looking very worn at the edges!), Kyoto Garden Sushi (oi vey!), Overture, The Pot Luck Club, The Test Kitchen (number 48 in the world!!!!!!!!!!!!), The Restaurant at Waterkloof, and Terroir (with the most expensive desserts in Stellenbosch)

+   Casual:  Bread & Wine, Chef’s Warehouse (head and shoulders above the rest in this category), Ile de Pain (below standard even in this category)

*   Gauteng:

+   Luxury : five hundred and Qunu (both at Saxon Hotel, with Chef David Higgs at the helm), Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient

+   Smart Casual:  The Local Grill in Parktown North (steak house, which won best steakhouse in a competition sponsored by Boekenhoutskloof and organised by Rossouw himself!), and Ritrovo.

+   Casual: Japa

*   KwaZulu-Natal:

+   On the Edge: The Snack Bar at Spice Emporium.

Comparing the Rossouw’s Top 20 five star list with Eat Out’s Top 20 Restaurant shortlist, it is evident that:

*   only The Greenhouse, The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck, Restaurant Mosaic, Overture, Jardine at Jordan, The Restaurant at Waterkloof, Bread & Wine, and five hundred are common to both lists

*   shock exclusions are The Tasting Room, Rust en Vrede, and Tokara (not having access to the Guide the absence of these restaurants on the 5 star list is not understandable)

*   exclusions of other Eat Out Top 20 finalists are Makaron at Majeka House, La Mouette, Planet at Belmond Mount Nelson, The White Room at Dear Me, The Kitchen at Maison, DW Eleven-13, and The Restaurant at Newton Johnson!

*   exclusions due to chef (or venue) changes would include Delaire Graff, Camphors at Vergelegen, Mondiall, Pierneef à La Motte, Babylonstoren, Hartford House, and La Colombe.

*   Half of the 2015 5-star restaurants were the top 3-star restaurants in 2013 (Aubergine, Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient, Ritrovo, Ile de Pain, Overture, Terroir, Waterkloof, Jardine at Jordan, The Test Kitchen, and The Greenhouse).

A number of obscure unknown (Gauteng-dominant) chefs received awards too:

*   The Consistent Culinary Artistry Award :  For a senior chef in order to recognise a long track record of abiding epicurean excellence: Jean Mauvis at Ile Maurice, Umhlanga
*   Unsung Culinary Excellence Award  :  For a long-serving, seldom recognised but skilled and creative stalwart of a kitchen brigade: Leah Tsonye at The Leopard, Johannesburg
*   The Most Promising Young Chef Award  :  Lehlohonolo Mogadime at Indochine, Stellenbosch
*  The Superior Service Award  :  Abou Bakar Fofana at La Madeleine, Pretoria
*  Culinary Patriotism Award  :  Jeera Restaurant at Suncoast Towers Hotel in Durban, for having the courage to take Durban Indian Diaspora flavours out of the ghetto and into the posh-nosh mainstream
*   In Memoriam (weird award)  :  In Memory of Chef Lunga Maqwelane of the Savoy Cabbage, Cape Town, who was gunned down in January 2014 as he left his child’s crèche, to go to work.


Anna came to the rescue in the early evening, by sending me her talk notes, to give me some type of feel of the event, which was overshadowed by the shock news of the passing of Chef Bruce Robertson.  

Unfortunately the notes mainly focused on why the chefs who received the special awards above were honoured, most of them unknown to us. I do not buy into the restaurant segmentation and then still awarding some five stars, really comparing apples with pears, even within categories.  Given the twelve month absence of the Guide, and the dominance of Eat Out as the definitive restaurant award benchmark, one wonders what relevance and usefulness the Rossouw’s Restaurant Guide still has.  The Rossouw’s Guide has lost visibility, with Rossouw heading up Platter’s as well as Rossouw’s Restaurants as the publisher of both, and Anna not partaking in Social Media. I cannot help but feel that the Rossouw’s Guide is trying to appease Gauteng, but it will never come close to Cape Town and the Winelands in dominating the restaurant scene. Disconcerting is seeing the nepotism in one of the staff working on the Restaurant Guide. When I do receive the Guide later today, I will add to this blogpost.

POSTSCRIPT 4/11:  Despite doing everything in my power during the course of today to obtain a copy of the Rossouw’s Restaurant Guide via the PR company African Sky Communications (they deliver alphabetically, they don’t return calls nor sms messages, and told me that I’m lucky to receive a copy at all, given this blogpost!), JP Rossouw (he does not return calls), and Diners Club (they close at 16h00!), which had been promised by Becker for delivery today, I was unsuccessful.  

I have a loan copy, and further comments follow below, based on the publication:

1.   The shock non-5* restaurants are The Tasting Room (4* rating, losing points for the sameness of its dish introductions over a period of 5 years, summarised as ‘over-thought and under-tasted‘), Rust en Vrede (4* rating, noting service inconsistency due to staff departures), and Tokara (4* rating, noting less interest in desserts by Chef Richard Carstens)

2.   The bulk of the 300 restaurants are in the Western Cape (152), followed by Gauteng (116), and KwaZulu-Natal (42)

3.   The bulk of the restaurants in the Western Cape are 4* rated, in part as a compromise for relatively new restaurants, which were not evaluated often enough to qualify for a 5* rating in the first year of operation (e.g. The Restaurant at Newton Johnson, Foliage).  The 4* list includes Bosman’s, Burrata, Delaire Graff Restaurant, Indochine, Makaron, Massimo’s, Marianna’s, Sloppy Sam’s, The Foodbarn, Nonna Lina, Oep ve Koep, Haiku, Orinoco, 95 Keerom, A Tavola, Black Sheep, Bombay Brasserie, Borage Bistro, Burgundy, Dear Me, Clarke’s, The Dining Room, Glen Carlou, Joostenberg Bistro, La Sosta, La Bon Vivant, Nobu, Societi Bistro, and Takumi.

4.  A shock is the 3* ratings, for the disappointed restaurant owners in particular: La Mouette (first time Eat Out Top 20, criticised for misnaming dishes, and coming across as a ‘GastroPub‘), Mondiall, Babel, Bizerca, Equus (lack of menu change and same offer of vegetables and starch for all dishes criticised), Haute Cabriere, Planet at the Belmond Mount Nelson, The Roundhouse, Pierneef à La Motte, and Grande Provence (over-emphasis on technique, food not tasted before serving).   Other 3* rated restaurants are Willoughby’s, The Salmon Bar, 96 Winery Road, Beijing Opera, Belthazar, Bukhara, Springfontein Eats (the owner/chef Jürgen Schneider had a Michelin star restaurant in Germany!), Café Bonbon, Cuvée, De Brasserie, El Burro, Emily’s, Fork, French Connection, Gaaitjie, Harbour House, La Petite Ferme, Magica Roma, Miller’s Thumb, Sotano, and Myoga.   Hartford House’s 3* rating is a surprise.

5.  Even greater surprises lie in the 2* list, for Steenberg in particular, for both its Bistro Sixteen82 and Catharina’s restaurants (inconsistency being the main criticism), Buitenverwachting (dishes being too heavy), Camphors at Vergelegen (service inconsistency since the departure of Chef PJ Vadas), and Kitima.   Other 2* restaurants are HQ, Il Leone Mastrantonio, Le Belle at The Alphen, Simon’s, Café Paradiso, Duchess of Wisbeach, Café Roux, Decameron, Fyndraai, and Stables at Vergelegen.

6.   Grand Café at The Beach achieved 1*, as did Panama Jack, Den Anker, Dornier Bodega, and the Brass Bell!

7.   The price which Reuben Robertsons Riffel pays for having five restaurants and never being at any of them is highlighted in the Guide, showing up complete inconsistency: 4* for Franschhoek, 3* for the One&Only Cape Town, and only 1* for Robertson!

8.   The late Chef Bruce Robertson’s The Flagship, which had only been open in Simonstown for a few months, achieved 3*, in part due to its newness when evaluated.

9.   Surprising is the omission of The Kitchen at Maison, Leopard’s Leap, Cheyne’s, Four and Twenty Café, and Azure at the Twelve Apostles from the Guide.

POSTSCRIPT 5/11:  After 36 hours of drama to obtain the Restaurant Guide, with numerous broken (and contradictory) promises (without apologies) made by the PR company of delivery days and times, reflecting their shocking incompetence, we have received the Rossouw’s Restaurant Guide!   Even worse is the lack of reaction to messages left for publisher Jean-Pierre (his new name) Rossouw and Diners Club Marketing Head Lee-Ann Shepherd.

POSTSCRIPT 5/11:   Prickly Pendick would platz if he were lucky enough to get a copy of ‘Rossouw’s Restaurants‘, and see that Boekenhoutskloof’s The Chocolate Block is advertised in the Guide on the page marker ribbon!

Rossouw’s by Diners Club International 2015 South African Restaurant Guide, Tel (028) 316-3049. www.rossouwsrestaurants..com  Twitter:@RossouwsRstrnts

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Tel (021) 433-2100, Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook:  click here

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