Was appointing Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant UK judge Bruce Palling a mis-steak?


Newly appointed Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards international judge Bruce Palling left Cape Town on Monday, ‘after stupendous fortnight of feasting and tasting in South Africa…’, he Tweeted.  His Tweets caused a stir when he arrived in Cape Town, and he left on a poor note, in criticising his meal at Belthazar at the V&A Waterfront with an unfair and misleading Tweet about his last dinner in Cape Town!

As we have written, food blogger Palling was invited to the country to restore Eat Out’s reputation after last year’s Awards were judged solely by its editor Abigail Donnelly, leading to controversial decisions.  Palling had to confirm Mrs Donnelly’s Top 20 finalist list, revealed yesterday after Palling had left Cape Town, assist her in the ranking of the Top 10 restaurants, and assist in the decision as to which restaurants would receive the category awards for Best Bistro, Best Italian Restaurant, Best Asian Restaurant, Best Country-Style Restaurant, Best Steakhouse, and receive the Boschendal Style Award.

Palling set about ‘feasting and tasting’ his way around our country, and seems to have done 26 lunches and dinners in Cape Town predominantly, with only a lunch at DW Eleven-13 in Johannesburg on Saturday, and Pretoria and Durban not appearing to have featured on his travel agenda, judging by his Tweets.  Anyone following Palling’s Tweets would have picked up that he was censored by his hosts, as he was revealing too much about the dishes he was eating, especially the Springbok, which he ate on at least three occasions and was less than complimentary about initially, so much so that he had to apologise to our national game dish: “Take back Springbok being boring/bland – had 2 non sous vide versions which lean + voluptuous helped along by Raats Cabernet Franc 08″‘!  One senses from his Tweets prior to his arrival in Cape Town that he loves to Tweet what he eats (we know the feeling!), but he must have been most frustrated in not being able to do so locally, so he had to resort to Tweeting photographs of wine bottles instead, which were clues as to his whereabouts in themselves.

Of his 26 lunch and dinner opportunities in Cape Town, only two were deemed ‘private’, which meant that he could provide their names, and Tweet about them.  His Tweet about Biesmiellah in Bo-Kaap was an a-palling example of poor journalism, riddled with typing errors: “Taking a break at Biedmiellah (sic) – Babotie (sic) and Denning Vleis (sic)”. Poor quality writing, not what one would expect from a ‘journalist’!  The photograph he Tweeted (right) was most unappetising.

It was his last Cape Town dinner at Belthazar that caused outrage, at the unfair attack in a Tweet on what is judged by most as the city’s best steak restaurant: “Private dinner @ Belthazar – first steak so dry had to send it back – then rare fillet still chilly inside – what’s problem? -v frustrating”. As Belthazar is not on Twitter, we contacted the restaurant to check what had happened, given its good reputation. We discovered an a-palling misrepresentation by Palling in the Tweet, reflecting his unprofessionalism. We spoke to Executive Chef Gracious Phakamani, the Sommelier Bantu Masseti, the junior manager Serge Kabuya, and the waiter Hassan, all of whom had been on duty that evening, and the following emerged about Palling’s dinner at Belthazar: Palling arrived alone, and the first thing he told the Sommelier was that he is a ‘restaurant reviewer’, but that he was not reviewing Belthazar, something no professional reviewer would do, and was unnecessary as he was eating there ‘privately’! He then showed the Sommelier a list of wines he was interested in tasting, and not all were available by the glass, so Sommelier Bantu suggested alternatives that were close to the ones Palling wanted to try.  Palling drank a glass of Tokara Director’s Reserve 2004 (yet Tweeted a photograph of the 2008 bottle) at R165, a glass of Bellingham The Bernard SMV at R150, and a glass of Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz at R110.  As a starter Palling ordered a 700g Chicago Cut steak (R310), which he ordered rare, but was advised by the waiter to order medium rare, which he was happy with. Not having eaten enough (despite an earlier two course lunch at a restaurant on the Top 20 list) and the 700g steak, he decided on eating a 250 g fillet steak (R169) too, which he ordered rare. He sent it back, saying it was cold inside. Chef Gracious put it back on the grill, and the now Medium Rare steak was returned, judged by Palling as still being too cold inside.  The Chef prepared a fresh steak for Palling, again prepared Rare, and the third time round he was happy with it. Chef Gracious has been at the Slick Group of restaurants (owning Belthazar and Balducci’s) for fifteen years, and rarely has had a steak returned, let alone two by the same customer, he related.  There was no feedback to the Belthazar staff about the steak being too ‘dry’.  Palling had such a good time at the restaurant that he gave his newly acquired Mount Nelson ballpoint pen to the waiter as a present, tipped the waiter R160 (15%) on the R1086 bill, and told the Manager Serge that he had an enjoyable evening, and that he would return to the restaurant in November, when he returns to Cape Town for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards evening. All four Belthazar staff were shocked when they read Palling’s Tweet about his dinner, not reflecting the events truthfully, and he was even mis-steak-en about the sequence of the orders and the nature of his four steaks!

Palling also showed up Mrs Donnelly, in saying in a Cape Talk interview last week that two of the potential Eat Out Top 20 restaurants which he had to judge were ‘ghastly‘, although he did acknowledge that a ‘couple could rank in the top 10 -12 in the world‘. He admitted that he is ‘keen on wine’, and this seemed to be a greater focus of his eating than the food, reflected in his Tweets too.  In the radio interview Palling also said in general there was too much of a preamble about the dish when it was served, when ‘it is already described in detail on the menu’. He admitted that he had not understood springbok initially, ‘but now I like it’! He found that our restaurant dishes are too busy, with 6 – 9 ingredients on the plate, which he called ‘confusion food‘, and advised chefs to simplify their dishes, to ‘focus on what is good’.

Seeing the very safe and predictable Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Awards Finalist List yesterday, despite some controversy, one can ask whether Mrs Donnelly made a mis-steak in involving Palling in judging the Top 20 Restaurants, as she could quite safely have chosen the same list without Palling’s help.  Palling has been a bolshy visitor to Cape Town, embarrassed himself and his host New Media Publishing in being a very rude and defamatory Tweeter, had to be reined in about his Tweeting so as to not give away where he was eating, kicked off his visit with controversy about his springbok and race-insensitive Tweets, and ended off his visit with a dishonest Tweet disparaging Belthazar!  No matter how much Eat Out has puffed up Blogger Palling’s profile to justify its choice of him as a judge, it appears to have been a mis-steak!

POSTSCRIPT 19/9: Mr Palling has retaliated nastily to this blogpost with a number of Tweets:  @GrandDedale @WhaleCottage @Eat_Out Belthazar sommelier nice guy, though only 1 of 10 wines I enquired was available but steaks the problem’; a more nasty one: @GrandDedale @WhaleCottage @Eat_Out Confucius say : Always let lying dogs sleep’; and even worse, disparaging both Belthazar and ourselves ‘Avoid Belthazar in Cape Town – not only are their steaks unrested tough + tasteless, they discuss your incompetent meal with cetacean trolls’; and the fourth insult Tks for sharing – Belthazar meal v depressing but even more that they reveal all details of guests dinner to serial trivialist’. Palling himself Tweeted the content of his Belthazar dinner! The fifth missile he fired was aimed at ourselves too, showing he does not understand the role of Social Media: ‘  Tks for sharing but must say the blogger so insignificant that her absurd mentions are never noticed by my Google Alert’. One wonders how New Media Publishing must be feeling about their offensive Eat Out judge!  The stream of Tweets is continuing from a-palling Mr Palling: ‘ A liar too – chides me for tweeting wrong wine pix when I spelt out that it was different one’; and Stalked by moronic lying troll while in SA – loves shit-stirring and will report this to my employers and demand retraction’.

POSTSCRIPT 19/9: Despite Mr Palling’s assistance in the compilation of the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Finalist List, it did not prevent Mrs Donnelly from showing her bias yet again, by having included The Pot Luck Club, a restaurant which has not been operating for a full year.   Chef Luke Dale-Roberts withdrew his newer restaurant from the Top 20 list today, which means that both Mr Palling and Mrs Donnelly, with Eat Out and its publishers New Media Publishing, have lost face completely, and that the Eat Out Restaurant Awards have become a farce! This is how Eat Out ‘packaged’ the announcement: ‘Our original communication listed The Pot Luck Club as one of the nominees. However, on discussion with chef Luke Dale-Roberts, we discovered the restaurant only opened in December 2011, and not in November 2011. (One month short of the cut-off.) Therefore, as per our judging criteria, The Pot Luck Club is not eligible for the awards this year. Luke fully supports our decision and we wish him all the best with the restaurant for 2013!’

POSTSCRIPT 21/9: We have been alerted to a glowing review of Belthazar, written by JP Rossouw in Business Day on 14 September, just two days prior to Palling’s visit to the restaurant, and which confirms the stature of this steak restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 26/9: Michael Olivier conducted an interview with Bruce Palling via Skype, after his visit to South Africa, which he published on his blog yesterday. The interview provides some more insights into Palling. He has no culinary background, his first exotic food encounter being with the avocado pear. He emphasised that he is a ‘food writer’, and not a restaurant reviewer or food critic!  Palling looks ‘to have fun’ in a restaurant, ‘it’s not an intellectual exercise’. He likes to be ‘made to feel special’, recommending ‘make celebrities feel like ordinary people, and ordinary people like celebrities’. The 2005 and 2007 Vriesenhof Pinot Noirs were the most interesting that he drank whilst in South Africa, recommended to him by Majeka House.  He admits to eating burgers. The Platter South African Wines 2012 is one of the books on his bedside table, most others being food related, but none from South Africa.

POSTSCRIPT 5/11: It would appear that the question we asked in the headline of this blogpost was apt, as Bruce Palling Tweeted today that he will not be attending the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards Gala Dinner on 25 November: Sorry to announce that will not be attending Eat Out Awards ceremony – due to “unforeseen circumstances” New Media won’t provide me a ticket”. Eat Out and its publisher New Media Publishing have not responded, and the magazine website does not provide any information about this turn of events.  At all times blogger judge Bruce Palling was going to attend the Gala Dinner!  We have called Stephanie from Eat Out PR company Mango, and she said that they are in discussion with their client.   She could not confirm whether a media statement will be issued.  We have requested a statement from New Media Publishing MD Bridget McCarney.

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

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23 replies on “Was appointing Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant UK judge Bruce Palling a mis-steak?”

  1. what a croc….

    last year you critisized the awards for having a sole judge and jury.

    now you critisize an independent from another country who has a very credible and proven track record and obviously has opinions of his own?

    And, you appear to be stalking him to boot?
    What is it exactly that Chris Von Ulmstein wants?

    As I said last year, if you don’t like the awards or the mag…just don’t go and don’t buy it.

  2. What a sad classic example of a journalist abusing his position. It appears to be happening more and more frequently. Clearly when journalists are invited to a country more care needs to be taken into researching their attitudes and history to ensure an accurate and professional viewpoint will be given. I have in the past sadly experienced people who are more intent in freeloading off the system than putting forward an accurate and professional approach. Now I rarely recommend journalists to contacts and colleagues I have made over the years if I am not sure of their reliability and genuine interest in making a professional review. It’s a sad reflection on what has happened in the world of journalism today. During the three years I lived in Australia I learnt quickly that there, food journalists in particular are not allowed to accept any gratis meals if they are reviewing for major publications and ditto for accommodation establishments. It meant that free lance journalists always had other full time employment since they had to subsidise their own visits to establishments for review purposes. It certainly ensured that a level of professionalism was maintained even if it did hurt the purse strings.

    One hopes that in future more care will be given when selecting journalists to visit south African shores who may land up doing more damage than good especially if their reporting proves to be inaccurate.

  3. I agree Maya and Frances.

    I am sure that Bruce Palling paid his way – used a false name anyway. I know that Abigail Donnelly is very good at paying for her meals, even though she books under her own name.


  4. Thanks for your critical contribution Ryan from Ryan’s Kitchen. I can ask you the same question – why read this blog if you don’t like what it says?

    You seem to think that I live in a vacuum, and only share my own ideas. I talk to chefs and restaurant owners all the time, and even last night I received new insights about Mr Palling popping in at a restaurant for a bottle of wine after a Top 20 restaurant dinner at a restaurant close by on Saturday evening.

    I should get worried that you are ‘stalking’ me Ryan, if you read my blog so often! If one Tweets, one is sharing information publicly – this is hardly ‘stalking’. Most Top 20 Chefs are following Mr Palling on Twitter, and also read every Tweet to see what he has given away.

    Oh, by the way, I love the Awards, but that doesn’t stop me from being critical about them! Mr Palling has little or no credibility or ‘proven track record’!


  5. well thank you for advertising me unethical of it as it may be.

    I follow a lot of blogs for differing reasons. Yours predominately to keep check of,how does the saying go….
    “for Evil to prevail all that is reqired is for good men to do nothing?” something like that.

    I have no idea who Bruce Palling is or do I know any of the eatout judges. But last year you did indeed critisize the fact that there was only 1 judge. There was also questions withregards to the buddy-buddy relationship of the judge and many establishments. As I see it, that situation has been rectified. There is now an independent judge whom nobody knows who does have a very long and credible career reviewing restaurants (wall street journal, san pelligrino- about as credible as we have ever had in this country)who does have opinions of his own the same as every other person. And as you point out, he is not affraid to voice his opinions.

    What exactly is the problem, is that not exactly what you were asking for last year? I suspect that he has not been interested in sitting down and meeting with you and giving you some sort of exclusive.

    Also, why on earth would someone follow him to a restaurant after the fact to question the staff on what he had,what he ate, did he visit the bathroom,etc,etc.That is just weird and nothing good can come from it. Of course you would hear a different version of events from the staff.
    I have no idea what happened and the only heresay point I would venture an opinion on is the fact that he would announce himself as a food journalist? Errm, why? At the waterfront? That point I choose not to believe for no other reason as I see no benifit as announcing yourself as one at a steakrestaurant? Free steak? unlikely.

    I too do not live in a vacuum and know some of these chefs, some maybe better than you I would imagine. And I have heard from some chefs that this Bruce is well regarded.

    I still do not grasp exactly what your gripe is this morning?

    Yes, the list is predictable….the first 15 restaurants for next year I could name right now. The following 5 come in and out every couple of years.

    the question should be, who is missing that you feel should be there? None that spring to my mind. People’s “favorite” should never be confused with top 10 restaurants. My favorite is Bread and Wine, we go there regularly and ticks all the boxes that we look for. We love it and love the people that run it. Do I feel it should be there, probably not…. the current trend is for selection is “fabulous” places serving great food.

    The surprises on the list for me are Bizerca,Babel,Pot luck,etc…. I see them being numbers 15-20. Excellent restaurants but not falling into the “fabulousness” of the rust en vrede’s,la colombes,green houses, tasting rooms,etc.

    So basically, I don’t see anything wrong with the list or judges as I am not aware of any restaurants that could be considered “missing”.

    my only gripe is the entire “Top 10” process that turns an entire years work into some sort of game and who wins. I can’t afford to play games and would much rather see a score or star rating or hats or something that has more than 1 restaurant considered “at the top of it’s game”.Something more tangible to work on withregards to improving. But I also understand that magazines also need to be sold and this format probably sells better.

  6. Chris

    I’m quite sure you won’t publish this comment, but I suggest that you remove my Twitter handle from your “Postscript”. Tweeting about a topic in no way involves a person, despite your misgivings. If it did, I would be involved not only in the Lonmin drama but also in coaching the Springboks, designing the iPhone 5 and running the country.

    Remove my name. Or at least have the decency to unblock me from Twitter, because if you have the nerve to drag me into your stories you should at least be prepared to face your critics on the same public forum you so regularly use to attack and annoy those you criticize.

  7. What a joke! On the one side he seems genuinely upset, but that facts are confusing. Wish some of these journalists would just calm down. Yet, it’s probably critical that we listen to them sometimes, even if they are wrong. Otherwise restaurants might get away with poor service or the like. Unfortunately people are sometimes a bit overinflated and take things a bit far.
    Getting ahead of themselves and the like. Unacceptable. You can understand the frustration of the various suppliers, not to mention a high end restaurant. Special care must be taken with these individuals, it seems.
    And to top it all off these people have quite an influence. Right or not. Enabling them to make a dent in company’s reputations without real accountability.
    Damage, even. In cases like this people must take more care, I think. In my opinion we need like a twitter news team. Someone who verifies and disputes unfair arguments and opinions. How great would that be? Obviously not to censure, but just to dispute. Nice open discussions. Everyone will benefit from that, I think. Some people will disagree with me, but hey that kinda the point of twitter. To me, at least.
    Put in the correct perspective this one guy was just having a bad day. Everyone has them. Other people just don’t have the following to make their unhappiness hurt some company. People should just relax some times. Laugh it off or just chill. Everyone could use that advice.

  8. Hi Chris

    Just because Palling (in your opinion) has little credibility or a proven track record doesnt mean he should not tweet his comments and views, no surprise that they differ from the restaurants viewpoint.

    I think based on his current media role he is maybe more credible and experienced than other commentators in CPT just because he insulted the springbok again doesnt really matter.

    Also when i have a bad meal in a restaurant i still leave a tip as its not the waiter that was to blame for cooking the steak incorrectly so i wouldnt look into that as somthing strange.

    We need more people to complain in this city, too many restaurants are getting away with offering crap service and crap food.

    I have to say that i ate at this place a few years ago and i had exactly the same experience, never went back, a steak house that cannot cook steaks is a no no for me.

  9. Hi Darren from Hout Bay

    And I thought you were so bored with the Eat Out Awards…!

    I hope I made it clear that the reality of what happened at Belthazar differs vastly from the Tweets by Mr Palling. I don’t agree about his ‘credibility’ at all – he has caused a stir from the minute he arrived, and New Media Publishing have done little to stop him venting, it appears.

    Thanks for your interesting perspective – I didn’t react to La Mouette in your previous comment. They are popular within a very small circle, played politics, and loved by a circle of loyal clients.


  10. Dear Theuns

    I love your idea of the Twitter Forum, but I think in reality it would be impossible to control. There are already too many mavericks with opinions on Twitter.


  11. Thank you for your challenge Marthelize.

    You got involved in the Bruce Palling Tweeting, expressing your point of view. I copied and pasted Bruce Palling’s Tweets today, some of them being in reaction to your Tweets, so to be 100% correct in my writing, your @Konfytbekkie Twitter handle is the copied Tweets, and I cannot remove it for the sake of accuracy. Perhaps this will be a lesson to you not get involved in Twitter issues that don’t involve you.

    You have been exceptionally rude, defamatory, and disparaging in your Tweets about us, and in the (unpublished) comments you have written on our blog – we have never met, yet you are an expert on my writing and my guest houses, it would appear! That is why we blocked you, in case you didn’t make the connection! You don’t have to read this blog, if you don’t like its content.


  12. Dear Ryan from Ryan’s Kitchen

    I have to use your identification, as Ryan is quite a popular chef’s name in Franschhoek, and I don’t want those other Ryan’s to be seen to be writing something they have not.

    Being in Franschhoek does make you a little insular – nothing has been resolved about the ‘buddy buddy’ relationships Mrs Donnelly has with some of the chefs – it would appear that Chef Luke Dale-Roberts has withdrawn The Pot Luck Club from the Top 20 Eat Out list, because the restaurant has not been open for a full year, which is against the rules of the Award. Even with Mr Palling present, the personal relationship biases have not been removed, and once again Eat Out, New Media Publishing and Mrs Donnelly have lost face, and it really is time for Mrs Donnelly to be relieved of her duties at Eat Out, as she has proven that she is biased, and that is unfair to all the other chefs in the running for the honours!

    I am not contesting anything on the list, only as I wrote yesterday I feel that the same rules should apply to all – Grande Provence’s exclusion, and the inclusion of The Pot Luck Club and The Roundhouse are contentious, and it is a shame that Waterkloof has not made it.

    I agree that a new system of judging may be needed, and it should be demanded that Mrs Donnelly be removed from the judging process altogether.

    Just to make it absolutely clear – I have no vested interest in Belthazar, and rarely eat there because it is very expensive. It concerned me that a restaurant was attacked unfairly, and that’s why I met with them, when I was in the V&A Waterfront anyway, to see a movie.


  13. Fair enough Chris. Unlike most, I can take the criticism and own up to what I dish out. It’s true, I am not a fan of the way you deal with things. I’m one of many. And, like you, I freely express my opinions on the public platform of my choice. That is a right we both enjoy.

    I have been no more rude than you ever are, and calling me defamatory is rich coming from you. But perhaps that is merely my opinion. Mud-slinging in the comments section won’t do either of us much good.

    Your blog is public enough, even though you have blocked me on Twitter. So I’ll keep reading and commenting, whether you like it or not. I have never written a word to serve as a review for your establishments, I do not blog about you or your guest houses so what you base your comment on escapes me.

    And I don’t have to be an expert on your writing to criticize you. You are, shockingly, not the only person with strong opinions.

  14. I have never defamed or disparaged you Marthelize, but you have done so towards myself and Whale Cottage. You are on the attack at any opportunity you can find.

    You are a puppet of Sonia Cabano. You will see that most other Tweeters are clever enough to stay out of her abuse Tweets, to safeguard their reputation.


  15. I will refrain from commenting on your blog if that is what you would prefer, but do not drag unrelated people into discussion where they are clearly not relevant or involved. I am responsible for my own opinions and utterings and you can address me accordingly in whatever fashion you choose but do not implicate others where they have nothing to do with the issue or discussion at hand.

  16. I would prefer if this was your last comment on our blog Marthelize.

    You are Sonia Cabano’s ‘skoothondjie’! You are welcome to harass others, but leave us out of your anger and abuse please.


  17. Eat Out just stumbles from bad to worse, how they get away with these howlers is beyond me, did they not know that Pot Luck (totally over rated) had not been open for a full year ? hilarious, as for (Ap)Palling no reviewer worth their salt would EVER tell a restaurant they were a reviewer. The guy has zero credibility, so I guess he will fit in well at Eat Out.

    Seems to be amateur hour every day at Eat Out.

  18. I have eaten at Belthazar twice (the second time to give it a fair chance after an appaling first visit). Both times I have had chewy steak, snotty service and have felt ripped off.

    So personally I can completely empathize with Palling. I never recommend Belthazar to my clients

  19. Good question David.

    It is time for Mrs Donnelly to be relieved of her Eat Out duties – two years running she has shown her unprofessionalism. The 12-month period is an absolute fundamental requirement, and she knows better than anyone else when restaurants open, especially The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club, as she does shoots there monthly for Taste magazine.


  20. What an interesting read…..I have been personally dragged into this and been insulted via Twitter for just having re-tweeted one of Mrs von Ulmenstein tweets from individuals with whom I have no association with and no desire either to be associated with.
    I have been involved in the hospitality industry for almost thirty years and I just wish that we had more Mrs von Ulmenstein in our industry, which I do not label as a shit stirer but someone who opinionate what is right and wrong publicly and accept her responsability for doing so. As far as Eat Out is concerned, it is time for a change; it has become predictable and very biased with the Western Cape; I am sure that KZN and Gauteng offer more than just two restaurants and especially Johannesburg, which I visit frequently, have an abundance of excellent restaurants which would make Top ten list every year but are always overlooked by Eat Out judges.

  21. Thank you for your support, and I agree on the need for a complete change, starting off with Mrs Donnelly!


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