A year ago I posted here on my Blog that 2016 was the best year of my life. Looking back on 2017, I can echo this sentiment about 2017, surpassing what was already a fantastic 2016! The year was crowned by the publishing of my first book, and I plan to write two this year. I discovered my Self-Love, and now can truly stand on my own two feet! 

A salute and toast to 2016: the best year ever!

In the past year my life has been dominated by dancing, and my Sunday late afternoon date with La Parada Constantia Nek and its DJ René Tanguy keeps me fit and exercised, and I have made wonderful friends on the dance floor. The highlight of a dance evening is being able to do a Rock ‘n Roll dance or two, it and the Tango having taught me to let go of control, and trust my dance leader to use the correct steps and to guide our dance. Control has always been an important issue in my life, and I have learnt this year where it comes from. I also learnt that I needed to control others, for fear of being controlled!  Control is now a far lesser issue in my life, and I am learning to let it go. I also dance at La Parada Bree Street on Friday evenings and on First Thursdays, DJ René playing at all the dance events. I am very grateful to the Harbour House Group, for this gift to us Capetonians as well as foreign visitors. 

I took an introductory Ballroom Dancing course for a few weeks, at Expressions in Plumstead, where they teach one ten different dances, within a one hour class. On a Friday evening they organise a Social, and then one has a further chance to practice what one has learnt. As most of the dance styles were not relevant to me, and I would rarely do ballroom dancing, coupled with the distance of Plumstead from my home, I decided to not continue with the course, but rather travel this year to Havana in Cuba to learn to Salsa there, and then to Buenos Aires, to learn the Tango, for which I have done two weekend courses at Temenos Retreat in McGregor last year. I am so blessed to be accompanied on this adventure by my dancing friend Gail Robertson, whom I met whilst dancing at La Parada Constantia Nek. 

With the guidance of Graham Goble, a short-term coach and very close friend, I learnt a lot about myself, he being a mirror to me. He taught me early steps of spirituality, until I reached a point in our relationship, in August last year, that I discovered that he talked the talk of Spirituality but did not walk it, not being honest as promised, and extracting money from me dishonestly. This was a major let down, as he was the first man who I had allowed myself to get close to after twenty years, he abusing my vulnerability. The minute I received this lesson from the Universe, I ended the relationship, my first ending of a relationship ever, and my first taste of Self-Love. I am not reliant on Graham anymore in leading my happy life. I attended a Silent Retreat at Temenos, and thereafter a partial one at Vipassana, a first-ever asthma attack necessitating me to return to Cape Town. I learnt about the Universe for the first time, when I became the victim of a theft at Temenos, losing my laptop, iPad, and handbag with all my credit cards and money, as well as my car key, teaching me to take a week break without writing or driving, just staying at the Temenos pool, swimming and tanning, a real holiday! I took a course in Transcendental Meditation, not having learnt to meditate at Temenos. 

The highlight of the year was writing my first book, ‘SwitchBitch: My journey of transformation from Sour to Sweet’, documenting mainly my physical transformation of the past year, including a substantial weightloss, figure change, dress buying ‘addiction’, a shoe size reduction, my blood sugar level returning to normal, dental implants on one side of my mouth, a breast lift, BodyTec electronic impulse exercising, and Botox. I had some spiritual experiences too, which will form the basis for a future book. I wrote the book in Apricale in Italy in August, in three weeks. I had been introduced to the village by Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen in 2015, it being his favourite escape from the pressure of his Nice-based one Michelin star JAN restaurant. It suited my writing need perfectly, and I was delighted that his viaTV JAN series was largely based in Apricale, broadcast in October and November!

Why I chose Apricale village in Liguria Italy in which to write The Book!

Writing taught me about myself, about having the discipline to write 20 chapters over 20 days, but then suffering writer’s block in not being able to find the most suitable title, until a special friend guided me as to which wording to use to describe the transformation. I procrastinated in finalizing the edit, and it was the same friend Stuart Bailey, asking when the book would be published, that got me to set a date for the launch of the book, being my birthday on 20 December. The printers were fantastic in meeting the deadline ahead of time, and Chef Matt Manning cooked a superb meal inspired by the book! It was a very special evening.

My Book ‘SwitchBitch: My journey of transformation from Sour to Sweet!’ has been launched!

Losing weight steadily during the course of the year made me far more careful about where and how much I ate when not eating at home, as the 45 kg weight loss was such a gift to me that I did not want to lose it. I ate out less frequently, and was delighted to discover SeaBreeze Food & Shell, an almost exclusive fish restaurant, at which I eat oysters, finding them healthy and not too filling. Other than a few exceptional restaurant openings in Cape Town and the Winelands, I find the local fare extremely boring, our city having become Cape Burger-Pizza-Pasta Town!

Tapas restaurants have made it onto the Eat Out Top Ten restaurant list, horror of horrors, the once fine-dining Restaurant Awards having become a joke, for political reasons, to appease Chefs Luke Dale-Roberts and Liam Tomlin! Three tapas restaurants appearing on the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards list must be demoralizing to younger and better chefs, who do their best to produce and present their dishes, knowing that they may never make the Top 10 list, so that Chef Luke’s and Liam’s egos can be fed, pardon the pun! 

I am so bored with the restaurant politics, and our weak and bullying chefs who are not man enough to accept my reviews as honest feedback, that I far prefer to eat out internationally now, whilst traveling! The top restaurants I ate at this year in our country were the following:

#   Tintswalo is the new restaurant home for Chef Guy Clark, where he is doing an excellent job. I enjoyed a charity dinner, a sleepover, and two breakfasts at this beautifully located property. 

#   Pierino Penati is Cape Town’s best restaurant now, it opening as a ‘sister’ restaurant to its namesake near Milan. 

Pierino Penati Ristorante at Villa 47: Michelin-star link, Cape Town’s best fine dining restaurant now open!

#   La Colombe, an excellent lunch which I enjoyed with my son Alex. It is a shame that this restaurant group has entered restaurant politics, and no longer allows me to eat at its restaurants, rudely cancelling a confirmed booking at La Petite Colombe two days prior. In expressing support for Chef Bertus Basson’s crap restaurant Spek & Bone in Stellenbosch, it reduces its Top 10 stature, and it showed in its Eat Out ranking this year! 

#  Le Coin Français, the excellent restaurant which owner and Chef Darren Badenhorst (former Executive Chef at Grande Provence) opened in Franschhoek in November. (Photograph)

#   Benguela on Main, a fabulous Christmas in July dinner prepared by Chef Jean Delport. While I am disappointed to lose him to the UK soon, I am happy for his career and that he is remaining in the restaurant group.

Benguela on Main restaurant serves creative Christmas on a plate!

My worst eating experience of the year was at Chef Bertus Basson’s Spek en Bone restaurant! His reaction to the review showed him up as a bully, in that he took it personally.  He could not accept the feedback graciously, and instead attempted to belittle and demean me, by seeking to get me banned from other restaurants, in addition to his own! The review below says it all: 

Restaurant Review: Spek en Bone has no bacon nor beans, little SA cuisine, crap in most respects

Relinquishing the opportunity to open a restaurant in Cape Town, the revolving restaurant at The Ritz, Basson chose to open instead a take-away burger joint in Stellenbosch, De Vrije Burger, offering one burger and an ice cream cone option! It is his fifth restaurant, his restaurant ego knowing no bounds! 

‘Restaurant’ Review: Eat Out Top 10 Chef Bertus Basson’s De Vrije Burger below his stature, poor swop for The Ritz Revolving restaurant!

Internationally, I was spoilt, eating at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in France (at Mirazur in Menton with my son Alex, 6th Best restaurant in the world in February this year, moving up to 4th best in April this year), and at L’Aperge and Septime in Paris.

Restaurant Review: Mirazur French foraging restaurant in Menton, 6th World’s 50 Best Restaurant, Michelin 2-star!

Restaurant Review: L’Arpège a temple to vegetables, 19th World’s 50 Best Restaurant, Michelin 3-star!

Restaurant Review: Septime understated and hidden in Paris, 50th World’s 50 Best Restaurant, Michelin 1 star!

I ate at JAN restaurant in Nice twice, in February with my son, and in September. His restaurant is by far the best South African restaurant in the world, but Eat Out would not accept my recommendation that JAN be acknowledged as our country’s number one restaurant, the Eat Out rules not excluding a Nice-based restaurant! JAN is by far my number one restaurant experience of 2017!

JAN Restaurant enhances its South Africaness since obtaining Michelin 1-star accolade!

South African focus continues to grow at JAN Restaurant in Nice, soon to be joined by MARIA!

I visited Munich on my way to Nice, and was lucky to eat at one of the city’s two two-star Michelin restaurants, Restaurant Dallmayr, in getting a last-minute table on Valentine’s Day. 

Restaurant Review: Dallmayr creates star-filled Valentine’s Day dinner in Munich!

I visited my son at Chewton Glen, the top UK hotel he works at, first as Restaurant Manager and now as Food & Beverage Operations Manager, in February and in September. On the second visit my son could take two days off, and we visited the Isle of Wight, as well as the new Benguela Cove wine estate in the UK and the Leonardslee Gardens, which is scheduled to open in March. I am both sad and happy that Somerset West-based Benguela on Main Chef Jean Delport will be moving to Leonardslee shortly, a major loss for our country’s restaurant industry. He did not receive the recognition from Eat Out which he deserves!

In Paris I visited top patisseries, which had been recommended to me by Chef Glen Williams of Foxcroft. My son visited me for a week in May, and we attended a Justin Bieber concert, and stayed at both Greyton to attend Classical Music weekend concerts, and at Temenos in McGregor. 

A major event for Cape Town was the opening in March of The Silo Hotel in the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront, six months ahead of the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art. Throughout the year I attended a weekly wine tasting at OpenWine, writing up each of these wine estate events. Water remains a concern for our beautiful city, and the first few months of this year will be very precarious as our precious liquid threatens to run out. 

I attended a moving weekend tribute to Leonard Cohen at Temenos, and two Tango workshops during the year at the Retreat too (with dance partner Michael MacKenzie). I also attended a Heroine’s Journey Workshop at Temenos, at which I met Dominique Forbes-Rose, who became a private yoga teacher, until she sadly had to move to Bloemfontein.

I visited KwaZulu-Natal for a week, my third such journey in three years, searching for the best restaurants in the province. Sadly, I only found excellence at Hartford House in the Natal Midlands, its young Chef Constantijn Hahndiek running a superb Kitchen.

Hartford House Chef Constantijn Hahndiek exudes confidence in his third year in the Midlands, best KZN restaurant!

I visited the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine, meeting its new intake of chef students. I ate at 9th Avenue Bistro for the second time in two years, and found that it has deteriorated even further, once Durban’s best restaurant! 

Restaurant Review: 9th Avenue Bistro in Durban in the dark ages, slides further!

The SA Butler Academy sought via a High Court interdict the removal of a Blogpost I had written more than three years prior about its misleading marketing of its butler training and placement. The Academy was not granted the relief it sought! 

SA Butler Academy loses High Court case against WhaleTales Blog: Freedom of Speech reigns!

I am grateful to all the friendships made and even those lost in the past year, as they have all come with lessons and mirrors to me. I thank my loyal readers for their support, and for indulging me in a more personal reflection of my life this year. With two such exciting years preceding this new year, I look forward to the journey on which 2018 will take me, and which new steps I will learn about dancing and life! Facebook did a ten-year retrospective, and I look forward to what the next ten years will look like! Happy New Year!

POSTSCRIPT 1/1/18: I have just received the YouTube video compiled by Bryce Shapiro of the Book Launch at my Birthday Dinner on 20 December, with all the speeches, and the introduction to my book. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein