This afternoon Eat Out announced its list of the Top 30 restaurants in our country for this year. The Top 20 restaurants will be revealed at the Awards ceremony on 18 November at GrandWest, and the Top 10 list within that ranking. There are some surprise inclusions and exclusions in this list. 

The Top 30 list is presented alphabetically. My comments about each restaurant nomination follow next to each nominated restaurant name:

#.  Camphors at Vergelegen: Chef Michael Cooke and his team are under the radar, and do good work, using the Vergelegen wine estate’s wines as the starting point in their dish pairing creations. Winner of the 2017 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. 

#.  The Chefs Table (Umhlanga): This nomination is a great feather in the cap for Chef Kayla-Ann Osborne, and represents the only restaurant in KwaZulu-Natal. This honour belonged to Chef Constantijn Hahndiek when he was the Executive Chef at Hartford House. It is such a shame that he left his position there, and now seems to be the KZN rep for Sagra Food & Wine Merchants, a waste of his phenomenal culinary talent. His successor Chris Papayannes has not been recognised in the Eat Out Top 30 list this year. I have heard chef grumbles about The Chefs Table copying other chef colleague’s dishes. The name of the restaurant is cheeky, in being that of a high level international chef series on Netflix! Winner of 2017 Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star Award. One can be delighted that the dreadful 9th Avenue Bistro has not made it onto the Top 30 list. 

#.  Chefs Warehouse & Canteen:  This is my favourite restaurant to comment on, there being no basis for this restaurant making the Top 30 list. In 2017 the ‘restaurant’ did not even make the Top 20 list, being a tapas eatery, and not fine-dining at all. In the same year it also won Eat Out Best Everyday Eatery, a contradiction for a restaurant to be lauded in both a fine-dining award and an everyday eatery award list. Even more bizarre was that Chef Liam Tomlin was announced 2017 Chef of the Year, despite this restaurant at which he cooks, not making the Top 20 list! I am copy-and-pasting my previous motivation against this Chefs Warehouse branch, it not being eligible for any award in the Eat Out Restaurant Awards. Chef Liam has been a bully in being so poor in accepting my feedback that he has had to ban me from his restaurants! My comment in 2015 was as follows, and still stands:

Canteen: this is the biggest surprise, the same restaurant having won Eat Out Best Everyday Eatery in 2014, a category which one can say was created for Chef Liam Tomlin. In the year since winning that recognition, Chef Liam has become more pedantic in only offering eight tapas dishes (a Tapas restaurant as a Top 10 fine dining establishment is a shock in itself), which has a dog in the establishment, and a chef/owner who regularly leaves his restaurant in the care of his colleagues while he jets off to Singita, for whom he works as a consultant! There is no improvement in the restaurant since last year, so the Best Everyday Eatery of 2014 cannot (logically) become an Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in 2015, but then anything is possible as far as Eat Out is concerned!  There is no menu choice as far as the main course is concerned, most dessert and starter choices are pre-made in glass jars, one receives one serving spoon only for eight tapas dishes, and the restaurant closes at 20h00! Topping that is the arrogance of some of the serving staff, the uncomfortable and limited seating inside, that little effort is made to accommodate one when it is busy, and that one cannot make a reservation to eat there. Many mutter about how expensive the Tapas has become, at R450 for eight dishes for two!’ (2015 price, now R750 for two).

#. Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia: This restaurant of Chef Liam Tomlin is far ahead of its Bree Street counterpart, and is firmly led by Chef Ivor Jones, previously at The Test Kitchen! I am friends with some of the Chefs who work there, and have danced with them over the two years of my  ‘dancing career’ at neighbouring La Parada Constantia Nek. It gained fourth place last year, and is likely to do even better this year. Being banned from Chefs Warehouses, I have not had the pleasure of dining here. 

#.  Chefs Warehouse at Maison: I was surprised to see this newest Chef Liam restaurant make the Top 30 list. I have not seen much positive feedback about this restaurant, despite its beautiful setting in Franschhoek. The restaurant only opened in December 2017, and hence is not eligible to be included in the Top 30 list this year! I have not been able to eat there, due to the Tomlin bully ban! 

#.  DW Eleven-13: Owner Chef  Marthinus Ferreira operates from a Dunkeld West shopping centre car park. He seems to make the Eat Out Top 10 every alternate year, so may stand a chance this year, not having made Top 10 last year.  However Marble of Chef David Higgs is a contender for the Johannesburg representation. Chef Marthinus’ inappropriate outburst at a previous Eat Out Awards ceremony, using the f-word repeatedly, has not yet been forgotten. This restaurant is very much under the radar. 

#.  Fermier Restaurant:  This is a Pretoria-based restaurant, of which I know next to nothing. It may sound French, but is fully Afrikaans, I have been told. Winner of the 2017 Eat Out Style Award. 

#.  Foliage: Chef Chris Erasmus has climbed up the Eat Out ladder, and is known as one of our country’s top foragers, hunting for herbs and mushrooms close to his restaurant in Franschhoek. He did not make Top 10 last year, the first time since opening his restaurant. 

#. Foxcroft:  This restaurant operates in the shadow of its fellow La Colombe and La Petite Colombe restaurants. It stands little chance to make Top 10, there being too much competition at the top end this year. 

#.  Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort: Some may see Chef Peter Tempelhoff as being arrogant, but he is very introverted, and quietly has been working behind the scenes to plan his newest restaurant and his first independently-owned restaurant FYN, opening in the city centre next month. A Top 10 Eat Out restaurant list without Chef Peter is unthinkable. 

#.  Indochine at Delaire Graff has made the Top 20 list since it opened, with Chef Virgil Khan at the helm. This year he traveled to the East for the first time, and will have come back with new inspiration. He has made the Top 20 list in the past, but never the Top 10 list. 

#. Jardine Restaurant: One wonders whether Chef George Jardine is opening too many restaurants, both Jardine and Jordan Restaurant not having made Top 10 list last year. Chef George has just opened Seven Restaurant in Somerset West, adding to this burden. 

#.  Jordan Restaurant:  See comment above for Jardine.

#.  La Colombe:  This restaurant was second best in our country for a number of years and was the only other restaurant to make the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. I rooted for it to be named number one last year. Instead, it slipped to seventh rank at the 2017 Eat Out Awards, and fell right out of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Top 100 restaurant list. I cannot help but see this as being a karmic reaction to this restaurant group ‘collegially’ banning me from its restaurants because of my review of Chef Bertus Basson’s Spek & Bone restaurant. In itself the fact that the restaurant group has placed itself at the low level of Bully Basson’s rubbish restaurant brings itself down to the lowest level possible, instead of having the confidence in its own abilities. All my reviews of La Colombe have been glowing! 

#.  Le Coin Français:  I am very happy for Chef Darren Badenhorst that his Franschhoek restaurant has made it onto the Top 30 list, the Restaurant at Grande Provence not having made it to the Top 10 list whilst he was there. And then politics struck, when La Motte Culinary Director Hetta Terblanche reviewed Grande Provence, and never flagged it for Top 10, one of the worst examples of Eat Out conflict of interest, Grande Provence and La Motte being a few kilometers apart. Karmically Pierneef à La Motte did not make it to the Top 20 list either! Chef Guy Bennet at Grande Provence, who took over from Chef Darren, has not been recognised in the Top 30 list this year. 

#. La Mouette:  This restaurant has been in and out of the Top 20/30 list. It feels like a filler restaurant, added to make up the Top 30 list! Chef Henry Vigar is expanding his empire with the addition of Upper Bloem, which he is running in conjunction with Chef Andre Hill in Green Point.

#. La Petite Colombe: I have heard good reports about this Franschhoek restaurant, located in Le Quartier Français, but my booking to eat at the new restaurant just after its opening was rudely cancelled two days before my confirmed booking date! 

#. La Tête: This Bree Street Eatery is commended for its top-to-tail non-wastage approach to cooking. It probably does not qualify as fine dining, being more of a casual Eatery 

#.  Marble: This is Chef David Higg’s second Johannesburg restaurant, his former five hundred at The Saxon hotel having made Top 10. Marble is not a fine-dining restaurant, more an open flame meatery, and did very poorly at the 2017 Eat Out Awards. He also opened Saint in Sandton two months ago, another chef stretching himself across more than one restaurant. 

#. Nobu at One&Only: This inclusions has been mocked by restaurant fans, feeling like another restaurant Top 30 list filler. 

#. Overture: Chef Bully Bertus Basson has the most restaurants, at six, in our country, of which only Overture is a fine dining one. He also caters at functions, and had to walk away from the Revolving Restaurant at The Ritz in Sea Point, losing a considerable amount of money! He was very angry about my review of his ‘crap’ Spek & Bone restaurant last year, and tried to achieve a blanket ban against me from all restaurants in the country. He failed at this miserably! 

#. The Pot Luck Club:  Last year this Luke Dale-Roberts second restaurant made the Top 10 list, Eat Out’s admiration for Chef Luke Dale-Roberts being well documented. It is not a fine-dining restaurant. 

#.  The Restaurant at Waterkloof: I hear very little about Chef Greg Czarnecki at this Somerset West based restaurant. He has climbed up the Eat Out ladder slowly but surely. 

#. Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient: I can put my head on a block in predicting that this restaurant outside Pretoria will be one of the Top restaurants in our country, Chef Chantel Dartnall being dedicated to her craft, and reaping one international award after the other. She has not made the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List, but the restaurant has excelled at this year’s Diners Club Wine List Awards, and judged one of seven best Winelists in the world by Spectator. She and her team travel internationally once a year, to buy wines, and to be stimulated by international cuisine trends. Winner of the 2017 Eat Out Service Excellence Award, as well as  2017 Eat Out Wine Service Award.

#. The Shortmarket Club:  This is Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ third restaurant. The same comments as for The Pot Luck Club above apply. Head Chef Wesley Randles and Manager Simon Widdison are opening the Commissary next week. 

#. Springfontein Eats: This restaurant outside Stanford is on and off the Top 20/30 list. This feels like a Top 30 list filler inclusion. 

#. The Test Kitchen:  Sceptics who are bored with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts making the number one slot on the Eat Out Top 10 list may just have to tolerate this one more year, given that The Test Kitchen crawled back onto the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List this year, at number 50, after its dramatic drop in 2017. 

#. Thali: This Indian restaurant belongs to Chef Liam Tomlin too, and reports are reasonably positive. It is not a fine dining restaurant. 

#. The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal: I am happy that Chef Christiaan Campbell’s dedication to farm to table cuisine is finally being acknowledged. Chef Christian is a quiet hard-working chef without ego, which sadly so many other chefs in our country have! This would be worthy candidate for the 2018 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. 

#. Wolfgat :  Chef Kobus van der Merwe has received awards for his Paternoster restaurant, foraging from the West Coast ocean, and creating unique dishes. Whether this is fine-dining cuisine however is to be debated. Winner of the 2017 Eat Out Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef Award. 

Restaurants that have not made it onto the Top 30 nomination list include Delaire Graff, Rust en Vrede, Equus at Cavalli, Terroir at Kleine Zalze, Janse & Co, Babel, The Stack, The Vine Bistro at Glenelly, Makaron Restaurant, Pierneef à La Motte, Faber at Avondale, Orangerie at Le Lude, Mulberry & Prince, and Reuben’s Franschhoek. Chef changes may be the reason for some of these restaurants not making the Top 30 list. Terroir’s exclusion is a shock. 

The nominated restaurants were determined by the scores of a panel of anonymous judges, convened by Chef Margot Janse, the Eat Out media release states. One of the ‘anonymous’ judges is Chef Peter Goffe-Wood, known to all in the restaurant industry, and the friend of many a chef! Linda Scarborough is the new Eat Out editor, having stepped into the big shoes of Abigail Donnelly, who led the Eat Out Awards for many years. Chef Margot is quoted as saying the following about the Top 30 nominations list: ‘A fantastic field of nominees has come out of this year’s judging, with some newcomers and old favourites making up a list that truly represents the best of the best in South African Dining today. As always these nominees have been nominated for their achievements in excellent dining, innovative menus, ambience and service excellence’. 

The judging criteria for the 2018 Awards were the following: the restaurant with the same ‘highest-ranking chef must have been ‘open (note, not cooking) since November 2016’ (did they not mean November 2017?!). Consistency and excellence is expected, total passion for the business should be visible, they should be dedicated to uplifting the industry, and should source quality produce. Scoring out of 100 is as follows: 80 for Food, including menu composition, cooking technique, variety of ingredients, dietary requirements, ethical awareness, food presentation, food taste, price versus value, and wine choice; 15 for Service; and 5 for Ambience. 

At the Eat Out Awards the following award winners will be named:

#  Eat Out S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year 

#  Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year 

#  Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star 

#  Eat Out Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef Award

#  Eat Out Diners Club Service Excellence Award

#   Eat Out Wine Service Award

#   Eat Out John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service

#   Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award

#   Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award

#   Eat Out Style Award. 

Two restaurant trends are visible on our country: an increasing number of chefs are opening more than one restaurant, Basson being the prime example of this, each new restaurant he opens being of a lower quality than the previous one. One wonders what the chefs wish to achieve, as there can be little economy of scale in doing so! Chefs’ egos are growing, and summarily banning a restaurant writer like myself is a huge accolade, if my honest feedback about their restaurants is so highly valued! I will continue to write and review restaurants with honesty and integrity, and will not be bullied by these insecure egotistical chefs! 

POSTSCRIPT 23/ 10: Eat Out has admitted to an error regarding the time frame in which the most senior chef  has to have been connected to the restaurant, which we identified above. The date was from November 2017, and not 2016 as they wrote on their website originally. I also queried the opening of Chefs Warehouse at Maison in Franschhoek, generally referred to have been in early December 2017, but they have sent links to prove that they opened on 26 November 2017!

‘Hi Chris,

Thank you again for sending through your queries and alerting to us to the fact that there was a discrepancy on the judging link – this has since been updated to read “November 2017” in accordance with the rules. This can be viewed here:  http://www.eatout.co.za/award/2018-eat-out-mercedes-benz-restaurant-awards/#awardjudging

With regards to Chefs Warehouse at Maison, the restaurant opened on 26 November 2017 and therefore does qualify (I’ve included some links below).

 

Thanks again for making contact.

Warm regards,

Phumi’

 
 
     
 
       

POSTSCRIPT 24/10: I received the rather sharp response to my comments about the sad loss of Chef Constantijn Hahndiek to the restaurant industry from his new employer Sagra Food & Wine Merchants: 

‘Dear Chris

Your post entitled “Eat Out announces the Top 30 Restaurant list for 2018: some surprise inclusions and exclusions!” dated 22/10/2018 refers.

I just wanted to clarify that Constantijn Hahndiek is not employed by Sagra Foods as merely a Sales Rep, but rather our KZN Business Development Manager. The primary objective of this role is working with the KZN chefs and introducing them to the premium imported and local ingredients that we are distributing throughout Southern Africa. Within a matter of months, Constantijn’s expertise has been exceptionally well-received and we are very quickly finding that the level of product produced by the KZN chefs is improving at a rapid pace. Furthermore, we are seeing many creative dishes that are now being prepared in KZN that are not on the JHB or CPT restaurant scene. So hopefully in the next few years, there could potentially be a few more KZN-based restaurants in the Top 30!

In addition, you are probably aware that there are a number of excellent artisan producers within the KZN Midlands and through Constantijn’s assistance, they are now expanding their production and national distribution via Sagra Foods.

We strongly believe that Constantijn joining Sagra Foods is not a waste of his talent, but rather a great opportunity for our partnership to further enhance the culinary scene.

I would appreciate you clarifying this on your post and should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Kind regards,
​Darryn Lazarus
Managing Director’

SAGRA FOOD AND WINE MERCHANTS CC
34 CREATION PARK, COMPUTER ROAD, MONTAGUE GARDENS, CAPE TOWN, ​SOUTH AFRICA, ​7441
021 200 8333  |  082 468 3220  |  darryn@sagrafoods.com  |  www.sagrafoods.com

This was my response to him: 

‘Dear Darren
 
Thank you for your informative email. 
 
I have the highest admiration for Tijn, and he regarded me as a mentor in making the Eat Out Top 10 nomination list. He is an extremely talented chef. We were good friends. 
 
Due to my harsh reviews about 9th Avenue Bistro in Durban, he has decided to no longer communicate with me, despite asking him about his future plans when he left Hartford House. I have seen no communication, not from you or him, about what he does. His Facebook posts do not explain this. I would welcome being added to a media list please. 
 
I will add your email as a postscript to the post. 
 
Please give Tijn my regards.
 
Chris von Ulmenstein
WhaleTales Blog

Eat Out MercedesBenz Restaurant Awards, GrandWest, Cape Town, 18 November. Www.eatout.co.za Tickets from www.Quicket.co.za Twitter: @Eat_Out Instagram:@EatOutGuide

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

 

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