At the 2016 Eat Out Awards, held yesterday in the Arena of GrandWest over a Gala Lunch prepared by some of our country’s top chefs, some winners were predictable, and others were a surprise. It was a slick event with a Garden theme, which led many to predict that La Colombe would be the Restaurant of the Year, given its Forest menu theme. Sadly it was not, The Test Kitchen (controversially) named Restaurant of the Year for the fifth time! Nine out of the Top 10 restaurants are from Cape Town and the Winelands (Cape Town 3, Franschhoek 3, Somerset West 2, Stellenbosch 1, and Gauteng 1)
The event was held at GrandWest for a second year running,
but in the Arena for the first time. A total of 700 guests was catered for, and for the first time the event was sold out a month in advance. I was very lucky to receive two tickets to buy on Friday. The stage was used as a massive food preparation area, and it was clear to see that the serving staff was well organised in bringing the dishes to the tables. We were ten persons at a table, and I shared a table with the team from Hartford House as well as from Continental China, which company sponsored the plates and bowls for the dishes. Elena Afrika-Bredenkamp was the charming MC.
Eat Out GM Aileen Lamb praised Caro de Waal for her decor design of a ‘Magical Garden‘. She said that it was the first time ever that the event had been sold out. I heard from a guest who is well connected to Eat Out that they plan to do an event with 2000 patrons next year! Aileen read through the successes of some of the Top 20 nominees, including La Colombe making 76th position on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and opening Foxcroft; The Test Kitchen making 22nd rank on World’s 50 Best Restaurants, revamping The Test Kitchen completely, and opening two new restaurants; and Mosaic at The Orient celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Aileen thanked all the sponsors, Chef Pete Goffe-Wood for co-ordinating the Gala Lunch preparation and service, and Alison McCutcheon from Rainbow Experiential Marketing for organizing the logistics. The event was live-streamed via the Facebook page of Eat Out, and crashed several times. Headline sponsor Mercedes-Benz said it would be likely to renew its sponsorship for another three years. Its Selvin Govender described Eat Out as ‘SA’s Best Guide to the Best Food‘, reflecting his company’s pay-off line of ‘The Best or Nothing‘. A live performance by Mi Casa was a lovely surprise.
Eat Out editor and chair of the judges Abigail Donnelly wore a creation by Cape Town designer Shana Moreland, which had a net skirt adorned with flowers, to match the garden theme. I joked with her that she may have missed out on my annual Eat Out outfit photograph, had I not received tickets to the event. Abigail described 2016 cuisine as a ‘blooming year‘, with the new trend of ‘vegetarian charcuterie‘. She ran through a list of the exceptional vegetable and fruit dishes she had experienced this year, at Camphors at Vergelegen, The Test Kitchen, The Tasting Room, at Hartford House, and some others.
Caro de Waal surpassed herself with the garden decor theme, which included a wall with flowers behind the display of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, hanging flowers created with umbrellas and cloths over them (which did initially look like jellyfish to me); a flock of swallows made with origami; butterflies on all bathroom doors; green plastic grass-like carpeting in the aisles; real plants along the stage and at the doors, those nearest the stage having slices of melon in them, adding colour to the decor; birdsong throughout most of the event; and a most impressive beehive created in a side room, with cheese straws giving the right colour, as well as rolls of brown paper, and a queen bee completing the ‘beehive’ design. The chefs preparing the meal for the Gala Lunch were briefed to meet this theme.
The Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant winners were announced as the following, counted down from 10th rank:
1. The Test Kitchen, with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts winning the award for the fifth time, and with it the use of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle for a year. The restaurant was praised as being ‘sublime, exquisite, challenging, and oozing confidence’. The nomination of the restaurant is controversial, as it was closed for six weeks for a major transformation of the restaurant in almost every respect. Chef Luke also travelled to New York and the Seychelles this year, and is in Johannesburg once a month to visit his restaurant at The Saxon. Chef Luke referred to the nomination controversy in his acceptance speech, and angrily defended his restaurant’s inclusion, in that he and his staff work very hard at making it (expletive deleted) perfect for his patrons! However, that is not the Eat Out criterion for nomination.
2. La Colombe, with talented Chefs Scot Kirton and James Gaag at the head, also winning the Nespresso Service Excellence award as well as the newly introduced John Psillos Outstanding Contribution to Service going to Restaurant Manager Jennifer Hugé.
3. Restaurant at Waterkloof, a massive surprise, and added to it was Chef Gregory Czarnecki winning Chef of the Year.
4. The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, the last time that Chef Margot Janse will represent the restaurant, having announced her resignation, and departure at the end of April. She declared her love for Franschhoek, and announced that she will not be leaving our country.
5. Mosaic at The Orient, with the talented Botanical Cuisine of Chef Chantel Dartnall
6. Overture with Bertus Basson. This was another controversial nomination, with Chef Bertus losing his Head Chef during the year, and he dividing his time between two restaurants, and a third (just opened Spek en Bone) and fourth (Bertus Basson at The Ritz opening soon) more recently.
7. Greenhouse, with Chef Peter Tempelhoff, who did not seem pleased with his ranking.
8. The Kitchen at Maison in Franschhoek, with Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg, his first Top 10 inclusion.
9. Foliage in Franschhoek, with Chef Chris Erasmus
10. Camphors at Vergelegen, with Chef Michael Cooke, his first Top 10 inclusion.
The remaining Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant nominees were Indochine, Hartford House, Chefs Warehouse & Canteen, Terroir, Jordan Restaurant, Nobu, DW Eleven-13, Pierneef à La Motte, The Pot Luck Club (Chef Luke Dale-Roberts was listed as the chef for this restaurant too, contrary to the Eat Out rules), and Rust en Vrede.
Eat Out had already announced that the Eat Out judges this year were Abigail Donnelly from Eat Out, Chef David Higgs of Marble, and Chef Carianne Wilkinson from the Silwood School of Cookery. The judges alternated in announcing the top restaurant winners.
At the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant awards ceremony, winners were also announced for the following additional awards:
#. Eat Out S. Pellegrino Aqua Panna Chef of the Year: Chef Gregory Czarnecki of Restaurant at Waterkloof
#. Eat Out Nespresso Service Excellence Award: La Colombe
#. Eat Out Wine Service Award: Tinashe Nyamudoka of The Test Kitchen, praised for his conversational guidance, and for being unique and confident.
#. Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star: Chef Angelo Scirocco of Urbanologi in Johannesburg. He was described as serving ‘brilliant, unpretentious and unforgettable food, pushing boundaries’. Chef Angelo thanked Chefs Luke Dale-Roberts and Liam Tomlin for their mentorship, saying that he will continue his journey with them.
#. Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter Veldsman, restaurant judge, Sarie magazine food editor, cooking teacher, cookbook writer, Emily’s restaurant owner, and now retired. He was described as an international ambassador for our country’s food and wine over the last 50 years. He was a popular choice, and received two standing ovations, many feeling emotional.
# Eat Out Boschendal Style Award: Marble, received by Irene and Gary Kyriacou, with Chef David Higgs. The other four Finalists were Ash, Urbanologi, Exclusive Books Social Kitchen & Bar, and Shortmarket Club, the first two being surprising finalists! Irene Kyriacou, who did the decor for Marble, saluted South African artists and artisans for their brilliant design talents.
#. Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year: Foxcroft, the new second restaurant of La Colombe, a very popular recipient, judging by the applause. The restaurant was praised for its simple, bold, and memorable flavours, receiving rave reviews.
#. Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award: Table de Meye in Stellenbosch, owned by Jessie and Luke Grant.
# Eat Out John Psillos Outstanding Contribution to Service, a new award, went to Jennifer Hugé, Manager of La Colombe. She was described as being unique, and ‘oozing personality’. She was very emotional in receiving the award, saying that she loves the chefs, the guests, and her job! The award created some confusion, as there are now two service awards, one going to a restaurant, and another to a staff member. Both the Service awards went to La Colombe.
The Gala Lunch preparation was a team effort by seven chefs:
#. The dish by Chef Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen was a disappointment, one having an expectation that it would be much more special, given the occasion. It was smoked salmon trout Niçoise, with bone jelly, and miso-cured tofu cream. The dish was paired with Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir (vintage not mentioned).
#. Chef Peter Tempelhoff of Greenhouse served an uncomplicated dish of Atlantic game fish, coastal plants, octopus ink, dune spinach, kohlrabi, and ‘kelp slaai’ (right). Teriyaki sauce we were meant to drizzle over the dish was only discovered on our table after we had finished eating the dish. It was paired with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Anchorman 2015.
#. Chef Eric Bulpitt of Faber at Avondale created a dish with barbecue celeriac, celeriac pickle and purée, and home-made mustard. It was served in a beautiful orange colored
bowl, which matched the celeriac. The dish was paired with an undated Boschendal Sommelier Selection Pinotage.
#. Chef Gregory Czarnecki of Waterkloof created a first dessert with Belnori Phantom Forest cheese, pollen, hibiscus, and apple balsamic. The pairing was with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Young Airhawk 2016.
#. Chef Giles Edwards of soon-to-open La Tête. His certified Karoo lamb ham dish, with turnips and green sauce, was overwhelmingly salty, in the opinion of many guests (left). He will soon open La Tête on Bree Street. His dish was paired with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Motorcycle Marvel 2014.
#. Chef Michelle Theron of Pierneef à La Motte, with her Pastry Chef Gareth Flynn, created the best dish in the opinion of many sitting around us, focusing on the artist JH Pierneef, placing the dessert container on a wooden Pierneef board and creating a paper cutout of Pierneef-shaped trees to surround the glass tumbler. The tumbler contained a tree-shaped biscuit, pistachio, matcha, and apricot opera, Valrhona Ivoire, lemon blancmange, and Boiron morello cherry. The pairing was with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Beautiful Lady 2016.
#. Chef Scot Kirton of La Colombe, who with his team created the La Colombe Garden canapés (left).
We were told that the Gala Lunch would be a series of tapas dishes, brought to our table. The dishes were a far more generous portion than a tapas dish. The service in bringing wines and water to our table and clearing dishes was excellent. A Ciabatta roll was by Paul Hartmann of Woodstock Bakery. A Chefs’ Parade was done to the vibey ‘My Way‘ by Calvin Harris, my favourite song!
The event was run slickly, and while some of the dishes were criticized, it is commendable that the chefs and their teams are able to prepare food of such a high standard for so many persons. What has become clear is that multiple restaurant chef ownership must be addressed as a rule by Eat Out. A number of winning chefs spoke from the stage when receiving their awards, calling for a greater inclusion and recognition of the excellent chefs which we have in our country. It was heartening to receive praise from chefs present, telling me that they read my Blog, and that they appreciate me speaking out about my views about the Eat Out Awards, which they themselves are unable to express publicly.
Disclosure: We received a goodie bag with the 2017 Eat Out magazine, a sachet of Elizabeth Arden Skin Renewal Booster, a sample of John Varvatos men’s fragrance, a R200 Nespresso voucher, a bottle of Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2016, and a Mercedes-Benz branded gadget on which to place one’s cellphone.
POSTSCRIPT 21/11: Jean-Vincent Ridon echoes my view on his Facebook page about the inclusion of two Luke Dale-Roberts restaurants on the Top 20 list, when they were not eligible this year, according to Eat Out‘s rules!: ‘@eatoutguide @eat_out #eatoutawards someone will have to explain me how a closed restaurant reopening with a complete different concept can win the restaurant of the year award. Luke is undoubtedly one of the best chef we ever had in SA but is it fair to lead readers of Eat Out magazine to a restaurant that does not exist any longer? I do not judge the quality of Luke and his team, I question the ethic behind this award. Please Luke don’t see this as a criticism against you. I admire your work, but I spent too long under the strict ethical rules of Michelin or Gault & Millau not to raise my concerns. Congratulations to all restaurants who make South Africa a fabulous place to dine!‘
Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards 2016. Tel (021) 417–1257 www.eatout.co.za Twitter: @eat_out Instagram: @eatoutguide
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein