I could not think it possible that the Eat Out Awards 2018 could be so refreshingly different, but it appears that new Head Judge Margot Janse has created a fresh new look at the restaurant judging criteria. Many of our top old-guard chefs took a severe beating at the Awards last night! 

A seven-hour award extravaganza did not feel as long as it sounds, as the program had a constant flow. The Awards were held at GrandWest, probably for the fourth  year running, the decor of the large venue being very less-is-more, with gold/pink decorations hanging from the ceiling that looked like jellyfish, but not linking to anything during the course of the afternoon. I was surprised at how dressed up the ladies attending were generally, and the men looked smart too, but some wore shorts, and even flip flops, hardly meeting the ‘elegant’ dress code! 

We parked in the car park, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles were shuttles, to drive us to the entrance of the venue. I chose to walk, to get some exercise before the long afternoon of sitting and eating. As we arrived we were offered a choice of Graham Beck Brut Rosé sparkling wine, gin and tonic, and S. Pellegrino water.  Waitresses with trays of canapés were standing in a row as we entered, offering biltong and beetroot; chocolate, mushroom, and olive oil sweetie pie; and smoked salmon milk tart canapés, all made by students of the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine. It was a very small space, and I took some photographs, tried unsuccessfully to get the Wifi to work, and then went inside the venue to find my table. Other than the ceiling decoration, there was a Hennessy bar counter as one entered, and a S. Pellegrino stand at the back of the venue, later forming the backdrop to all the filming of the dishes, explained by the chefs who had prepared them. Already at our Table 32, at which I had booked my seat, was Luis Vieira and his wife, who attended their first Eat Out Awards. They are very interested in restaurants, and we exchanged restaurant notes all afternoon. On the other side of me sat Renier and Lauren Venter, Lauren working for the Spur Corporation, and is Brand Manager for Hussar Grill, Greek-style Nico’s, and Italian-style Casa Bella. 

We had a paper placemat, and impressive was three sets of gold cutlery, a gold spoon, and a gold bread knife, a material napkin, and an array of glasses. The Eat Out program was on our place setting too. We sat on wooden chairs, and each had a cushion to soften our long sit. 

At our table sat Chef Chris Erasmus, his Foliage colleagues spread around the venue (with the beard, on the right). Many other restaurants had booked tables for their teams. 

Whilst waiting for the proceedings to start, I chatted to Chef Peter Tempelhoff, and shared with him that a dinner I had at Greenhouse with Katie Friedman some time ago had led to FYN opening in Speaker’s Corner on 30 November. I was most impressed when he told me that everyone is welcome in his restaurants, and that I should not worry about being discriminated against. 

Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp introduced herself as the MC, and we were surprised at her outfit, she always looking glamorous, but reminding us that she was pregnant each previous year of her MCing at the Awards. It looked as if she had a casual light blue pair of slacks and matching blouse, with a long darker blue half-skirt at the back, the most bizarre outfit! It emerged that she had a co-host, J’Something of MiCasa, now a restaurateur in Pretoria too. There was a lot of friendly banter between the two MCs. We were invited to enjoy an afternoon of the celebration of food. We were told that the wait staff were students of hospitality and event management, and that looking after us was the biggest event they would be experiencing. Karen Zoid sang for us, but she didn’t appear to be that popular. Prime Circle and MiCasa were other performers. 

We were introduced by camera to Chefs Jason Lillie of Jason’s Bakery, who had prepared ‘Versace’ bling-bling black rolls with glitter; and Gregory Czarnecki of Restaurant at Waterkloof, whose team had prepared a black garlic aioli in a La Colombe-style tin. They explained to J’Something how their bread course items were prepared, all filmed for us to see, and for the viaTV film. 

Representatives of all 30 the nominated restaurants were invited to the stage, but as one sat so far away, we could not really see them, even if it was filmed and projected. 

Then it was the turn of Aileen Lamb, the MD of New Media Publishing, to address the audience. She told us that it was the 20th anniversary of the Eat Out awards, and that in this celebration viaTV was filming the event. The first Eat Out Awards event in 1998 was held at a restaurant in Mouille Point (possibly Theo’s), with twenty guests. Unusual was that Aileen paid tribute to some of our leading chefs, starting with Luke Dale-Roberts, who had been the number one restaurant for six years already… at this stage we could not guess what upset was about to come! She praised him for sharing the success with his staff, in opening up new restaurants, the most recent being Salsify at The Roundhouse, and The Commissary, next door to The Shortmarket Club. Similarly, Chef Liam Tomlin was praised for opening three restaurants since 2015, all of which were Top 30 nominees. Chef Scot Kirton of the La Colombe group too was acknowledged, for opening three new restaurants, growing his chefs by promoting them. And Chef Peter Tempelhoff was mentioned in opening FYN shortly, once again promoting his staff. Immediately I realised that Chef  Bertus Basson had not been mentioned, the chef with the largest number of restaurants, at six, opening one after the other, and once again we did not know what shock result was waiting for Basson….

Chef Chantel Dartnall was mentioned for her performance in the world’s top 300 restaurant list, reaching the highest SA ranking at 52, Chefs Peter Tempelhoff, Michael Deg, and Gregory Czarnecki making this list too. A slide listed all the new restaurant openings of the last year,  but it was impossible to read. Aileen thanked Alison from Rainbow Productions in organizing the event (Aileen told me in a break that Andrea Foulkes of Dish Food managed the food preparation overall), the two MCs, the viaTV team, the headline sponsor Mercedes-Benz, and Eat Out head judge Margo. It was announced that she had been appointed as permanent ‘Chief Eat Out Judge’, leading a team of anonymous judges. We know that Chef Pete Goff-Wood is one of these, for sure! 

Chef Michael Cooke of Camphors at Vergelegen spoke about his Cape Malay pickled fish dish with yellowtail and tuna, served with sultanas, spring onion, seaweed, herbs, and amazi, with a vinaigrette made of smoked fish bones, olive oil, vinegar, and fish stock. When booking, we were asked for dietary requirements. I listed my standard dislikes of garlic, chili, balsamic, and onion, and a mussel allergy. I received a vegetarian dish of chestnut, pear, and wild mushrooms instead, an additional pressure for the makeshift kitchen. 

Margot Janse said a few words, one missing the glamour of the special outfits of her predecessor Abigail Donnelly, looking as if she was wearing a track suit! She spoke about trends, picked up via the judging this year, being an abundance of flowers used in plating, pansies in particular! She also mentioned that she had experienced a lot of tartare, and that bread courses have improved vastly. Selwyn Govender of Mercedes-Benz spoke about his company’s five-year sponsorship of Eat Out and its awards, and a new ‘Zoetrope’ installation in the Silo District in the Waterfront, inspired by international designer Ez Davlin, to open to the public in December, with free entrance. 

The first award to be announced was the Eat Out VISI Style Award, won by Saint in Sandton, David Higgs’ newest restaurant, feeling like a consolation prize, and this was confirmed, as his Marble did not crack a Top 20 ranking, the second year running! The Woolworths TASTE Eat Out Bursary was presented by Abigail Donnelly, but the name of the recipient was not seen on the screen nor can I find it in the new Eat Out magazine. He thanked his ‘mama’ for making it! The Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star Award went to Candice Philip of Grei at The Saxon Hotel. She was so overcome by emotion that she could not speak. 

Our second starter was seared Springbok carpaccio, with gooseberries, radish, sorrel, sumac, and avocado, created by Chef Vusi Ndlovu, working at The Marabi Club. He was a finalist international Young Chef, finishing in the top seven.  When I was brought a cauliflower dish as a replacement, I went on strike, and asked them to cancel all my dietary requirements, so that I could eat the dishes on the menu. Jo Currie made this change happen immediately and efficiently. The starter was well presented, and tasty, but the Parmesan shards were not crispy. 

The main course was prepared by Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg of Janse & Co, which also won the Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year. It opened last December and therefore was not eligible for the Top 30 list. The Glen Oakes chicken was wrapped in celeriac and prepared with sorrel, served with roast potatoes and a delicious gravy, beyond a good Sunday lunch meal. I loved that Chef Arno took his whole team onto the stage when the Award was announced, the first chef to do so, saying a lot about him and his team. I was proud that my recommendation at our table for the best restaurant in Cape Town was recognised. 

The dessert was a joint venture by the La Colombe group restaurants, and was the stand-out dish for us, being fresh strawberries, yoghurt, verbena, and Callebaut Ruby chocolate.  Its presentation was beautiful, and the venue smelt of strawberries, they were so fragrant.  

Chef Gregory and his Waterkloof team prepared the Bonbons au chocolat. The white and red geometric ones stood out, but the black one on a black dish got lost. 

It was a monumental day for the restaurant industry, with its shock rankings and awards presentations. The five-course meal was excellent, the first time that the food matched the caliber of the chefs recognized. Well done to the chefs responsible for the meal. The Nederburg wine pairings was a commercial reality, but few chefs at this fine-dining level would have Nederburg wines on their wine lists.

The Eat Out 2018 Awards will not be forgotten in a hurry, with shock results. Most of the old guard chefs were knocked off their comfort zone multi-restaurant perches:

#   Chef Luke Dale-Roberts will not be happy to lose his number one Eat Out The Test Kitchen slot, and the Mercedes-Benz that went with it, as well as the radical fall of his Pot Luck Club to number 20, and The Shortmarket Club to number 19, these two restaurants having made Top 10 last year. Chef Luke was very emotional when he spoke in receiving the number two slot, and the f-word was used by him continuously, demonstrating his shock and anger. He appeared inebriated, going on and on, so much so that the audience started clapping to get him to shut up and to leave the stage. When The Test Kitchen was announced as the Diners Club Service Excellence Award winner, I knew that the restaurant had lost the number one slot! 

#   Chef Bertus Bully Basson was bitten by karma, his campaign to discredit me as a reviewer being on-going. With this campaign, and trying to run six restaurants, it is no surprise that his Overture restaurant dropped to slot 18, after making Top 10 last year! I drank water all afternoon, but could not resist a celebratory Hennessy cognac! 

#   Chef Liam Tomlin must be terribly embarrassed that his Chefs Warehouse on Bree Street just cannot make Top 20 two years running, and that his other two Chefs Warehouses have done better than his Bree Street one, the Maison restaurant coming in at number 16, and the Beau Constantia falling badly to 10th place after a spectacular 4th place last year! 

#   Foxcroft also has seen karma, being responsible for getting me banned from the La Colombe group, and now having dropped out of the Top 20 list. 

Disappointed must be Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic, falling from second rank last year. She is a hard worker, creative, whose wine offering wins international recognition, and who travels internationally to grow herself and her team. Chef Kobus van der Merwe of Wolfgat was one of the happiest chefs of the day, showered with recognition for his foraging, and his proudly South African cuisine, served in Paternoster. 

The Top 10 Restaurant List is:

1. Restaurant at Waterkloof (Chef Gregory right)
2. The Test Kitchen and Service Excellence Award
3. La Colombe – a lovely touch was that Jennifer Hugé, former Manager for years, was invited to go up to the stage with her former colleagues, and was allowed to say a few words too. She has joined FYN as GM.
4. Wolfgat and Chef of Year Kobus van der Merwe
5. La Petite Colombe
6. Greenhouse
7. Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient
8. Camphors at Vergelegen
9. Jardine
10. Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia.

Cape Town becomes the Restaurant Capital of our country, with four Top 10 restaurants, followed by Somerset West, with 2. Stellenbosch, Paternoster, Pretoria, and Franschhoek have one Top Ten restaurant each. 

The restaurants ranked 11th to 20th are Fermier, Jordan, Foliage, Le Coin Français, Chef’s Table in Umhlanga, the youngest chef to receive recognition, Chefs Warehouse at Maison, La Tête, Overture, The Shortmarket Club, and The Pot Luck Club. 

Restaurants which did not get a ranking (ranked 21 – 30, the list ‘fillers’): Thali, Chefs Warehouse & Canteen Bree Street, Foxcroft, Nobu, Indochine, DW Eleven-13, La Mouette, Springfontein Eats, Marble, Die Werf. 

Other Award winners were:

#   Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award: The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal, with Chef Christiaan Campbell. (Left) Chef Christiaan is a champion for the preservation of the cold chain, and the humane treatment of animals. He recommended that we follow Jason Carroll on Instagram. 

#  Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award: Abigail Donnelly, former Eat Out editor. Abigail told those present that she misses the industry. She was described as a ‘powerhouse’ in the citation. She was very emotional in receiving the award. 

#   Eat Out John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service: Germaine Lehodey, former Sommelier of Restaurant Mosaic, and now at DGB. When I saw him during a break, Germaine said that it is weird that he is recognised only after he has left Restaurant Mosaic. I agree with him. 

#   Eat Out Wine Service Award: Moses Magwaza at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient, a protege of Germaine. 

#   Eat Out Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef Award: Joint winners Ivor Jones of Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia and Chris Erasmus of Foliage. The winners of this award were voted for by their chef peers.

POSTSCRIPT 19/11: One must hand it to Manley Communications, for their PR strategies. This morning they announced that Chef Luke Dale-Roberts and his other restaurant chefs Wesley Randles, Freddie Dias, and Ryan Cole, will be hosting a charity dinner, Signature of Hope Gala Dinner, on 16 December, with hundred tickets only, at a secret venue, at R10000 a ticket! 

POSTSCRIPT 25/11:  The Woolworths TASTE Eat Out bursary was won by Thapelo Tsotsetsi.

Disclosure: Every guest received a goody bag, with an Eat Out 2018 magazine, a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rosé MCC, and a slab of Afrikoa chocolate. 

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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