This year the newly-named mouthful of a Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards will see a number of changes, and hence predicting a Top 20 finalist is harder, as a number of new award categories have been introduced, including that Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly is the sole judge, which we have written about previously.  Today the Top 20 Restaurant Award finalists will be announced.

As we did last year, we have made a prediction of the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist, with a motivation, as well as indicated which restaurants will not make it this year.  We apologise for the very strong Western Cape bias:

1. Tokara: I firmly believe that Tokara in the Helshoogte Pass will be the number 1 restaurant this year, given the outstanding 13-course dinner which Chef Richard Carstens prepared on 30 July, in honour of the closing down of El Bulli on that day.  The chef and his team received a standing ovation, and Ms Donnelly attended, and expressed her admiration of it. Chef Richard never stands still, stretching himself and his team with new dishes.

2. The Test Kitchen:  Luke Dale-Roberts’ restaurant in the Old Biscuit Mill will be a close contender for the top crown, having been a number 1 winner whilst at La Colombe, and 12th on the San Pellegrino 50 World Best Restaurant Awards last year.

3. Pierneef à La Motte: This Franschhoek restaurant, with Chef Chris Erasmus, has consistently impressed with its creative interpretation of Winelands Cuisine, in a restaurant with outstanding decor and attention to detail, and prides itself on its quest for excellence.

4.  The Tasting Room: Making an annual Top 10 list appearance, and the only South African restaurant making the San Pellegrino World Best 50 Awards, this Franschhoek restaurant, with Chef Margot Janse at the helm, is what has given Franschhoek its gourmet status in the past, now challenged by Stellenbosch, as is evident from this list.

5.  Overture:  The Stellenbosch restaurant has a beautiful view on the Hidden Valley wine estate, and an energetic, continually renewing Chef Bertus Basson.  On the Top 10 list since it opened.

6.  Planet Restaurant: The refurbished and modernised ex-Cape Colony restaurant at the Mount Nelson Hotel is headed by Chef Rudi Liebenberg, a previous Eat Out Top 20 finalist.

7.   The Round House: Despite its arrogance, the restaurant has two excellent foraging chefs in the kitchen, being PJ Vadas and Eric Bulpitt (ex-Jardine).  The restaurant is a previous Eat Out Top 10 winner, but did not make it last year.

8.  Nobu:  This One&Only Cape Town restaurant’s inclusion is uncertain, as it also deserves to win the newly introduced Best Asian Restaurant Award.  It is not clear whether a restaurant can be eligible for participation in both categories.

9.  Bosman’s: After a long absence, this Paarl-based Grande Roche Hotel restaurant featured on the Eat Out Top 10 list last year.  Great work is being done to make the restaurant more accessible, through an amazing summer special. Chef Roland Gorgosilich has been in the kitchen for a number of years.

10.   The Food Barn:  This Noordhoek restaurant is quietly making a good name for itself, its owner and Chef Franck Dangereux having been a Eat Out Top 10 chef in the past.

11.  The Greenhouse:  Reports about Chef Peter Tempelhoff’s creativity at the Cellars Hohenhort Hotel are very positive.  He has featured on the Eat Out Top 10  list in the past, whilst at Grande Provence.

12.  Terroir: This restaurant on the Kleine Zalze estate has been on the Eat Out Top 10 list for a number of years, with Chef Michael Broughton.

13. Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine:  The Chef and owner has featured on the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list whilst he was at Jardine, and also last year for his new restaurant.  Consistent delivery on his creative food, and baking specialist.

14. Aubergine: The only current Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in Cape Town, and owned by Chef Harald Bresselschmidt, having been on the Eat Out Top 10 list for many years, but then fell of the list for a number of years too, until last year.

15.   Delaire Graff:  The restaurant is known for its good service and beautiful views, and Chef Christiaan Campbell and his team quietly get on with what they are good at.

16.   Waterkloof:  The Somerset West restaurant, with Chef Gregory Czarnecki, has an excellent view, interesting architecture, and good presentation.

17.  The Restaurant at Grande Provence: Another low key restaurant, this Franschhoek restaurant has featured on the Eat Out Top 10 list twice, with chefs Jacques de Jager and Peter Tempelhoff.  Chef Darren Roberts is passionate about cooking, and creates beautifully prepared and plated fare.

18. Reuben’s One&Only Cape Town: This restaurant could also be eligible for inclusion in the Best Bistro category.  At best a token inclusion on this list.

19.  Hartford House:  This KwaZulu-Natal delivers consistently, and has been a regular on the Eat Out Top 10 list in past years, with passionate ‘local is cool’ Chef Jackie Cameron.

20.  DW Eleven-13:  This Johannesburg restaurant, with Chef Marthinus Ferreira, made its first appearance on the Eat Out Top 10 list last year.

Restaurants that will not appear on the Top 20 shortlist, we believe, are the following:

1. Rust en Vrede: Due to the departure of David Higgs, the new Chef John Shuttleworth has not run the wine estate restaurant kitchen for a full year, a criterion for the award.  Number 1 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant last year.

2.  La Colombe:  Chef Scott Kirton probably needs some time to settle in, having worked with Luke Dale-Roberts previously.

3.  Reuben’s Franschhoek: The opening of the Reuben’s One&Only Cape Town was at the expense of this restaurant, a previous Top 10, and even number 1 restaurant on the Eat Out Top 10 list.

4.  New restaurants Dash, Casparus, Johan’s @ Longridge, and De Huguenot have not been open for twelve months, and therefore will not be eligible yet.

The Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards will be presented at the Rotunda at the Bay Hotel on 20 November.  Last month the American Express Platinum Restaurant Awards were announced.  JP Rossouw’s annual restaurant star award list has not been announced yet.  It is interesting to hear that Spill Blog is planning to organise a new Restaurant Award next month, with potential funding by Cape Town Tourism, it is said.

POSTSCRIPT 5/10: The Top 20 Finalist list has just been announced (11h30):  We had 15 of the 20 finalist correct.  Our prediction of Aubergine (a surprise!), Delaire, Waterkloof, Reubens at the One&Only Cape Town, and The Food Barn were incorrect, not making the short-list.  Five restaurants we did not have on our list, that are short-listed, are Azure at the Twelve Apostles, Babel at Babylonstoren, La Colombe, Roots in Gauteng, and Restaurant Mosaic at Orient in Pretoria.

POSTSCRIPT 13/10: Eat Out has presented an informative profile of each of the Top 20 chefs in its newsletter today.

POSTSCRIPT 23/10: Tony Jackman has written critically in the Weekend Argus about the Eat Out Top 20 Finalist List.  He believes that new restaurants should not be included in such a list before they have not been open for two years.  He questions the wisdom of not including Rust en Vrede. He believes that longevity of a restaurant should be taken into account.  He is very critical about the 16 Cape restaurants on the list, compared to only 4 for the rest of the country.  He wonders whether the geographical balance of the list would be the same if the publishers of Eat Out were based in Johannesburg, and says there should be more balance, given that it is a national publication.  He highlights that none of the three Reuben’s are on the list.  Interestingly, he questions how long Luke Dale-Roberts will stay in his current location.  He raises the question as to whether great restaurants can remain great, irrespective of the chef, mentioning La Colombe and Bosman’s as examples of restaurants not influenced by who is the chef, and suggests ‘let’s lose this cult of the chef perosnality‘, adding ‘The restaurant should be the point – not the chef’.   Jackman mentions every Top 20 finalist, with the following exceptions: Richard Carstens from Tokara, and Margot Janse from The Tasting Room.

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