We have predicted the Eat Out Top restaurants in the past few years, and this year we are presenting three Eat Out Top 10 list options, based on Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly’s potential approaches to selecting the award-winning restaurants, which she had rubber-stamped by now ex-judge UK blogger Bruce Palling!

The judging criteria are clearly specified on the Eat Out website: the restaurant must have operated for 12 full months (this is why The Pot Luck Club had to be dropped off the Top 20 list!), and the same chef must have run the kitchen for the period; the owners and the chef should show an absolute passion for their business;  they should be dedicated to uplifting the industry (an odd criterion, not being clear if this is meant to be staff upliftment, or sharing with chef colleagues?);  chefs should care about sourcing quality produce; and consistency and excellence must shine through every aspect of the business.  The judging score is out of 100, of which 70%  goes to Food, its website says, but the figures don’t add up, in that 15 points go to menu composition and seasonality (defined as ‘choice, cooking techniques, dietary requirements, local ingredients, choice of fish, out-of-season ingredients‘), 15 points go to presentation (defined as ‘visual appeal, fits description, use of plate, garnishes’), and 25 points go to taste (defined as execution of dish, balanced, flavours complimentary, texture’), totalling 55 out of 70.  The missing 15 points are not clarified, but some must be the non-food aspects, as they add up to 100!  In addition, wine is evaluated out of 10 points (defined as ‘choice, other beverages offered, staff knowledge, pairing and value for money‘), Value for money scores out of 5, Service is evaluated out of 20 (defined as ‘reservation, arrival, staff attitude and knowledge, specials, wine matching, dietary requirements, extra mile, billing’), and ambiance is scored out of 10 (defined as ‘comfort level, cleanliness, cutlery, music and bathrooms‘).

To recap, the following Top 19 Restaurants are in the running for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list:

Cape Town:  Bistrot Bizerca, The Greenhouse, La Colombe, Planet Restaurant, The Roundhouse, The Test Kitchen

Stellenbosch: Delaire Graff, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Makaron Restaurant, Overture, Rust en Vrede, Terroir, Tokara

Franschhoek:  Babel, Pierneef à La Motte, The Tasting Room

Other: DW Eleven-13, Hartford House, Restaurant Mosaic

We called our first Top 10 Restaurant list the Taste Monitor, doing a count of the number of times a Top 19 Eat Out restaurant has been featured in Taste magazine this year, of which Mrs Donnelly is the Food editor, to show which chefs she is partial to.  It is no surprise that Chef Luke Dale-Roberts wins, having been featured in every issue, and he would be the only restaurant on the Top 10 list on this basis, all other Top 19 restaurant contenders having only been featured once or twice, if at all, in the past year. Advertising for La Motte, Delaire Graff, and Makaron restaurants has appeared in the magazine this year, as well as a promotion for Delaire Graff.

Another criterion would be the Trend to Foraging, Ethical sourcing, and Vegetable and Herb Gardening, and the following restaurants would feature on this list, in no particular order, based on our knowledge and what the restaurant websites claim:  Pierneef à La Motte, Delaire Graff, Overture, Babel, The Tasting Room, The Greenhouse, Planet Restaurant, Makaron, and Hartford House.

To compile the Top 10 Restaurant List, we have had to put ourselves into Mrs Donnelly’s shoes: she will have chosen her favourites and those that she has had links to, having shown her bias in judging restaurants this year and last year.  The hardest part is to decide which of her existing Top 10 favourites will have to fall off the existing Top 10 list to make way for others. No offence is meant by any exclusions, and is purely based on speculation:

*  The Test Kitchen – there is no doubt that The Test Kitchen will be named Top Restaurant and Luke Dale-Roberts as Top Chef, on the basis of the monthly shoot at his restaurant for Taste magazine alone. 74th position on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Speaker at Eat Out Conference. Restaurant booked up to 3 months ahead. Oddly described as serving Tapas by Eat Out, maybe confusing it with The Pot Luck Club?

*   Pierneef à La Motte Chef Chris Erasmus showed that he strives for excellence in spending one month working at Noma, the world’s best restaurant, has the most fabulous vegetable and herb garden filled with unusual vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, collegially sharing the produce with other restaurants in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, has excellent wines on its winelist, and proudly focuses on local cuisine. Superb interior, reasonable value.  Culinary Manager Hetta Van Deventer-Terblanche is speaking at the Eat Out Conference, and La Motte has advertised in Taste magazine. Service deficiencies would lose the restaurant some points.

*   Makaron Restaurant Chef Tanja Kruger is a member of the SA Culinary Olympic Team, spent a month working at Michelin-star L’Apèrge restaurant in Paris this year, has a vegetable and herb garden at Majeka House, and sources meat from Farmer Angus at Spier. Mrs Donnelly was a consultant to the restaurant, designing its first menu last year, and named the restaurant the inaugural winner of the Boschendal Style Award 2011, making it a model Eat Out restaurant!  Sommelier Josephine Gutentoft adds to the quality offering. Good ambiance.  Placed advertisement in Taste magazine this year.

*   Babel at BabylonstorenConsultant Maranda Engelbrecht has created a restaurant that is booked out two months in advance, and has created a most unusual food concept of same-colour salads, consisting of fruit, vegetables and herbs, grown in their enormous French-inspired garden. Chef Simone Rossouw worked at a Dutch restaurant for a while earlier this year. Owner Karen Roos has impeccable decor taste, very less-is-more.  First wine vintage launched, and very Proudly Simonsberg wines.  Good value, service strained when busy.

* Tokara Chef Richard Carstens deserved a Top 10 place last year, but was shockingly left off the list, perhaps because there was a fear that he would not last at the restaurant. He has proven Mrs Donnelly very wrong. One of our most creative chefs, and constantly reinventing himself and his team.  Seasonal focus.  Exceptional presentation.  Very professional service, with sommelier service.  Winner of best Winelands Restaurant in Great Wine Capitals Global Network awards second year running.

*   The Greenhouse Chef Peter Tempelhoff is understated and low key, just getting on with what he does best. Own vegetable garden on the hotel estate, knowledgeable about wines, Chef Peter making wines with Adam Mason.  One of only two Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs in South Africa, awarded to Chef Peter earlier this year. Named Top Eat Out Restaurant last year.  Service can be arrogant. Fun interpretation of restaurant name in dishes. Expensive. Sommelier service. Innovative 7-course Dom Perignon Tasting Menu introduced today.

*   La Colombe – Chef Scot Kirton worked with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, and has proven that he can do it with his own team too.  Best winelist and sommelier in the country in Diner’s Club Winelist Awards this year.

*   DW Eleven-13 – we know that Bruce Palling flew to Johannesburg to judge the restaurant.

*  Delaire Graff Chef Christiaan Campbell has strong ethical food principles, sources from Farmer Angus, his own vegetable garden, as well as from La Motte, seasonal menus, good plating, exceptional setting with its view on to the Simonsberg, outstanding service, exceptional decor with artworks by top local artists, very expensive.  Placed advertisement and ran promotion in Taste magazine this year.

*   The Tasting Room – Best placed South African restaurant on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, even though it slipped badly to 57th position this year, Chef Margot Janse sourcing herbs and vegetables from the La Motte garden, and meats from Farmer Angus at Spier.  Very expensive. Service and wine list is criticised.  New decor by Chef Margot’s brother. Speaker at Eat Out Conference.  Loses points for banning customers.

We have excluded Bistrot Bizerca because of its move to new premises while the 2012 Eat Out edition was being printed; Terroir, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, and Rust en Vrede for being under the radar; The Roundhouse, for Chef PJ Vadas leaving during the course of the year, which should have disqualified the restaurant from being on the Top 20 list;  Hartford House and Restaurant Mosaic, for judge Bruce Palling not having visited, as far as we can tell from his Tweets;  Planet Restaurant, for not yet shaking off its hotel connection and what that entails, despite Chef Rudi’s impressive sourcing of produce and their excellent sommelier; and Overture, whose Chef Bertus Basson may have been burning the candle at both ends this year with his Amazink, Die Wors-Rol, The Ultimate Braaimaster, and consulting contracts.

We look forward to the Eat Out DStv Food Network Top 10 Restaurant Awards, to be held at The Westin hotel on Sunday evening.

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