Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards 2014: Best event ever, some highs, some shocks!

Eat Out magazine cover Whale Cottage PortfolioAfter two disastrous years, New Media Publishing was brave enough to take stock earlier this year, and asked the industry what it wanted in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards.  Last night that hard work paid off, with a new venue for the event, a slick and short presentation, new Awards introduced, and three new restaurants making the Top 10 Restaurant list.  The surprise was the emotion which the chefs expressed when receiving their plaques, challenging MasterChef SA Season 2 on tears!

We were one of the interviewees, meeting with Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, its GM Aileen Lamb, MD Bridget McCarney, and Director Irna van Zyl.  We were forthright in our feedback and suggestions, including that a team of judges would be needed again (we suggested Garth Stroebel, and have yet to meet him!). We fed back that the preferential relationship with Luke Dale-Roberts in TASTE magazine (also published by New Media Publishing, and of which Abigail is the Food Editor) was unfair towards all other chefs, by featuring him every month – we were told that Woolworths had a contract with him, and therefore he received the coverage in the magazine.  This contract was terminated earlier this year, which is excellent news.  Other recommendations can be read here.  Flowing from the interviews and discussions with previous Top 20 chefs and restaurant managers, owners, and suppliers, as well as media representatives and bloggers, New Media Publishing allowed restaurants to apply to be included in the Eat Out Top 500 Restaurant List, which was selected by a panel of 50.

The function was held at The Lookout in the V&A Waterfront for the first time, the decor being very less-is-moreish, with some white paper Eat OUt paper cutouts Whale Cottage Portfoliocutouts on the tables and the odd bulb light hanging from the ceiling,  Long tables were set up, with gaps in-between, to seat the 500 guests, the largest number of attendees ever. As we entered we were offered popcorn ice cream by Sorbetière, and one walked through Eat Out Popcorn ice cream Whale Cottage Portfolioa paper and then a popcorn curtain.  In the centre of the venue a platform had been set up, with massive screens in each direction, allowing everyone to see the action.  The timing in the program was adhered to strictly, and the event finished five hours later, at 22h00, few of the guests wishing to go home, and many joining the after-party.  The venue allows doors to be opened to the decks, helping to cool things down, the few airconditioners not able to keep up.  I was lucky to sit with the fun team from Burrata, opposite Eat Out David Donde and Kamini Pather Whale Cottage PortfolioDavid Donde from Truth and MasterChef SA Season 2 winner Kamini Pather.  On my left I had the further luck to sit next to Steve Chase and his delightful partner Maki.

Aileen Lamb welcomed the guests, spoke about the interviews done at the beginning of the year, and how it helped them to get to know their audience better.  They appreciated the honesty of the feedback, and they heard how important the Top 10 awards are for the chefs.  From this they finalised their strategy, and redeveloped their branding, which will be carried over into the redesigned website to be launched at the end of the month.  It led to a new TV commercial, the largest ever Awards event, and the use of five outside judges.  They saw the passion of the chefs, and this inspired New Media Publishing to ‘reinvent the game‘.

Eat Out Abigail and Daisy Whale Cottage PortfolioAbigail looked fantastic, trim and slim, and beaming, leading the chef and waiter walk into the venue, with Daisy the butter cow’s head being ceremoniously placed at the opposite end of the hall.  She announced that four of the Top 20 finalist chefs were not present, something which had never happened before:  Chefs Richard Carstens, Christiaan Campbell (in Dijon), Rudi Liebenberg (in New York), and Neil Jewell (in Johannesburg). She spoke very briefly about food trends being top-to-tail pork usage, using wagyu beef, the imaginative use of breads, with butter piped, whipped and churned.  She highlighted some dishes which had impressed on their judging journey: Bread & Wine’s confit duck pie, and La Colombe’s cheese fondue. Chefs have stories to tell, she said, sharing their food memories. The judges team with Abigail was Andy Fenner, Liam Tomlin (who was in Mauritius), and Garth Stroebel (feedback from the various tables I visited was that all the judges other than Fenner were a pleasure to deal with), all of whom we had guessed to the surprise of Eat Out, before they were announced last night.  Abigail recapped the rule of a restaurant and its chef having had to be in place since November 2012 to be eligible for the Top 10 Restaurant Awards. The restaurant scoring was done on food, including the styling, composition of the dishes, price value, and wine service, counting for 70%, 20% for service, and 10% for decor.  Scores were very close, and the judges were unanimous in the Top 10 list, Abigail said.  She announced that two new Awards categories had been added: Rising Star, to recognise an up and coming chef who will be in the future league of SA cuisine, as well as a Wine Service Award.

The guests were less impressed with the food, which was prepared under very trying conditions outside the venue.  Bread was baked by Jason Lilley from Jason Bakery, Riggs butter came from Mooivallei Dairy, both served with an exclusive Eat Out Catch of the day Golden Ale made by Triggerfish Brewing  especially for the event.  Canapés by Nobu’s Dil Tamang were not seen. Jordan Restaurant’s Chef George Jardine’s ‘spicy curly kale, smoked tofu and lamb Eat Out kale salad Whale Cottage Portfoliokaaings’ was exactly that – very spicy, the kale not being fresh, there being no kaaings, and the tofu boring, a disappointment from such a talented chef. His starter was paired by Jordan The Real McCoy Riesling 2013.  Hartford House Chef Jackie Cameron’s first main course, being ‘smoked mussel soup with fond seaside memories‘,  was also felt to be too busy, evenEat Out Mussel soup Whale Cottage Portfolio though it had interesting hard-to-identify elements in the plate (biltong shavings, edible flowers, and more) with a very thick mussel soup which we poured over these elements into the bowl, made especially for the event by ceramicist Mervyn Gers.  The SASSI green soup was paired with Cape of Good Hope Serruria Chardonnay 2012.

Chef Chris Erasmus of Pierneef à La Motte prepared the main course, being ‘confit pasture pork necks, rose-glazed sweetbreads and smoked and pickled lamb ribs with crayfish caramel and bordelaise butter sauce served with pumpkin vegetable pots, mushroom-and-almond snysels and pickled vegetables’, served with Jacobsdal Pinotage 2011.  The vegetable platter looked amazing, Eat Out Vegetables Whale Cottage Portfoliowith skewers, but a second platter of items could not be identified, nor the sauces, even by the chefs sitting at our table.  The meat platter arrived quite a while after the vegetables did, so many wondered whether the meat was hiding in the pumpkin pie!  The sweetbreads did not receive much interest.  It was commented that the meal was more like a family Sunday lunch, and not reflecting the calibre of the food served by the Top 10 chefs in their restaurants.

Eat Out Desserts Whale Cottage PortfolioThe dessert was a collaboration between The Greenhouse and five hundred, but really were two separate desserts, that by five hundred Chefs David Higgs and Minette Smith being served on a plate, being ginger beer gel, yoghurt crumble, meringue sticks, compressed apple, yoghurt-and-apple mousse and verbena custard. The dessert by The Greenhouse Chefs Peter Tempelhoff and Amy Young was a little jar of citrus caramel, ginger white soy panna cotta, apple yazu jelly, hazelnut crunch, lemon crème fraîche parfait, and yuzu sherbet. The desserts were served with Monis Vintage Muscadel 2001.  Macaroon trees were created by Chef Tanja Kruger of Makaron.

The Awards handed out were the following, Jenny Morris having been announced as the surprise judge of the Best of Awards, previously having been Abigail’s selection alone.

*   The Eat Out Boschendal Style Award: The Pot Luck Club – cynically we see this as a way for the restaurant to have won an award, given that it did not make the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist, and given that Abigail has such a soft spot for Chef Luke Dale-Roberts.  There were 20 finalists in this category.

*   The Eat Out Jacobsdal Best Steakhouse Restaurant:  Carne, for the second year running, owner Chef Giorgio Nava no longer dishonestly claiming that his meat is reared organically as he did a few years ago.  Abigail also has a soft spot for Giorgio, and as he no longer is good enough to make the Eat Out Top 20 list, she has awarded him a Best of three years in a row, giving him Best Italian for 95 Keerom in 2011. We had an extremely rude interaction with him at his Caffe Milano yesterday, when he would not accept that the service was slow, that the food was not up to scratch, and that the waitress could not explain why they do not serve iced coffees.

*   Best Italian: went to Burrata,  for its Italian food with a modern twist, its service and good wine knowledge praised too. Eat Out Burrata chefs Whale Cottage Portfolio This led to a rather unprofessional sour grapes Tweet by Manley Communications, on behalf of their client Giorgio Nava, writing that he had been ‘snubbed‘ in this category, as if he owns ‘Italian’ cuisine in South Africa, which caused a little Twitter riot!

*  Best Bistro: went to The Leopard in Johannesburg

*   Best Country-Style: Towerbosch on Knorhoek in Stellenbosch.  It Eat Out Towerbosch Whale Cottage Portfoliogenerated the first tears of the evening, the surprise on Chef Carmen Muller’s face being a delight to see.

*   Best Asian: Kitima, not everyone at our table being in agreement, but the choice was a huge improvement on Saigon last year!

*   Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award:  Michael Olivier.  This was a huge shock, and a chef asked via Twitter what exactly he has achieved.  He used to own Paddagang. Burgundy, and Parks restaurants, and has not run a restaurant for a good twenty years.  He had a short stint with Crush! digital food and wine magazine, which has improved hugely since he left.  He has been criticised for his poor ethics as a copy-and-paste’ blogger and ‘advertorialist, being dishonest in not revealing that his clients pay him to evaluate their wines on his blog!  He also has grossly overinflated his Twitter following and the FMR listenership of his wine talks.   One wonders what could have motivated Eat Out to salute Olivier, whose focus is wholly on wines, and who is disliked by many wine estates for being so pushy in his sales attacks!  It was said of him that he has never said a bad word about anybody, but he lets others do his dirty work, as we have documented on our blog, having been on the receiving end of his WhaleSpotter Twitter abuse campaign, as well as his attempt to close down our blog!

*   Eat Out TASTE Bursary:   Amanda Manyatshe

*   Wine Service Award:  Joakim Blackadder of Rust en Vrede

*   Rising Star:   Vanessa Marx of Dear Me Foodworld, who looked fantastic, still glowing from her marriage the day before!

The Top 10 Restaurant countdown was the following, announced from 10th onwards:

1.   The Test Kitchen:  Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, his emotions coming out in a string of f-words.

2.   five hundred:  Chef David Higgs, also using some f-words in his acceptance speech.

3.  Rust en Vrede:  Chef John Shuttleworth

4.   The Greenhouse:   Chef Peter Tempelhoff

5.   Hartford House:  Chef Jackie Cameron

6.   Jordan Restaurant: Chef George Jardine

7.   Overture:  Chef Bertus Basson

8.   Camphors at Vergelegen:  PJ Vadas was a very emotional recipient, acknowledging the role of his parents in moulding him as a chef

9.   The Tasting Room: Chef Margot Janse (a massive fall from 2nd place last year, and being Best Chef last year).

10.  Pierneef à La Motte:  Chef Chris Erasmus.

Best Service Award:   Rust en Vrede

Eat Out S. Pellegrino Chef of the Year:  David Higgs, to massive applause!  Eat Out David Higgs Whale Cottage PortfolioHe announced that he is participating in the Cape Epic next year, and that he is starting a children’s charity linked to healthier eating, funds being raised via cycling.

Restaurants that made the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist that did not make the Top 10 list were Tokara (a surprise, given that they have made Top 20 three years in a row), Delaire Graff Restaurant (Top 20 two years in a row), Indochine, Bread & Wine (regarded as having been the oddest Top 20 finalist), Makaron (on the Top 20 list twice), Planet Restaurant (on the Top 20 list three years in a row), Waterkloof, DW11-13 (a regular Top 10 restaurant), The Kitchen at Maison, and La Colombe (a Top 10 restaurant ever since Chef Luke-Dale Roberts worked there).

While Chef David may have referred to Johannesburg as the ‘Capital of Africa’, it is clear that Cape Town/the Winelands is the Gourmet Capital of the country, with eight of the ten Top 10 Restaurants being located here. Stellenbosch has 3 Top 10 restaurants; Cape Town and Franschhoek 2 each; and Somerset West, Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal 1 each.

An odd note was the brand representative of sponsor San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna, whose bottles now sport labels in honour of Luciano Pavarotti. She praised Giorgio Nava as the best Italian chef in South Africa, when the award went to Burrata last night!

Despite the Nava, Olivier, and Pot Luck Club awards being inappropriate, in our opinion, and the food being disappointing generally, the Eat Out 2014 Restaurant Awards was a huge improvement on previous years, The Lookout venue being big and open, the technical support working well, the smooth and slick flow of the proceedings (except for the boring unidentified presenter), the vastly improved service staff drawn from Silwood and the Institute of Culinary Arts students, and the temperature in the venue being reasonable. Canning the gross comedians as MCs is a huge improvement.  The Top 10 countdown was accepted by those that were recognised, with disappointment and a determination to get onto the Top 10 list next year by those that didn’t!

I would like to thank New Media Publishing for my first ever invitation to attend the event, and for the VIP parking outside The Lookout.

POSTSCRIPT 14/11:   Today we received an e-mailed questionnaire, requesting feedback about the function, the food, the venue, and the audio-visuals.  It offered a R2000 dinner voucher, at The Test Kitchen, Hartford House, or five hundred, to encourage one to participate in the survey, meaning that one had to provide one’s contact details, contrary to professional market research conduct! A number of the questions were leading, which will introduce bias into the results!

POSTSCRIPT 15/11:  Today I received delivery of one of the ceramic bowls made for the mussel soup by Mervyn Gers, Valrhona Initiation Grands Crus chocolates, and Boschendal Brut Rosé, which were in the goodie bag each guest was meant to receive on leaving the function.

Eat Out 2014: www.eatout.co.za   Twitter: @Eat_Out  New website and 2014 magazine with Top 500 restaurants out on 29 November.

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

24 replies on “Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards 2014: Best event ever, some highs, some shocks!”

  1. bettie says:

    Im not a foody, but have enjoyed reading your brave review. So refreshingly honest with all the little twists and turns thrown in. Clearly someone who knows the field and have the guts to speak up and out! Cheers to you.

  2. vicki says:

    Am so delighted for David, what a talent and a lovely guy

  3. Giorgio Nava says:

    If you avoid to come to any of my Restaurants we will be all more happy, Giorgio Nava

  4. darren says:

    Chris, always admired your independent objective reviews but sorry once you accept the freebie and vip parking your credibility is blown. and this is reflected in the tone of this review compared to previous ones and no matter what you say they got you , hook line and sinker.

    Eat out awards is just a big love in for all the so called “foodie” people of RSA, to most people who eat out on a weekly basis knowing the best places to eat, the local places, the places were the food is really superb these awards mean nothing, its the same old crowd voting for the same old crowd.

    Maybe stop your spats with Nava and get back to what you are good at and thats objective reporting, you are nothing without your readership and dont forget it

    • Thank you for your feedback Darren from Hout Bay, honest and direct as always.

      I can honestly say that there was no holding back in my criticism about the event last night – it was that much better, but its low points were the food, and the three odd awards, as already mentioned. Chef David Higgs Tweeted today that the Awards have been raised to a new level.

      Only if you were at the event could you judge whether I was white-washing the event – no matter if invited or if I paid, I could never do that, and you should know that by now, after 5 years of reading my blog.

      Normally you are critical about the top 10 list – how do you feel about the 2014 list?

  5. darren says:

    chris,

    I just believe you cannot say your blog is objective and then take freebies like this, you might as well change the blog to relax with dax and be done with it.

    dont really care about the top ten to be honest, the judges yet again have proven that they stick with what they know instead of being radical and trying to find places that are really pushing the boundries,

    La Mouette for example, i ate there on Saturday night, there must have been 120-150 covers, 7 course tasting menu and it was better than anything i have had at most of the top 10 places that i have eaten in….

    Burratta, while i love this place its no more Italian than i am, saying that this should be a better Italian restaurant than say Magical Roma in Pinelands is a complete joke but i doubt that the esteemed judging panel know were Pinelands is.

    Kitima, dont get me started with this place, judges have obviously never been to Thailand, last time i frequented this place the chef was walking around with a note pad asking diners how he could improve his food, thats a first for me, yet again its a “cool place” and an easy option for the judges.

    Terroir for me is a great place, but its not cool, not enough foam on his plates but the place is full all the time and Michael Broughton is a ground breaking chef

    Luke Dale Roberts is a great chef but is he any better than say Henry Vigar, i doubt it but he is better at PR and snogging up to the politicos that create this awards illusion and fuels the kingdom that is presided by the super slim and trim AD

    • Darren from Hout Bay: Nothing has changed in what I have written about Eat Out, and I did not know about the free ticket until the evening, as I kept requesting the invoice. The parking sms arrived a few hours before the function, a huge bonus I must add, as there is a shortage of parking at The Lookout.

      I will NEVER compromise any principle of honest reporting, whether I have paid or not. I criticised the awards going to The Pot Luck Club, Giorgio Nava, and Michael Olivier, all absolutely wrong and showing old biases. I criticised the food, the desserts being the only good course, but two disparate creations, the five hundred one just looking more elegant on the plate, compared to the one by The Greenhouse in the jar. I criticised the nameless boring MC.

      I loved that they listened to what the industry had to say, and actually implemented recommendations. I did not feel ‘bought’ by this at all.

      I felt sorry for the chefs 11 – 20 (of whom four did not attend, and I hope that this does not become a trend!), who were featured on the program, but were not part of the evening at all.

      I know you love La Mouette, and Abigail asked at the meeting early this year if one should have fine dining and more informal categories, to accommodate La Mouette in the latter, but the feeling was a definite no. They are clearly not ‘sexy’ enough to be considered eligible for the Top 20! They also play games which counts against them.

      Your comments about the specific restaurants are noted, and I agree about Kitima and The Test Kitchen (Luke D-R is such a prima donna now, not needing to greet those that say hi to him), but not about Burrata and Terroir. Nothing has changed at the latter, it’s boring, no decor, and service not perfect.

      Burrata is still my favourite restaurant in Cape Town. Last year it was recognised as the best Italian restaurant in Africa and Middle East by the same team that runs the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

      • Henry Gum says:

        I agree with Darren about La Mouette. Easily as good as at least 80% of the top 20. And I fail to see how they are considered informal dining and how they can possibly excluded on that grounds. Why do you say they play games Chris?

        • I would have agreed in early days, when they opened Henry (I hope this is not you Henry Vigar?!)

          You can read my blogposts about La Mouette. When owners of a restaurant put their own dinner at The Roundhouse ahead in importance of the disaster that they leave behind at their own restaurant you must know that you have a problem.

          • Henry Gum says:

            No, definitely not Henry Vigar. I am very much a South African. Chris, the problem I have with your comments on La Mouette is that I know you haven’t set foot in that restaurant for over 2 years. How can you possibly still have an opinion about them based on current own experience? What do you base your criticism on? Something that happened back just after they opened? I’ve eaten there many times over the years and every time is magical. Even when the chef and his wife is not there, there is no difference in standards. I am sure being snubbed by Eat Out hurts them, but then again… that restaurant is full every night winter and summer and inbetween. I bet they’re making a good living from their restaurant and surely all these 100’s of people who eat there every month can’t all be wrong can they?

          • If you are not Henry Vigar, how do you know when last I have eaten there?

            I read comments on Twitter and websites and I hear people speak (or not) about them. No one tweets about them anymore.

          • Henry Gum says:

            Chris, I assure you I am not Henry Vigar. I know you haven’t eaten there in years because I’ve seen when last you blogged about them. So you base your entire criticism on La Mouette on what happened the last time you were there on the 2/9/2010 (I checked your postscript date – that’s 3 years, not 2!), on other people’s opinions and the number of Tweets they are mentioned in? Seriously?! For someone who meticulously research her blogs, I find that decidedly amateurish. Imagine someone criticising your guesthouse even though they haven’t been there in 3 years. Would you consider that fair?

          • Henry, I think it’s getting suspect how you are defending La Mouette.

            I do not write a postscript nor a new review every time I return to a restaurant and I do not document Twitter and word of mouth observations. They form a picture.

            I have not criticised La Mouette, and only commented that it does not surprise me that they are not Top 20.Their location has been a disaster ever since Checkers started building across the road, they are rude, they put their own pleasure ahead of those of their guests, they cheat on their winelist vintages, and they do not invest in long term customer relationships.

            Let’s put a stop to this – neither you or I have any power to change anything at Eat Out about La Mouette anyway!

          • Henry Gum says:

            I am defending them as I am a huge fan of La Mouette and its owners. I am a regular, but I am also a critical thinker, and a foodie and that is why I find the criticism you level at them strange. Their standards are higher than most.

            I am discussing your criticism of La Mouette as directed at Darren here, not the decision of Eat Out. Yet again you base the list of things you find fault with on something that you experienced 3 years ago. It really is just a little strange. I’d love to hear when last you spoke to either Mari, Henry or Gerrit that you say they are rude?

            Your only current criticism is the Checkers issue. Checkers is definitely an problem as I had lunch there a few weeks ago and even on a Sunday there was work going on, but frankly how is that La Mouette’s fault? They cannot have control over that.

            I also have to disagree with you on long term customer relationships. I eat there at least once a month, mostly more than that. I see Darren here are also a regular. Every time I dine there I see others that I’ve seen before. So yet again, on what do you base that comment? It cannot be your own experience.

            It’s nice to see you don’t hold a grudge. Maybe you should let bygones be bygones. You’d be amazed how good that feels.

          • I don’t hold grudges Henry, but don’t return to restaurants where I am treated with disrespect after very loyal support from my side.

            La Mouette is a has-been, finish and klaar!

            This La Mouette topic is now closed! I have a day job!

  6. Christopher Mark V Lowe says:

    Thanks for the review and summary, Chris.

    Personally, I think there’s more than a hint of bias in these awards. I’m not saying they’re not good, but there are many other fine eateries out there at the moment which are considerably better.

    The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais, for example, appeals directly to (well heeled) tourists and is not a particular favourite of South Africans anymore. Besides, it’s overly expensive and, dare I say, somewhat jaded now and over rated. I’m not saying Chef Margot isn’t very, very good, I’m just saying that there are other worthy restaurants who should be in the top ten – and judges need to seek them out, stop playing safe, challenge their perceptions and not be lazy and constantly reshuffle the same old list. It’s wrong. And it’s boring.

    • Many would agree with you Christopher.

      The judges have reacted to what you are writing about The Tasting Room – a 7 place fall is drastic.

      I believe that the ‘restaurant spotters’ that recommend Top 20 candidates are not well informed about the restaurant scene, and obviously don’t read my blog often enough!

  7. darren says:

    Chris, i have just been on the Vergelelgen Camphors site and seen the following as the first intro line to the new restaurant

    The Vergelegen Team including Chef Garth Stroebel have brought acclaimed
    Chef PJ Vadas on board for this next chapter of Vergelegen’s
    hospitality rejuvenation.

    Is this the same Garth Stroebel as one of the judges named Garth Stroebel?

    If so then some serious questions need to be asked about conflict of interest

    • Yes, it is sleuth Darren from Hout Bay.

      I have also asked questions about this and pointed out the conflict of interest. Similarly, Andy Fenner wrote a book about 20 chefs (then Reuben was still one of them) and most of them were in the Top 20 collection this year. He supplies some of them too, such as Dear Me Foodworld, so they all know him. He also does collaborations with restaurants, using his products.

      The Eat Out judges booked under their own names.

      The score sheets were audited.

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