Once again the Western Cape has shown that it is the country’s culinary champion in its performance in and dominance of the 2014 American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards, which were awarded in Johannesburg last week, and in Cape Town on Monday evening. Of 95 award winning restaurants in the 16th year of review, 43 are from the Western Cape, 35 from Gauteng, 9 from KwaZulu Natal, and another eight from other provinces.
Evaluated by a judging panel consisting of Anna Trapido (previous Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge) and Victor Strugo, under the chairmanship of Tamsin Snyman, the Award-winning restaurants had to meet the criteria of offering ‘culinary excellence to discerning diners’. Eligibility for winning an award is that restaurants must accept payment by American Express® card, and honour one dinner reservation (for up to 4) by a Platinum Cardmember who books before 10h30 on the same day. The organisers say that the latter criterion disqualifies a lot of top restaurants that are too small to give this guarantee, or are exclusive properties that cater only for resident guests.
A number of records were broken in the sixteen year history of the Awards:
- At 95, it was the highest number of awards in a single year, an increase from 83 last year
- At 17, the largest number of new awards in any year since the inaugural awards of 1998
- At 7, the number of restaurants which received their 10th Award, and added to the Roll of Honour
- At 7, the number of provinces included in the awards
Standards are reviewed annually by the judges and their panel of experienced ‘ghost’ reviewers. Awards are not renewed automatically. ‘Six of last year’s winners failed to receive 2014 awards. Conversely, four restaurants that had slipped up before they raised their game and were re-instated‘, said Stugo. Four previous restaurant award winners closed their doors in the past year.
Interesting is the award statistics, in reflecting the restaurant industry over the past sixteen years: ‘The entire span of these awards counts only 189 restaurants over 16 years. Of these just over half (95) are currently winners, 48 have closed over the years and 46 previous winners have been suspended. The judges’ final word: ‘Eighty-four restaurants have won at least four times and 28 have ten or more Platinum Awards on their walls. In a volatile economy and competitive industry, these numbers emphasize that the American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards succeed in identifying not only excellence but consistent excellence.’
Tamsin Snyman, who chairs the regional chapter of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, said about dining. ‘We must align ourselves with global food trends and thinking. With travel and technology transfer, SA no longer lags behind the world or adopts last year’s global fashion as our latest thing. If even relaxed, informal, “fun” restaurants uncompromisingly maintain their integrity, honesty and professionalism, serving fabulous food with a high standard of service, offer me a “fine” dining experience in the true modern sense of that word.’
The American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards recipients are the following:
* First-time Award recipients: Signal, Waterkloof, De Grendel, The Orchid Room, Five Hundred (dessert above, from MasterChef SA), La Scala, Signature, Sophia’s Bistro, Vin MMX, Wangthai, Neh!, Zemara, Su Casa, Zest, De Hoek, Rambling Vine, and Stef’s Kitchen
* Ten-time Award recipients:( about to be closing) Constantia Uitsig*, Reuben’s Franschhoek (which only opened in 1994, so can only have received nine awards), Zachary’s, Bukhara, Osteria Tre Nonni, Geet, and Harvey’s in Umhlanga.
The full list of 2014 American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards winners is:
- Johannesburg (28): Balata, Bellagio, Bellgables, BICE, Bukhara, Butcher Shop & Grill, Café del Sol, DW11-13, 500 at Saxon, Il Tartufo, Jazz Maniacs (Soweto), La Campagnola, La Cucina di Ciro, La Scala, Le Soufflé, Mastrantonio, Neh! (Alexandra), Osteria Tre Nonni, Red Chamber, Roots at Forum Homini, Sel et Poivre, Signature, Sophia’s Bistro, Thava, Vin MMX, Wangthai, Wombles, Yamato
- Cape Town (20): Aubergine, Azure, Bistro Sixteen82, Bistrot Bizerca, Bombay Brasserie, Buitenverwachting, Bukhara, Catharina’s, Constantia Uitsig, The Foodbarn, GOLD Restaurant, The Greenhouse, Haiku; Il Leone, La Colombe, Myoga, Nobu, Planet Restaurant, Savoy Cabbage, Signal
- Cape Winelands (14): 96 Winery Road, Bosman’s, Bread & Wine, De Grendel, Fraai Uitzicht 1798, Grande Provence, Mimosa Lodge, Overture, The Pavilion, Pierneef at La Motte, Reuben’s Franschhoek, Rust en Vrede, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, Waterkloof
- KwaZulu-Natal (9): Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Daruma, Hartford House, Harvey’s, Ile Maurice, Ninth Avenue Bistro, Roma Revolving Restaurant, Spice, Sugar Club
- Garden Route (8): La Locanda (George), Kurland Hotel Restaurant, Zinzi at Tsala (Plettenberg Bay), Serendipity (Wilderness), Trans Karoo (Great Brak), Pembreys, The Orchid Room, Zachary’s (Knysna)
- Pretoria (7): Geet, La Madeleine, La Brasserie de Paris, La Pentola, Restaurant Mosaic, Ritrovo Ristorante, Zemara
- North West (4): De Hoek, Rambling Vine (Magaliesburg); Silver Orange, Stef’s Kitchen (Hartbeespoort)
- Free State (2): De Oude Kraal, Seven on Kellner
- Eastern Cape (1): Hacklewood Hill (Port Elizabeth)
- Klein Karoo (1): Su Casa (Oudtshoorn)
- Mpumalanga (1): Zest (Nelspruit)
Interesting will be to see which of the 95 American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Award winners will feature on the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, which should be announced soon, given that the Eat Out Top Restaurant Awards are being held much earlier this year. Visible exclusions from the lists above, but which could appear on the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, are Camphors at Vergelegen, Delaire Graff Restaurant, Indochine, Tokara, Babel, Terroir, Jordan’s Restaurant, and Makaron.
POSTSCRIPT 25/9: I spoke to a charming telephonist at Constantia Uitsig* this evening, and asked her about the status of the restaurant’s rumoured closure as a result of the sale of the wine estate. She apologetically told me that she does not know anything, the owners and managers not sharing any information with the staff. All she could say was that they are not allowed to take bookings for any dates after 30 November. The staff appear to be hearing more about the restaurant’s future from their customers than from their management. The hotel and Constantia Uitsig restaurant have been rumoured to be closing while La Colombe and River Café are said to continue operating.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage