On Sunday the eagerly awaited Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards 2015 winners will be announced at its Gala Lunch, to be held at new event venue SunExhibits Centre at GrandWest. As is our tradition, we attempt a prediction of the Eat Out Top 10 winners as well as comment on the other awards to be presented Continue reading →
The Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards event is a highlight on the restaurant calendar, held for the 17th year, and at Thunder City for the first time last night. The results surprised, with one heavyweight chef sliding right off the Top 10 list, while a new restaurant made Top 10. Two restaurants which did not make the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist in 2013 flew back into Top 10 last night. Stellenbosch remains the Gourmet Capital of South Africa (4 Top 10 restaurants), followed by 3 in Johannesburg, and 1 each in Cape Town, Franschhoek, and Hermanus. While the award recipients were acceptable, the food was a disaster.
Thunder City is not an ideal venue for a function of this magnitude (800 guests, but advertised as 1000 initially), being difficult to find – the petrol station one block away from the turn-off had no clue where Thunder City is, and there were no signs off Borcherds Quarry Road, other than some posters held by men, only visible in the last minute. I followed a taxi, there being no further signage to Thunder City. We were collected from the VIP parking by a Mercedes-Benz shuttle van, and I arrived just as the event started, Chef Pete Goffe-Wood doing a tribute to Chef Bruce Robertson, who passed away two weeks ago. The lighting was poor for Continue reading →
Will the resignation of two 2014 Eat Out Top 10 Chefs, with a third to come it is rumoured, make it the easiest hop into the 2015 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list ever? While it is a bit early, we speculate as to which new restaurants will make it onto the Eat Out Top 20 and Top 10 Restaurant lists later this year.
Given the strict rule of an Executive Chef having to have worked a full twelve months (November 2013 to October this year) to qualify to get onto the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, the three restaurants with the departing chefs will not qualify to make Top 20 for the judging in the next two months or so. Hartford House and Pierneef à La Motte should definitely be off the list, and the third Top 10 restaurant will be confirmed shortly (see Postscript below). Chef Chris Erasmus left Pierneef à La Motte a week ago, to open his new restaurant Foliage on the main road of Franschhoek next month, while Chef Jackie Cameron is opening Jackie Cameron’s School of Food and Wine in Hilton in January next year, but leaves at the end of July. The third chef is rumoured to move from the Winelands to Cape Town, to open his own new restaurant, and could not be reached yesterday due to the restaurant being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. We would not be surprised if a fourth Top 10 restaurant chef makes a move to Cape Town too, given the number of new restaurants opening in the next few months. Continue reading →
After 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 Continue reading →
New Media Publishing has released the results of its qualitative and quantitative research conducted amongst top chefs and restaurant diners, respectively, in guiding the 2014 Eat Out Top 10 Awards this year. The proposed changes are likely to improve the image of the Eat Out Restaurant Awards, which reached an all-time low in the past two years.
To recap: Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly lost credibility for offering (undisclosed) menu consulting services to the newly established Makaron restaurant at Majeka House two years ago, a restaurant which was awarded the Boschendal Style Award in that year, personally chosen by Mrs Donnelly! Even worse for her reputation was the appointment of herself as the sole Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards judge in that year, having fired her co-judges (MasterChef SA judge) Pete Goffe-Wood, Anna Trapido (author of the book on Nelson Mandela’s eating and drinking habits), and Chef (and MasterChef SA Culinary Manager) Arnold Tanzer. To fix the dissatisfaction following this fiasco, Mrs Donnelly chose to appoint an unknown British food blogger and occasional online Wall Street Journal newsletter writer Bruce Palling, who proved to be a disaster, with no scruples in divulging his judgement of our top restaurants six months after evaluating them, trashing all but four restaurants, and refusing to return for the Eat Out Top 10 Awards gala dinner because he was not offered a Business Class ticket by New Media Publishing. Not only did we criticise the choice of appalling Mr Palling as a judge, but Top 10 Chef George Jardine Continue reading →
Last year Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly introduced a new series of complementary awards to the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, having been the sole judge of both sets of awards. This year Mrs Donnelly made the fatal error of choosing UK Blogger Bruce Palling to give her credibility for her choice of Top 20 restaurants, out of which the Top 10 Restaurant list will be announced tomorrow evening. She also has named the ‘Best Of’ awards her ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards, making it clear that she is the sole judge of the awards, and that Palling had no input in these awards. We have already seen irregularities on the Top 19 Restaurant shortlist, so it will be interesting to see which of Mrs Donnelly’s favourites and friends will be rewarded in the ‘Best Of’ categories.
What is interesting this year is that the finalist restaurants in the six ‘Best of’ categories have been pre-announced, unlike last year, when only the Boschendal Style Award finalists were announced. There is one exception, being the Best Italian category, for which the finalists have not been announced. Could it mean that this category is once again reserved for Mrs Donnelly darling Chef Giorgio Nava of 95 Keerom Street, last year’s winner in this category?
Something else that is noticeable is the vast number of listings in each of the ‘Best Of’ categories, which makes one think that New Media Publishing is dreadfully short of money this year:
* they did not have enough money to put their Eat Out 2012 judge Bruce Palling into a first class seat to attend the Awards event tomorrow evening, as per Palling’s Tweet and confirmed by New Media Publishing
* advertisers were hounded to place advertisements in the new Eat Out magazine, and the rates tumbled the closer it got to the deadline date!
* even worse, the 24 reviewers were not invited to the Gala Awards dinner until a week ago, having been invited to the dinner in all the past years. They were fuming in having been left out, and many made other plans for tomorrow evening, and will therefore not be able to attend. The Eat Out Review Team is interesting in itself, with long-standing Eat Out reviewers Graham Howe, Diane de Beer, Greg Landman, and Errieda du Toit, to which have been added bloggers (but not known as restaurant reviewers on their blogs) Dax Villaneuva, Tandy Sinclair, and Ishay Govender. The remaining 17 reviewers – Carla Rossouw, Charlotte Pregnolato, Colette du Plessis, Frank Chemaly, Hennie Fisher, Janine Walker, Kate Ziervogel, Lee Middleton, Lisa van Aswegen, Louise Liebenberg, Marie-Lais Emond, Nothando Moleketi, Paula Mackenzie, Pero Lotz, Priscilla Urquhart, Richard Holmes, and Sdu Gerasch – are unknown.
* linked to the above is the vast number of ‘Best of‘ restaurants listed per category, e.g. 43 in the ‘Best Asian Restaurants’ category, 24 in the ‘Best Steakhouses’ category, 33 ‘The Best Country-Style Restaurants’, 15 ‘Boschendal Style Award’ nominations, and an astounding 52 nominations for ‘Best Bistro’, a total of 167 restaurant nominations minus some duplications! If the restaurants were to send a representative or two in the hope of winning the category award, a large number of seats for the Gala Awards dinner will have been sold!
The Bistro category sounds more like a ‘Proudly South African’ cuisine listing, and contains some odd nominations such as Hemelhuijs, Babel, Bread & Wine, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Ile de Pain, and many more on the list of 52! A Bistro is defined by Eat Out as offering fresh and seasonal produce, having a small kitchen, limited staff, being homely, with congenial hosts, ‘endless amounts of wine‘, ‘spectacular food’, and regular menu changes. An obvious exclusion is Bistrot Bizerca from this category, but being a Top 19 finalist may have excluded them from this category. Worthy winners would be Bistro Sixteen82, Dear Me, and The Foodbarn. The nominees are in Johannesburg (Bellagio, Coner Café and Bistro, Eatery JHB, The Leopard, Possums Deli and Bistro, Salvation Café, Tashas in Sandton, Hyde Park, Melrose, Arch, Morningside, Rosebank, Village View, Thomas Maxwell Bistro; in Pretoria (Carlton Café, Karoo Café, Silver Orange Bistro, Zest Bistro); in Durban (9th Avenue Bistro, Bellavue, Craft Trattoria, Marco Paulo, Café 1999, Unity Brasserie and Bar); in Cape Town (Bistro Sixteen82, Constantia Uitsig, Dear Me, The Foodbarn, Hemelhuijs, La Mouette, Societi Bistro, Societi Brasserie, Woodlands Eatery); in (undefined) ‘South’ (96 Winery Road, Babel, Bar Bar Black Sheep, Bread & Wine, The Burgundy Restaurant, Café Felix, The Common Room, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Hilda’s Kitchen at Grootte Post, Ile de Pain, The Kitchen at Maison, Pembrey’s, Reuben’s Franschhoek – not meeting any of the defined Bistro criteria – Scotty’s, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Stables at Vergelegen); in (undefined) ‘East’ (The Bistro, Gordon’s Restaurant, Haricot’s Deli & Bistro, Skye Bistro at Fordoun, Two Dogs Bistro); and in (undefined) ‘North and Central’ (Mrs Simpsons, O’s restaurant).
The Best Country-style Award nomination list includes the controversial winner of 2011, being The Table at De Meye, a regular past photographer colleague of Mrs Donnelly. Surprise omissions are The Kitchen at Maison, The Long Table, Fyndraai, The Millhouse Kitchen at Lourensford, Tamboers Winkel, Creation, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Oep ve Eet in Paternoster, and Johan’s at Longridge. A likely winner would be Mariana’s, a regular past winner of a similar award, and a regular contributor to Taste magazine, as well as Babel, the restaurant with the most nominations (on Top 19 list, as well as Style Award, and Best Bistro nominee). Defined as ‘homely, heart-warming and belly-filling kos’, food in the style of one’s grandmother. The nominees are located in Gauteng (Bellgables Country Restaurant, Die Ou Pastorie, Meadow Green, Roots at Forum Homini, The Other Side Restaurant, Monaghan Farm, The Rambling Vine); in the Western Cape (Babel, Bramon, The Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle, Dassiesfontein on the N2 highway near Caledon, De Kaap in McGregor, Eight at Spier, Fynboshoek Cheese, Fresh, The Goatshed at Fairview, Havercroft’s, Hilda’s Kitchen, Houw Hoek Farm Stall, Karoux, Mariana’s, Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, The Stone Kitchen in Wellington, The Table at De Meye, Thyme at Rosemary’s Restaurant, Towerbosch, The Wild Apricot); and in KwaZulu-Natal (Café Bloom, Caversham Hill, Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, La Lampara, Nicolson’s Café, and Tumble Downs).
The omission of Belthazar from the Best Steakhouses category nomination list may relate to Eat Out ex-judge Bruce Palling‘s last South African dinner! This category is typically won by a Johannesburg restaurant, the city being known for its collection of good steak restaurants. Nominees are in Johannesburg (Butcher Shop & Grill, Gray, The Grillhouse, HQ, Karoo Cattle and Land, The Local Grill, Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse, Thundergun, Turn & tender, Wombles); in Mpumalanga (Pioneers Butchery & Grill); in The Free State (The Phatt Chef); in the Eastern Cape (Flava); in Cape Town (Barristers, Carne SA, Cattle Baron – The Grill House, HQ, The Hussar Grill in Camps Bay, Karoo Cattle & Land); in Durban (The Grill Room at The Oyster Box, Havana Grill, Joop’s Place, Steak & Ale); and in Pretoria (Karoo Cattle & Land).
The Best Asian Restaurants list was an easy one to fill up, and contains last year’s winner Kitima, as well as popular Willoughby’s at the V&A Waterfront, potential Top 20 candidate Indochine, and Nobu (not eligible to make Top 20 list this year, due to a chef change). The nominees are in Johannesburg (Al Makka, Dawaat Pakistan Restaurant, Ghazal North Indian REstaurant, The Good Luck Club, Koi, Kong Roast, Midori, The Red Chamber, Shanyana Vegetarian Restaurant, Sitar, Yamato); in Pretoria (Guia, Shilla Korean Cuisine, Wing Hin); in Durban (China Plate, Gounden’s, House of Curries, Mo’s Noodles, Spice); in the Eastern Cape (Just So Chinese Restaurant, Shanghai); in Bloemfontein (Nagoya); on the Garden Route (Firefly Eating House); in the Winelands (Genki, Indochine at Delaire Graff, Okamai); and in Cape Town (1890 Sushi House, Biesmiellah, Bombay Brasserie, Bukhara, Chandani, Chef Pon’s Asian Kitchen, Erawan, Haiku, Kitima, Kyoto Sushi Garden, Maharajah, Maharaj Pure Vegetarian, Nobu, Saigon, South China Dim Sum Bar, Takumi, Willoughby & Co).
Pierneef à La Motte, Makaron Restaurant, Babel, The Greenhouse, Overture, Planet Restaurant, and The Tasting Room are nominated for a Top 10 and a Boschendal Style Award. Makaron Restaurant won last year, without Mrs Donnelly disclosing her consultancy relationship with the restaurant, and her accolade about the restaurant described the M Bar of Majeka House rather than Makaron! Almost all the restaurants are more than a year old, with the exception of Burrata, a restaurant which Mrs Donnelly only got to eat at six months after it opened! The nominees are Burrata, Keenwa (odd choice), The Restaurant at Waterkloof (consolation prize for losing out on Top 20 nomination?), Craft Trattoria in Durban, Babel at Babylonstoren, Café del Sol, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, The Greenhouse (lots of bunnies), The Walnut Grove in Sandton, The Red Chamber, Tasha’s Le Parc, The ‘Greenhouse’ (sic – actually called the Babel Tea House!) at Babylonstoren, Hemelhuijs (an Abi favourite), The Kitchen at Maison, Pierneef à La Motte, Overture (a consolation prize?), Planet Restaurant (a consolation prize?), LIFE Grand Café, and last year’s finalist Kream. Obvious omissions in this category are Casparus, Delaire Graff, and Indochine. There is no obvious winner, especially as so few of the restaurants are new, but Hemelhuijs would be a strong contender, changing its decor regularly.
We await the announcement of the ‘Best of‘ category winners on tomorrow evening with interest! It is clear that Mrs Donnelly could not have visited or eaten at each of the 167 ‘Best of’ nominated and Top 20 Finalist restaurants in the course of one year!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
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 Babylonstoren – Consultant 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
Newly appointed Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards international judge Bruce Palling left Cape Town on Monday, ‘after stupendous fortnight of feasting and tasting in South Africa…’, he Tweeted. His Tweets caused a stir when he arrived in Cape Town, and he left on a poor note, in criticising his meal at Belthazar at the V&A Waterfront with an unfair and misleading Tweet about his last dinner in Cape Town!
As we have written, food blogger Palling was invited to the country to restore Eat Out’s reputation after last year’s Awards were judged solely by its editor Abigail Donnelly, leading to controversial decisions. Palling had to confirm Mrs Donnelly’s Top 20 finalist list, revealed yesterday after Palling had left Cape Town, assist her in the ranking of the Top 10 restaurants, and assist in the decision as to which restaurants would receive the category awards for Best Bistro, Best Italian Restaurant, Best Asian Restaurant, Best Country-Style Restaurant, Best Steakhouse, and receive the Boschendal Style Award.
Palling set about ‘feasting and tasting’ his way around our country, and seems to have done 26 lunches and dinners in Cape Town predominantly, with only a lunch at DW Eleven-13 in Johannesburg on Saturday, and Pretoria and Durban not appearing to have featured on his travel agenda, judging by his Tweets. Anyone following Palling’s Tweets would have picked up that he was censored by his hosts, as he was revealing too much about the dishes he was eating, especially the Springbok, which he ate on at least three occasions and was less than complimentary about initially, so much so that he had to apologise to our national game dish: “Take back Springbok being boring/bland – had 2 non sous vide versions which lean + voluptuous helped along by Raats Cabernet Franc 08″‘! One senses from his Tweets prior to his arrival in Cape Town that he loves to Tweet what he eats (we know the feeling!), but he must have been most frustrated in not being able to do so locally, so he had to resort to Tweeting photographs of wine bottles instead, which were clues as to his whereabouts in themselves.
Of his 26 lunch and dinner opportunities in Cape Town, only two were deemed ‘private’, which meant that he could provide their names, and Tweet about them. His Tweet about Biesmiellah in Bo-Kaap was an a-palling example of poor journalism, riddled with typing errors: “Taking a break at Biedmiellah (sic) – Babotie (sic) and Denning Vleis (sic)”. Poor quality writing, not what one would expect from a ‘journalist’! The photograph he Tweeted (right) was most unappetising.
It was his last Cape Town dinner at Belthazar that caused outrage, at the unfair attack in a Tweet on what is judged by most as the city’s best steak restaurant: “Private dinner @ Belthazar – first steak so dry had to send it back – then rare fillet still chilly inside – what’s problem? -v frustrating”. As Belthazar is not on Twitter, we contacted the restaurant to check what had happened, given its good reputation. We discovered an a-palling misrepresentation by Palling in the Tweet, reflecting his unprofessionalism. We spoke to Executive Chef Gracious Phakamani, the Sommelier Bantu Masseti, the junior manager Serge Kabuya, and the waiter Hassan, all of whom had been on duty that evening, and the following emerged about Palling’s dinner at Belthazar: Palling arrived alone, and the first thing he told the Sommelier was that he is a ‘restaurant reviewer’, but that he was not reviewing Belthazar, something no professional reviewer would do, and was unnecessary as he was eating there ‘privately’! He then showed the Sommelier a list of wines he was interested in tasting, and not all were available by the glass, so Sommelier Bantu suggested alternatives that were close to the ones Palling wanted to try. Palling drank a glass of Tokara Director’s Reserve 2004 (yet Tweeted a photograph of the 2008 bottle) at R165, a glass of Bellingham The Bernard SMV at R150, and a glass of Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz at R110. As a starter Palling ordered a 700g Chicago Cut steak (R310), which he ordered rare, but was advised by the waiter to order medium rare, which he was happy with. Not having eaten enough (despite an earlier two course lunch at a restaurant on the Top 20 list) and the 700g steak, he decided on eating a 250 g fillet steak (R169) too, which he ordered rare. He sent it back, saying it was cold inside. Chef Gracious put it back on the grill, and the now Medium Rare steak was returned, judged by Palling as still being too cold inside. The Chef prepared a fresh steak for Palling, again prepared Rare, and the third time round he was happy with it. Chef Gracious has been at the Slick Group of restaurants (owning Belthazar and Balducci’s) for fifteen years, and rarely has had a steak returned, let alone two by the same customer, he related. There was no feedback to the Belthazar staff about the steak being too ‘dry’. Palling had such a good time at the restaurant that he gave his newly acquired Mount Nelson ballpoint pen to the waiter as a present, tipped the waiter R160 (15%) on the R1086 bill, and told the Manager Serge that he had an enjoyable evening, and that he would return to the restaurant in November, when he returns to Cape Town for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards evening. All four Belthazar staff were shocked when they read Palling’s Tweet about his dinner, not reflecting the events truthfully, and he was even mis-steak-en about the sequence of the orders and the nature of his four steaks!
Palling also showed up Mrs Donnelly, in saying in a Cape Talk interview last week that two of the potential Eat Out Top 20 restaurants which he had to judge were ‘ghastly‘, although he did acknowledge that a ‘couple could rank in the top 10 -12 in the world‘. He admitted that he is ‘keen on wine’, and this seemed to be a greater focus of his eating than the food, reflected in his Tweets too. In the radio interview Palling also said in general there was too much of a preamble about the dish when it was served, when ‘it is already described in detail on the menu’. He admitted that he had not understood springbok initially, ‘but now I like it’! He found that our restaurant dishes are too busy, with 6 – 9 ingredients on the plate, which he called ‘confusion food‘, and advised chefs to simplify their dishes, to ‘focus on what is good’.
Seeing the very safe and predictable Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Awards Finalist List yesterday, despite some controversy, one can ask whether Mrs Donnelly made a mis-steak in involving Palling in judging the Top 20 Restaurants, as she could quite safely have chosen the same list without Palling’s help. Palling has been a bolshy visitor to Cape Town, embarrassed himself and his host New Media Publishing in being a very rude and defamatory Tweeter, had to be reined in about his Tweeting so as to not give away where he was eating, kicked off his visit with controversy about his springbok and race-insensitive Tweets, and ended off his visit with a dishonest Tweet disparaging Belthazar! No matter how much Eat Out has puffed up Blogger Palling’s profile to justify its choice of him as a judge, it appears to have been a mis-steak!
POSTSCRIPT 19/9: Mr Palling has retaliated nastily to this blogpost with a number of Tweets: ‘@GrandDedale @WhaleCottage @Eat_Out Belthazar sommelier nice guy, though only 1 of 10 wines I enquired was available but steaks the problem’; a more nasty one: ‘@GrandDedale @WhaleCottage @Eat_Out Confucius say : Always let lying dogs sleep’; and even worse, disparaging both Belthazar and ourselves ‘Avoid Belthazar in Cape Town – not only are their steaks unrested tough + tasteless, they discuss your incompetent meal with cetacean trolls’; and the fourth insult ‘@Konfytbekkie Tks for sharing – Belthazar meal v depressing but even more that they reveal all details of guests dinner to serial trivialist’. Palling himself Tweeted the content of his Belthazar dinner! The fifth missile he fired was aimed at ourselves too, showing he does not understand the role of Social Media: ‘ @Konfytbekkie Tks for sharing but must say the blogger so insignificant that her absurd mentions are never noticed by my Google Alert’. One wonders how New Media Publishing must be feeling about their offensive Eat Out judge! The stream of Tweets is continuing from a-palling Mr Palling: ‘@Gabbles17 @GrandDedale @WhaleCottage @Eat_Out A liar too – chides me for tweeting wrong wine pix when I spelt out that it was different one’; and ‘@MarinaOLoughlin Stalked by moronic lying troll while in SA – loves shit-stirring and will report this to my employers and demand retraction’.
POSTSCRIPT 19/9: Despite Mr Palling’s assistance in the compilation of the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Finalist List, it did not prevent Mrs Donnelly from showing her bias yet again, by having included The Pot Luck Club, a restaurant which has not been operating for a full year. Chef Luke Dale-Roberts withdrew his newer restaurant from the Top 20 list today, which means that both Mr Palling and Mrs Donnelly, with Eat Out and its publishers New Media Publishing, have lost face completely, and that the Eat Out Restaurant Awards have become a farce! This is how Eat Out ‘packaged’ the announcement: ‘Our original communication listed The Pot Luck Club as one of the nominees. However, on discussion with chef Luke Dale-Roberts, we discovered the restaurant only opened in December 2011, and not in November 2011. (One month short of the cut-off.) Therefore, as per our judging criteria, The Pot Luck Club is not eligible for the awards this year. Luke fully supports our decision and we wish him all the best with the restaurant for 2013!’
POSTSCRIPT 21/9: We have been alerted to a glowing review of Belthazar, written by JP Rossouw in Business Day on 14 September, just two days prior to Palling’s visit to the restaurant, and which confirms the stature of this steak restaurant.
POSTSCRIPT 26/9: Michael Olivier conducted an interview with Bruce Palling via Skype, after his visit to South Africa, which he published on his blog yesterday. The interview provides some more insights into Palling. He has no culinary background, his first exotic food encounter being with the avocado pear. He emphasised that he is a ‘food writer’, and not a restaurant reviewer or food critic! Palling looks ‘to have fun’ in a restaurant, ‘it’s not an intellectual exercise’. He likes to be ‘made to feel special’, recommending ‘make celebrities feel like ordinary people, and ordinary people like celebrities’. The 2005 and 2007 Vriesenhof Pinot Noirs were the most interesting that he drank whilst in South Africa, recommended to him by Majeka House. He admits to eating burgers. The Platter South African Wines 2012 is one of the books on his bedside table, most others being food related, but none from South Africa.
POSTSCRIPT 5/11: It would appear that the question we asked in the headline of this blogpost was apt, as Bruce Palling Tweeted today that he will not be attending the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards Gala Dinner on 25 November: “Sorry to announce that will not be attending Eat Out Awards ceremony – due to “unforeseen circumstances” New Media won’t provide me a ticket”. Eat Out and its publisher New Media Publishing have not responded, and the magazine website does not provide any information about this turn of events. At all times blogger judge Bruce Palling was going to attend the Gala Dinner! We have called Stephanie from Eat Out PR company Mango, and she said that they are in discussion with their client. She could not confirm whether a media statement will be issued. We have requested a statement from New Media Publishing MD Bridget McCarney.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
New Eat Out judge, blogger Bruce Palling from the UK, has arrived in Cape Town to assist Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant and associated awards organiser Abigail Donnelly in selecting the top ten restaurants in the country and in ranking them. He has barely set foot in the country, never having been here before, and he has attracted controversy already!
Palling is a rude Tweeter, and on Twitter yesterday afternoon he announced his arrival, having been to Clarke’s second hand bookshop on Long Street, and in having eaten springbok for lunch, commenting on its bland taste: “Cape Town on a glorious sunny Spring day – and my first experience of Springbok – surprisingly mild…was expecting more depth of flavour.. “. A chef retaliated immediately: “It’s not stag steaks stored in the deepfreezer for 3 years wrapped in wellington boots, boet”. Palling also Tweeted a comment which was criticised for its implied racism, by labelling a fellow guest on skin colour at the restaurant: “Black guest excusing lateness@Cape Town restaurant: “Sorry but had to take taxi because my Ferrari cant make it over bumps at entrance here”. For that Tweet he was admonished too, including by Über-Tweeter Jane-Anne Hobbs.
Palling, who is being accommodated at the Taj hotel, will be visiting the Top 20 restaurant list, unless Ms Donnelly has already cut that list down to her Top 10, and he will assist her in ranking the list, and in choosing the winners in the categories introduced last year: Boschendal Style Award, Best Italian, Best Asian, Best Bistro, Best Steakhouse, and Best Country Style restaurant. This is our prediction of where Palling can be expected to eat in potential 2012 Eat Out Top 10 restaurants in the next few days in the Western Cape (we have excluded Grande Provence, The Roundhouse, and Nobu due to chef changes, and other deserving restaurants at which the chefs have been at the restaurants for less than a year):
* The Test Kitchen
* The Greenhouse
* Planet Restaurant
* Makaron Restaurant
* Delaire Graff
* Pierneef à La Motte
* Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine
* La Colombe
* Rust en Vrede
* The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français
From Palling’s blogposts, of which variations are published in the Europe edition of the Wall Street Journal occasionally, one has learnt the following about his eating and drinking tastes:
1. Local is lekker: he wants to eat ‘native produce’ rather than it being imported (e.g. ‘wallaby’ in Australia!)
2. He is fond of wine, and it should be local and single varietal, and not blended
3. His benchmark is Michelin-ism
4. He is quick to describe food as ‘bland’
5. He has a ‘boredom with egg-dominated dishes’
6. He loves ‘Nordic’ (especially Swedish) cuisine
7. He scoffs at molecular gastronomy, which he calls ‘pretend food’, and likes to be able to identify produce on a plate ‘rather than look at an inanimate mixture of textures and smears’
8. He ‘cherishes food which exudes strong, not to say, disgusting odours’.
It will be interesting to see if Palling’s assistance to Ms Donnelly will make any difference to the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards results. Palling has already shown that he is a difficult and opinionated writer and judge, and a rude Tweeter.
POSTSCRIPT 5/9: Eat Out has just announced that it is hosting a weekend of food celebration from 23 – 25 November, with international chefs in attendance too: This is from their website:
“On Friday 23 November, there will be an exclusive dinner with Massimo Bottura, chef at Osteria Francescana, number 5 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the prestigious annual awards sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.
On Saturday 24 November, for the first time ever, we’ll be hosting an Eat Out Conference at The Westin Cape Town on Cape Town’s foreshore. Speakers at the inspiring, interactive day include top international chef Massimo Bottura; Bruce Palling (Wall Street Journal critic, World’s 50 Best Restaurants judge, blogger and Eat Out 2012 judge); and British food designer Andrew Stellitano (check out his incredible food landscapes, sculptural pancakes and edible Louis Vuitton handbagshere). Local speakers include reigning Chef of the Year, Luke Dale-Roberts, and prominent members of the local food and restaurant community, who’ll join a panel discussion led by Eat Out editor and judge, Abigail Donnelly.
On Sunday, the winners of the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony in the Grand Ballroom at The Westin Cape Town. A four-course meal will be prepared by top chefs, and the new Top 10 will be announced, along with the winners of the awards for best steakhouse, bistro, Asian, country-style and Italian restaurant, along with the Boschendal Style Award“.
POSTSCRIPT 9/9: Bruce Palling has been eating his way around the Cape, and the only clues that he is leaving is that he has eaten Springbok on more than one occasion, and he is Tweeting photographs of the wines he has drunk with his meals, which must be very frustrating for him, as he is a keen food photographer, but that would give the judging away! His wine choice over the past five days has included Zorgvliet Cabernet Sauvignon (vintage not mentioned), Raats Cabernet Franc 2008, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010, Raats Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paul Cluver 7 Flags Pinot Noir 2008, and Luddite Shiraz 2006. He is seeking wines with less than 14% alcohol content, to suit his wife’s requirement, and has been asking for advice on Twitter, a sad reflection on the restaurants at which he has eaten not being able to advise him! He has taken back his criticism of springbok in his Tweet on his arrival (see above), and Tweeted on Friday: “Take back Springbok being boring/bland – had 2 non sous vide versions which lean + voluptuous helped along by Raats Cabernet Franc 08”. No local chefs, with the exception of Oliver Cattermole, who is not in the running for the Eat Out Top 10 Awards as he has not been at Dish at Le Franschhoek for a full year, have interacted with Palling on Twitter. Chefs Peter Tempelhoff (Greenhouse), Jackie Cameron (Hartford House), Gregory Czarnecki (Waterkloof), Margot Janse (The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français), Scot Kirton (La Colombe), Tanja Kruger (Makaron), Eric Bulpitt (The Roundhouse), Marthinus Ferreira (DW Eleven – 13), and Tokara Restaurant are all following Palling on Twitter, perhaps hoping for a clue or two. Further disparaging Tweets in reaction to our Palling blogposts have been posted by Palling, one of which was (unprofessionally) ReTweeted by Le Quartier Français’ The Tasting Room owner Susan Huxter).
POSTSCRIPT 12/9: Le Quartier Français’ The Tasting Room and McGrath Hotels’ The Greenhouse must be concerned about Bruce Palling’s attack on ‘Relais Chateau‘ (sic) on Twitter today, both hotel groups belonging to Relais & Châteaux.
POSTSCRIPT 13/9: One hopes that Bruce Palling’s restaurant judging is better than his a-palling spelling and photography. This was his Tweet from Biesmiellah last night: “Taking a break at Biedmiellah (sic) – Babotie (sic) and Denning Vleis (sic)”. Poor quality writing, especially from a ‘journalist’!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Interesting news arrived in the media release received yesterday, announcing that Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly has appointed Bruce Palling, London-based food blogger, and food writer for Wall Street Journal Europe, to ‘assist in judging South Africa’s top restaurants‘ for the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards.
Last year Eat Out’s decision to fire its panel of judges (MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood, MasterChef SA Culinary Director Arnold Tanzer, and Anna Trapido, author of a biography about Nelson Mandela’s life through food), and the announcement that its editor would be the sole judge, was met with surprise and shock, especially when controversial decisions were made, for example, Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen was appointed Chef of the Year, and is featured in almost every issue of Taste, of which Ms Donnelly is the Food Editor, while The Greenhouse was announced the number one Top 10 restaurant; the most controversial award was that of the newly introduced Boschendal Style Award, which Ms Donnelly awarded to Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House, her (undisclosed) consulting client!; the exclusion of Tokara, with its top chef Richard Carstens, from the Top 10 restaurant list; and the award of Best Country Style Restaurant going to The Table at De Meye, which few had heard of, had only been open for a few months, and is owned by a photographer which Mrs Donnelly uses for some of her Taste shoots.
Mr Palling writes a weekly column for the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, and amended versions of his newspaper columns are featured on his blog Gastroenophile. Interesting is that a Google search found no results for anything written about Mr Palling, one just finding links to his blog posts. For the past six years he has been a judge for the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Mr Palling is Australian born, was a reporter for the BBC World Service in the former Indochina. He was a reporter for a number of publications in South-East Asia, Zimbabwe, and the USA. He then moved to travel writing for Tatler, and created a Travel Guide for them. Thereafter he created a travel company called Western & Oriental, of which he is the Chairman. He is described as having a passion for ‘fine wine and interesting food’, but also writes about travel.
Mrs Donnelly praised the new judge for being ‘an exceptional food writer’, for bringing ‘extensive international experience and knowledge to Eat Out and our awards – something that we’ve always aspired to‘. Mr Palling will assist Mrs Donnelly in selecting the ‘finalists for the Top 10 restaurants across the country‘. In yesterday’s weekly Eat Out newsletter Mrs Donnelly wrote that Mr Palling will also help to select ‘the winners of the other accolades’, including Chef of the Year, and the Service Excellence Award.
Mr Palling has never been to South Africa, and is quoted in the Eat Out media release as saying: ‘I know from my experience as a judge for the San Pellegrino Awards that South Africa is well represented among the top international contenders and I look forward to experiencing for myself what the local restaurant industry has to offer’. The Eat Out media release describes Mr Palling as an ‘internationally acclaimed gastronome’. Odd then that there is no information to be found written about him.
What dates Mr Palling severely is his reference in his profile to Zimbabwe as ‘White Rhodesia’, and his use of Blogger as his blogging platform (used by newbie amateur bloggers)!
In one of Mr Palling’s articles (‘What’ll it be? Wallaby’) he wrote about a visit to Australia three months ago, and local chefs may pick up some tips about what he looks for from it. He wrote that he was ‘disappointed by the lack of much distinctively Australian-ingredient-led cuisine, except for the occasional piece of well-cooked wallaby. There must be more native produce out there waiting to be used. Increasingly, what excites me is bold cuisine that belongs to a specific location, thanks to its unique ingredients. This is why the best New Nordic places in Scandinavia deserve all the hype. There is something fulfilling about consuming produce that relates to your region. That’s also why I adore fine wine from around the globe because it speaks of its origins and is nuanced on an annual basis by the weather. For this reason, I also think it is slightly depressing that the most famous Australian wine, Penfolds Grange, is a blend of grapes from dispersed locations rather than reflecting a specific vineyard’. In the same article he refers to his ‘passion for foraged cuisine’.
It will be interesting to see how the country’s top restaurants react to the news about the appointment of the new Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge!
POSTSCRIPT 29/7: Doing some further research on the new Eat Out Top 10 RestaurantBruce Palling, we have discovered:
* Last year Bruce Palling was one of 837 judges around the world evaluating the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. He has no specific senior position in this capacity. South Africa’s judges last year were Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, MasterChef SA Culinary Producer Arnold Tanzer, Mont Rochelle Hotel Managing Director Erwin Schnitzler, retired market researcher Henry Barenblatt, food writer and previous Eat Out editor Sam Woulidge, ex-Cafe Max owner and now Londolozi Chef Anna Ridgewell, occasional food blogger David Cope, Grand Provence GM Karl Lambour, Chef’s Warehouse & Cookery School owner and Liam Tomlin Food co-owner Liam Tomlin, Principal of Institute of Culinary Arts Letitia Prinsloo, Platter restaurant writer Jos Baker, GOLD restaurant owner Cindy Muller, winemaker and 96 Winery Road owner Ken Forrester, The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club Chef and owner Luke Dale-Roberts, Graham Beck winemaker Pieter Ferreira, and Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants co-owner Andy Fenner. The Academy Chairman for Southern Africa is Tamsin Snyman.
* Local restaurateurs with UK connections have never heard of writer Bruce Palling
* Bruce Palling does not appear to have won any awards for his writing, yet is praised by Mrs Donnelly as ‘an exceptional food writer’, not substantiating this accolade.
* The Wall Street Journal‘s Europe edition has a circulation of only 74800 (in 2011), and is on a decline. Mr Palling is one of a number of food and restaurant writers for the newspaper.
* In the quote attributed to Mr Palling in the Eat Out media release, he flatteringly wrote that he was aware that our country was ‘well represented among the international contenders’ – ironically, in the 2012 awards South Africa slipped badly, no local restaurant making the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the first time in a number of years. The Tasting Room made 57th position (down from 36th the year before) and The Test Kitchen 74th position, reflecting how ill-informed Mr Palling is!
POSTSCRIPT 30/7: Mr Palling has a-palling-ly retaliated on Twitter to this blogpost, calling me a ‘noisy blogger’, and disparaging our Whale Cottages, hardly a gentlemanly response! He must be really mad, as he has continued this afternoon with more attacking Tweets, calling me a ‘pig ignorant peasant’! He is welcome to write a response to this blogpost. Let the Games begin!
POSTSCRIPT 20/9: As we predicted, Bruce Palling’s involvement in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards has been a-palling to date, and he left Cape Town under a cloud of controversy on Monday, after 2 weeks of judging the Top 20 candidate restaurants. Despite his involvement, to help improve Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly’s image due to the controversy last year, a new bomb has burst about the initial inclusion of The Pot Luck Club on the Top 20 list when it has not been open for the 12 months required in the rules of the Award.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage