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