Looking back at 2012 on the last day of the year, every business will be grateful that it is still around, given that the international world is still in recession, and the impact thereof has made itself felt in South Africa too. It is heartening that fewer hospitality businesses closed their doors this year, but it is clear that fewer restaurants have opened, and few top-end ones in particular. So what stood out in 2012?:
* The worst winter season ever for the hospitality industry, following a poor winter 2011, not just related to the poor economy and traditional Seasonality, but also to the exceptionally wet winter, which deterred Johannesburgers from coming to the Cape, and prevented Capetonians from taking weekends off in Western Cape towns and villages.
* No marketing of Cape Town and the Western Cape. Cape Town Routes Unlimited was amalgamated into Wesgro in April, yet no visible marketing has been done for the province, and no Tourism Director has been appointed, a serious fail! Cape Town Tourism’s funder, the City of Cape Town, withdrew the tourism body’s destination marketing mandate, and chopped a few million Rands off the budget, as a sign of no-confidence. The City promptly set up its own Tourism, Events and Marketing department under Anton Groenewald, its Executive Director, the main task being to urgently make the City asset, the Cape Town Stadium, financially viable. Consequently neither Cape Town Tourism nor the City of Cape Town has done any marketing of Cape Town! This will make itself felt next year, Cape Town currently only selling itself by visitor recommendation, not being strong enough to address the oversupply of accommodation in Cape Town.
* Shock was expressed when SAA cut its London – Cape Town route, yet does not appear to have affected UK business to Cape Town, given how depressed tourism from the UK still is, for the second year running.
* A surprise has been the virtual shutdown of all major businesses, tourism attractions, and restaurants over the festive season, on Christmas Day in particular. We cannot understand that the management of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town Tourism and many other tourism businesses can have been on holiday while Cape Town was at its fullest last week, and tourists experienced severe inconvenience and shocking service from their businesses as a result.
* The judging process of the 2012 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants was a debacle for the second year running, with its editor Abigail Donnelly demonstrating extreme favouritism to Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, featuring him in each edition of Woolworths’ Taste magazine (no other chef in our country is featured more than once a year, if at all!). Mrs Donnelly included Chef Luke’s The Pot Luck Club in her Top 20 restaurant shortlist, when it had not been open for a full 12 months, the most important rule of the competition, known to Mrs Donnelly, and was accepted by Chef Luke! The restaurant had to be withdrawn from the competition as a result. To improve her image as a result of the 2011 Restaurant Award bias issues (Makaron and The Table at De Meye), Mrs Donnelly made the fatal error of choosing UK restaurant blogger Bruce Palling, who insulted our country’s cuisine, springbok in particular, and ourselves in daring to criticise him for having been chosen by Eat Out. In the period between his visit to South Africa in September and the gala awards evening in November, New Media Publishing and Palling had fallen out, which meant that he did not attend the ceremony! The Top 10 list was boring, with little new blood, and contained surprise inclusions and rankings. But it was Mrs Donnelly’s ‘editor’s choice’ of Saigon as the top Asian restaurant in South Africa that made her the laughing stock of the restaurant industry. Unfortunately for her she was unable to blame Palling for this misguided choice! We have called for her removal from Eat Out, given that she has no credibility amongst most restaurant owners and chefs anymore.
* Despite the tough times, it was a delight to see Burrata opening at the Old Biscuit Mill, owned by Neil Grant, previously of Rust en Vrede. He has created a friendly Italian-style restaurant, which has already been named the best emerging Italian restaurant in Africa and the Middle East. Other new openings that have made a difference in Cape Town include I Love my Laundry, Tamboers Winkel, Orphanage, De Grendel Restaurant, and Camphors at Vergelegen. Bizerca Bistrot’s move to the Gourmet Burger premises appears to be of benefit. Franschhoek has seen four new restaurant openings in December alone, being The Rotisserie at Leopard’s Leap, The Stall, Sacred Ground, and the Antipasto Bar at Antonjie Rupert Wines’ new tasting room at the previous Graham Beck tasting room. Surprise closures were two Caveau restaurants, and Paulaner Brauhaus.
* Franschhoek may have lost its title as Gourmet Capital, but it certainly is strengthening its reputation as Wine Capital of the country, having made Platter Winery of the Year in 2012 (Boekenhoutskloof) and in 2013 (Chamonix). La Motte was named the best wine tourism wine estate for the second year running by the Great Wine Capitals of the World, while Tokara won the best Wine restaurant accolade two years running. The closing down of the Graham Beck tasting room in Franschhoek has been a loss for the village, ironically just as the village is to launch a Cap Classique and Champagne Route.
* MasterChef SA delighted, and captured attention, even if many viewers were critical of the judges, and were disappointed in the level of the cuisine. We have loved meeting many of the contestants. It was the death knell for Chef Reuben Riffel’s reputation, endorsing Robertsons’ spices, and cost Sonia Cabano a very short-lived career as Social Media Manager of Robertsons.
* The Jubilee celebration and two Olympic celebrations, with their Opening and Closing ceremonies, made for entertaining television, and especially when combined with Twitter. Twitter has established itself as a vital element of Social Media marketing and communications, but the ability of vituperative Tweeters to vent their anger and abuse on others without consequence remains a problem.
We thank your suppliers, and Pick ‘n Pay in particular, without whom we cannot operate our business, and our loyal guests for supporting us this year. We acknowledge all businesses that buck the trend, and try hard to offer excellent service. We thank our loyal blog readers for their support, and for the comments sent, even if challenging at times! We wish all of you a festive New Year’s Eve celebration.
POSTSCRIPT 7/8: Über controversial Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant 2012 international judge Bruce Palling has left the Wall Street Journal Europe and has joined Perowne Charles Communications to set up its food and drink division. ‘Palling will lead PCC’s account team representing well-known food and drinks brands, Michelin-star chefs as well as new launches, with clients including Epicure at Le Bristol Paris and Aziamendi at Iniala Beach House in Phuket‘. Funny is reading the agency’s blogpost about Palling’s appointment, clearly written by him and how he quotes his Eat Out excursion in his ‘CV’!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage