I cannot remember when an Eat Out Awards event was so exciting in its Top 10 countdown, with so many surprise restaurants on this year’s list, reflecting how more daring the Eat Out judging team has become, no longer playing it safe, which is highly commended. Since Chef Margot Janse took over in heading the Eat Out Awards judging panel in 2018, she has been ruthless in her restaurant recognition, which we already noticed when Eat Out announced its Top 30 nomination shortlist for this year, in some of the top restaurants it excluded!
The theme of the event was specified as Garden Party, the first time that attendees were asked to dress according to a theme. I was amazed at how many of the 750 restaurant lovers attending wore floral outfits, had flowers in their hair, wore socks or ties with flowers, and generally had fun dressing up. A very floral couple was Chef Pete Goffe-Wood and his wife Elize. The GrandWest Arena by comparison looked stark, in not having any decor other than some pieces of fabric hanging suspended over the venue, and faux grass in a central aisle running from the back to the front of the venue. That was it! But the table decor was green tablecloths, lots of branches of greenery in its centre, white chairs, wine glasses, and a colourful Eat Out Restaurant Awards 2019 program lying on top of a quality white napkin at each seat.
We were transported from the parking and Uber drop-off area to the entrance of the GrandWest Arena, and led through an unexciting entrance with random photographers, and persons asking to see one’s ticket. Those of us whose booking confirmation did not show a bar code had to go to ‘Customer Services’ to have the booking confirmed and the table number provided. The Howler representative was very unprofessional in referring to me as a Male, despite standing in front of him!
What was lovely was that we had place cards at the table of eight, which means that it was luck of the draw who we sat with, and next to whom we sat. I was very lucky to have architect Anton de Kock sitting next to me, and to chat to his partner Carl Preller and Samantha from Rhino Africa, the latter being as passionate about restaurants as I am. On the other side of the table was a couple from Pretoria, and a local couple, all becoming firm friends by the end of the formal proceedings at 20h00, when I had to rush off to the Waterfront. I joked that my dishes might be laced with a poisonous mushroom, based on the ‘Death Cup’ novel by Irna van Zyl, in which a ‘food blogger’ restaurant reviewer based on my Blog gets taken out. Irna sat near my table, so I went to say hello, and a photograph was taken, not our best due to very bright lights from the stage. .
It was too cold and windy to stand outside the venue for the welcome drinks and canapés, so they were served inside, along the seating for the event. Graham Beck had built a bubbly ‘fountain’ attracting attention for the brand, a sponsor of one of the awards and also supplying two of its sparkling wines, the Graham Beck Brut NV and the Graham Beck Blanc De Blanc 2015. But there was a Southern Comfort Black Hurricane, Lynchburg Lemonade, and Ginger Monkey cocktails which were offered according to the programme but not seen, as well as a Hendricks Midsummer Solstice, which was offered as we entered the venue. In the venue stands for Nederburg wines, also an award sponsor and offering the wines paired with the menu, and for Stella Artois beer were also visible. Sadly the Hennessey cognac stand of last year did not return. Very creative unusual canapés were prepared by chef students of the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine, befitting of the Garden Party theme, being Healey’s cheddar floral bouquet dipped in olive powder, and crispy capers, looking just like a mini bunch of flowers; mossy spirulina micro sponge bark, mopani worm butter, mushroom, truffle, and beetroot; and mock snail’s lunch, with garlic, a parsley and fennel shot, almonds and crispy potato, and a herb tuile, all very attractively presented, and cleverly thought through.
It was at this stage that I bumped into Chef Chris Erasmus of Foliage, with his wife, looking very smart in a blue suit, and limping and with a crutch after a recent knee operation. I gained even greater respect for the chef, in saying that he had attended every Eat Out Award ceremony in his chef career, and he would continue doing so, despite the restaurant not making the Top 30 nomination shortlist this year, a massive shock, given how highly regarded Chef Chris is for his foraging and Fynbos knowledge. Bravo!
The Masters of Ceremonies were Maps Maponyana and Elana Afrika Bredenkamp, the latter having played this role for the past five years, and generally upbeat and bubbly, except near the end when she went on and on about the Le Chocolat Easter Bunny standing with her on the stage, as if we were a bunch of children! Maps is a television presenter, and he was not comfortable in this role. The event program consisted of the presentation of the awards, interspersed with the eight food courses served, or was it the other way round? The dishes were prepared by our country’s top chefs and their teams, an amazing feat in serving 750 plates of food per each of the courses. The chefs making the dishes were a mix of Top 10 chefs, other top 30 nominees (such as Arno Janse van Rensburg of Janse & Co, left), and even Chef David Higgs (right), whose Marble restaurant did not even make the Top 30 nomination list. Chef David has always been such a good looking and friendly person, but last night it looked as if he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I loved seeing Abigail Donnelly, an Eat Out institution, looking amazing in a white outfit, and having slimmed down to half her size, no doubt the benefit of not eating out at restaurants as an Eat Out judge anymore. She deserves to have an Eat Out Award named after her.
Jason Lillie is a chef whose Jason’s Bakery restaurants are never on the Eat Out nomination list, but he is one of our best bread makers and his green 72-hour pre-fermented spinach sourdough rolls were a hit, obviously suiting the Garden Party theme. They were served with whipped black pepper buffalo feta farm butter, a delicious start to the long dinner.
A surprise was the live appearance of a section of the Ndluvo Youth Choir, which had done so well in the recent America’s Got Talent finals. The problem with the size of the venue is that we did not see much on the screen, despite its size, but the singing was a delight.
Aileen Lamb, MD of New Media Publishing, praised the industry and its chefs, and said that it was a ‘hell of a thing to be the best, but even harder to stay the best’. She said that eleven new restaurants had been added to the list this year, She acknowledged how busy chefs had been this year, Chef Luke Dale-Roberts opening a pop-up, and saluted our South African Chef-run one Michelin star restaurants JAN in Nice and Interlude at Leonardslee in the UK. She announced the establishment of an Eat Out Food School, to make the dreams of those young persons wanting to get into the restaurant industry but not having the financial means to do so come true. Ten persons would be accepted into the School in its first year, and trained to be employable within a year, the number of students growing over time. Monies are to be raised by means of an Eat Out pop-up restaurant, running for 10 weeks with 10 chefs cooking, one per week.
She also announced three new additional Eat Out awards, one in the name of past New Media Publishing Director Irna van Zyl, no longer with the company, never involved with Eat Out, and now a full-time author, for the Eat Out Irna van Zyl Food Media Icon; and another in the name of her partner and former Managing Director of New Media Publishing Bridget McCarney, never being very visible in respect of the Eat Out Awards, with the Eat Out Bridget McCarney Game Changer Award! Embarrassingly the recipient of this award, a never heard of ‘SA POC at the Table’ and not explained to the audience, was not at the ceremony, and no one came to collect it on their behalf! The third Award was a new Eat Out Nespresso Innovation Award.
An Amuse Bouche was served in three parts, by Chef Candice Philip of Grei at The Saxon (green beans, lemon, spirulina); by Chef David Higgs of Marble (a delicious green beans, lamb kaaiings, white pepper); and by Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg of Janse & Co (green beans, fermented lowerland rye, and house-cured Langebaan grey mullet roe). It was luck of the draw as to which of the three green bean Amuse Bouche dishes one was served, and everyone at our table was kind enough to share a taste of their dishes. It was paired with Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc, not poured proactively, having to be requested.
The most tedious part of the event was the drawn-out marketing spiel by Mercedes-Benz sponsor representative Selvin Govender. It was much talking, with two videos, focusing mainly on the new Mercedes-Benz EQC electric car. He clearly was given no time constraint for his marketing speech!
From here onwards the eleven Eat Out Awards were awarded, in batches of three, and even up to five, interspersed with more dishes:
Eat Out S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year: Bertus Basson, Eike and Overture
Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year: Jewell’s Restaurant, Paarl
Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star: Katlego Mlambo, The Marabi Club
Eat Out Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef: Ivor Jones, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia
Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award: Camphors at Vergelegen
Eat Out Nespresso Innovation Award: The Test Kitchen
Eat Out Service Excellence: The Test Kitchen
Eat Out Wine Service Award: Joseph Dhafana, La Colombe
Eat Out John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service: Jennifer Hugé
Eat Out Bridget McCarney Game Changer Award: SA POC at the Table
Eat Out Irna van Zyl Food Media Icon: Dorah Sitole
Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award: Annette Kesler
Eat Out Style Award: FYN Restaurant
One could have read between the lines at this stage that The Test Kitchen would not return to its former number one position, with two of the eleven awards going to the restaurant, honouring its Innovation (for its recent old-style pub food pop-up……..please!), and the Service Award, feeling like consolation prizes. Two of these awards went to FYN, the Style Award for its interior design, and a well-deserved John Psillos (also a New Media Director) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service going to Jennifer Hugé a second time, previously the recipient when she was at La Colombe, The Peer Award, voted for the best chef by all the Top 30 chefs, went to Ivor Jones of Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia for the second year running.
The Starter was a Textures of rainbow carrots ensemble, served with pineapple confit, and pap chips, paired with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc, the serving staff not having a clue what they were serving, and three persons linked to the organisers not either. One admitted that they were not briefed on the Nederburg Wines which they were serving. And this was just after the Eat Out Wine Service Award was presented……. ouch! The carrot starter was prepared by Chef Katlego Mambo of The Marabi Club, supported by TV host Lentswe Bentsu (left), whom I was happy to see at the event. Chef Katlego was named the Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star.
Main course number one was prepared by Chefs Liam Tomlin (surprisingly silent during the dish presentation) and Nanda Cardoso of Chefs Warehouse & Canteen, a strong-aroma Cape Bream potsticker, served with a smoked fish broth, lemon Buchu, radish, and fish biltong, a more advanced dish to serve warm in such large numbers, but perfectly and interestingly presented in a fish bowl. The fish taste was too prominent for some at our table. This main course was paired with Nederburg The Winemasters Riesling.
Main course number two was stunning, again a challenge to prepare such a delicate and tender grilled pasture-reared beef fillet with butter roasted new potato, baby carrots, parsley pesto, truffle, and café au lait warm to 750 diners, prepared by Chef Luke Dale Roberts and his The Test Kitchen team. It was paired with a Nederburg Heritage Heroes Motorcycle Marvel Rhône Blend. Anton very kindly swopped his plate with mine, as the carrots in his dish were more attractively presented than on mine.
From hereon the Top 20 countdown began, The ten restaurants which fell out of the Top 20 List were the following, not mentioned at all during the event:
Pierneef à La Motte
Janse & Co
Jardine Restaurant (down from 9th Best in 2018)
The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal.
Chef Chantel Dartnall and her team prepared the Cheese Course, called ‘Blink-Blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie’, prepared from Klein River vintage gruyère, beeswax honey cream, and pumpkin seed granola. To emphasise the precious honey in the Dish, the paper underneath the dish was in a honeycomb design.
Chef Greg Czarnecki of The Restaurant at Waterkloof, reigning number one restaurant until yesterday, prepared two dessert dishes with his team. The first was Vanilla and white chocolate cremeux, basil oil emulsion, basil pebbles, basil snow, and bergamot sorbet. The dessert was paired with Nederburg The Winemaster Noble Late Harvest.
The restaurants ranked 11th – 20th were the following, containing some surprises:
11. Camphors at Vergelegen (Somerset West)
12. Overture (Stellenbosch)
13. LivingRoom at Summerhill Estate (Cowies Hill, Durban)
14. Chefs Warehouse at Maison (Franschhoek)
15. Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort (Constantia, Cape Town)
16. Le Coin Français (Franschhoek)
17. La Tête (City Bowl, Cape Town)
18. The Shortmarket Club (City Bowl, Cape Town)
19. Tjing Tjing Momiji (City Bowl, Cape Town)
20. Rust en Vrede (Stellenbosch)
In this list Overture’s improvement, up from 18th Best last year; the dropping out of the top 10 list by Camphors at Vergelegen; and new entrants the LivingRoom at Summerhill Estate (we learnt that it is based in Durban) and Tjing Tjing Momiji were a surprise. Chef Dave Schneider of Chefs Warehouse at Maison was very emotional in describing how difficult a year it was, and the stress that chefs work under. He announced without shame that he is an alcoholic, working on his problem. Wow and bravo.
The last sweet surprise was a chocolate bunny Le Chocolat containing chocolate treats inside, served one per table by waiters wearing bunny masks, a dish cleverly created by Chef Greg Czarnecki and his team of The Restaurant at Waterkloof. Anton was the volunteer at our table, dropping the bunny on the table, the chocolate bunny breaking open to reveal chocolate treats.
Then it was time for the .,, final countdown, announcing the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant List for 2019, counting down from number 10:
1. La Colombe (Constantia, Cape Town)
2. The Test Kitchen (Woodstock, Cape Town)
3. The Restaurant at Waterkloof (Somerset West)
4. Wolfgat (Paternoster)
5. FYN Restaurant (City Bowl, Cape Town)
6. La Petite Colombe (Franschhoek)
7. Eike (Stellenbosch)
8. Salsify (Camps Bay, Cape Town)
9. Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient (Elandsfontein, Pretoria)
10. Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia (Constantia, Cape Town)
The tension was high when the ranked Top 10 Restaurants were announced:
#. It was a shock that the hard-working and internationally recognised Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient only received the 9th place, and very sad to hear Chef Chantel Dartnall’s brave announcement that after eleven years of standing on the Eat Out stage she was making place for the younger chefs to give them a chance to make the top restaurant list. I read much more into her words, in reflecting her frustration of never having made it to the number one spot!
This is the statement which Chantal Dartnell, posted on Facebook last night:
‘Statement – Chantel Dartnall – Eat Out Awards
Chantel Dartnall, award-winning chef and owner of Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient has announced that she will no longer be participating in the annual Eat Out Awards in the future. On being announced as no 09 on this year’s list, she thanked the organisers and judges for their votes and recognition over the past decade and explained the reason for her departure from the awards.
“When we conceptualized Restaurant Mosaic 15 years ago, we had a clear vision of our goals and of what we wanted to achieve.
I am extremely proud of my team and our achievements to date and have been blessed with a “cornucopia “of local and international accolades and recognition throughout our culinary journey.
I have decided that after having set foot on the Eat Out stage 10 times, being recognised not only as one of their top 10 restaurants, but also having taken home the title of chef of the year twice, and Mosaic’s Sommelier Moses Magwasa has also had the honour of going home with the wine service award two consecutive years that we will be stepping aside to vacate our position in the top 10 lineup to allow for the new generation of chefs and restaurants to shine on the culinary stage.
My team and I will now continue to focus on what we do best at Restaurant Mosaic – creating magical dining experiences for our guests, supporting our local suppliers and growing the talent of our young chefs and my front of house team in the years to come”
#. Eike and Salsify making it onto this list in their first year of opening was a surprise, but FYN restaurant making it to number five was no surprise and was expected.
#. The Restaurant at Waterkloof slipping two places, from its hard-won number one position last year, must have been hard to swallow for Chef Greg Czarnecki and his team, but he was the absolute professional in his acceptance speech.
#. Having consumed too much alcohol for a second year running, Chef Luke Dale Roberts (right) was anything but gracious, being a bad loser, staying at the second slot, and he once again used the f-word, but not as often as he did last year, in his acceptance speech. He tried to acknowledge the victory of La Colombe, but could not say the restaurant’s name, saying that he had eaten there, one left with the interpretation that he was not overly impressed with it! Such poor sportsmanship!
#. The team at La Colombe was beyond delighted, it having been a long-term goal to overtake The Test Kitchen, it taking eight years to do so to get to the number one slot! Its sommelier Joseph Dhafana won the Wine Service Award.
#. When it gets to the second and third positions, one restaurant usually receives the Chef of the Year Award and the other the Service Excellence Award. Chef Bertus Basson winning the Chef of the Year Award from his 8th position was the biggest shock of the evening!
Congratulations to the Eat Out team for putting together an exciting event, although far too long at eight hours since its official start. Congratulations too to the chefs who cooked so well for such a large event without known mishaps, and for those that were recognised by the Eat Out 2019 Restaurant Awards. And to my fellow diners at Table 62 for the fabulous fun we had together.
POSTSCRIPT 22/11: Five days and two messages to the Eat Out PR company later, and I still have not heard back from them about my Goody Bag, which I did not receive at the Eat Out Awards!
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein