ALSO READ: South Africa’s top restaurant for 2018 named
The much anticipated Mercedes Benz Eat Out Restaurant Awards ceremony was held earlier this week, and it was jam-packed with red carpet glitz. There was a 6-course meal, many rounds of clapping and a few good spins on the dance floor. Now that the headache has retreated, and my feet have stopped aching, I took a few moments to reflect on this year’s results.
What’s different this year
The judging panel for the 2018 Awards was headed up for the first time by the multi-award winning chef, Margot Janse. She had over 20 years of experience leading the kitchen at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais, where she earned the respect of fellow chefs, patrons and Eat Out judges alike. She recently said, “This industry is where my heart lies, and my respect levels are very high for every one of the chefs and restaurateurs I have visited”.
Her strong connection with chefs, and their day to day reality has shaken up this awards results this year. Many industry insiders seemed relieved that with a new captain at the helm, the awards seemed to have a refreshing new flavour as some of the old favourites were swept aside in favour of some well-deserved newcomers.
Location, Location, Location
Twitter and Facebook were submerged in endless lamentations from everyone else not in the Cape Region on Monday morning. The topic: why all the good restaurants concentrated around Cape Town, with barely a white tablecloth to be seen between Franschhoek and Fourways? With a booming tourism industry, a strong network of suppliers and a vibrant talent pool, it looks like the Cape will remain the hub of South African fine dining for some time.
How to win big
Perhaps you are considering getting into the restaurant game, and you’re wondering, how can I guarantee success? The answer is simple: choose a French name. A full half of the top 20 restaurants have a French or French-derived name. And if that is a little too traditional for you, just throw in the words “Chef” or “Club”, which took 3 positions and 2 positions respectively.
The new entries
There were 4 new entry winners in the Top 20 this year. They are The Chef’s Table (Umhlanga) (15), Chefs Warehouse at Maison (16), Le Coin Francais (14) and La Petite Colombe (5).
The big winners
New entry and last year’s Retail Capital Best New Restaurant, La Petite Colombe took a huge leap directly into position 5. Says John Norris-Rogers, Executive Chef at La Petite Colombe, “To go from new restaurant last year to number 5 this year… We’re just incredibly grateful and privileged to be here. It all goes to my team and everyone behind the brand. We couldn’t be happier with the work we’ve put in this year.’’
With The Test Kitchen finally being toppled from the number 1 position after 6 years running (itself, a tremendous achievement), it seems that 2018 wasn’t the year for Chef Luke Dale Roberts’ empire. The Test Kitchen came in at a very respectable number 2, while his other two restaurants The Potluck Club and relative newcomer, The Shortmarket Club, took tumbles of 10 and 9 positions respectively.
The empire is ever-expanding however, and with two new openings in the past few months, I think we can expect a comeback in 2019 for the LDR stable.
This year’s trends
It may not surprise you that the Top 20 restaurants of 2018 are dominated by white-tablecloth, special occasion fine dining restaurants with just a sprinkle of neo-bistros.Urban hubs across the country have seen the rise of the Neo Bistro, a combination of fine dining food in a relaxed setting. Sharing plates remains a strong trend, much to the dismay of diners who don’t care to share.
Disappointingly, the list remains largely dominated by white men in white jackets, which left many of us with the lingering question: Where is the “South African” in South Africa’s best restaurants. More importantly, how can the industry change and move towards a more inclusive and representative space where women and people of colour have a voice and platform to express themselves. Lets create meals and moments that are not interpreted solely through a euro-centric lens.
Of course, these are challenges that awards schemes all over the world face, but perhaps it is time for the South African restaurant industry to step forward and a little to the left, and leave some of the old guard haute cuisine structures behind? Let’s zone in on the creativity, courage and spirit we all know is there, waiting for recognition.
A vibrant new initiative, FOOD XX, was announced this week, a partnership between Eat Out and Studio H, which aims to empower and celebrate all women in all spheres of the food industry. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact that FOOD XX has on the greater industry.