FYN & DANDY
South African restaurants and vineyards are among the top 100 in the world
A mere three years since opening, FYN in Cape Town has cracked a new place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 100 to 51 list.
With all the doom and gloom we’ve endured, we more than deserve a celebratory story, a slap up meal and a fabulous bottle of wine. So let’s applaud some very fine achievements in two major global competitions: World’s Best Vineyards and World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Of the hundred vineyards, 10 are in the Western Cape; and ahead of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, which will be named at a ceremony in Antwerp, Flanders, on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, the 100-51 list was released last week which included La Colombe returning in 81st place, and newcomer FYN at number 92.
Said Karl Lambour, GM at Tokara (number 97, Vineyards): “You know, in South Africa, we all suffer from a little humility when we are put on the world stage and we tend to underestimate our offering. Perhaps this accolade will go a little way to helping us understand that we are producing world class wines from enviable terroir.”
I think that’s a lovely quote to apply to all our representatives in these competitions. Louder for those at the back: South Africa is great!
The annual list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants is created by a voting panel comprising more than 1000 independent authorities in the world of gastronomy, from renowned international chefs and food journalists to travelling gastronomes. The gender-balanced Academy comprises 26 separate regions around the world, each of which has 40 members including a chairperson. No sponsor from the event has any influence over the voting process.
“What constitutes ‘best’ is left to the judgement of these trusted and well-travelled gourmands. There is no predetermined check-list of criteria, but there are strict voting rules,” explained World’s 50 Best Academy chair Tamsin Snyman.
“There are no criteria that a restaurant has to meet. They do not have to sell a certain product. They do not need to have been open a certain number of years and they do not need to have won any other culinary accolades. This method means that restaurants cannot apply to be on the list, and cannot be nominated. It also means that every restaurant in the world is eligible, unless it is part of the ‘Best of the Best’ (previously ranked #1 restaurants) group, it has (permanently) closed at the time that the lists are announced, or we receive notice that it will be closing in the period shortly after the results are published.”
Professional services consultancy Deloitte independently adjudicates the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, including the ranking from 51-100. This ensures the integrity and authenticity of the voting process and the resulting lists are protected.
South Africa’s first placement (#41) was in 2002 with Margot Janse’s Le Quartier Francais. She’d go on to be in the top 50 a further seven times (Le Quartier and The Tasting Room at Le Quartier) and the top 100 another four times between 2005 and 2015, a phenomenal track record. The Test Kitchen – which closed its doors for the final time last night (September 30, 2021), was there eight times between 2012 and 2019 (the last time the awards were held, for obvious reasons). Luke Dale Roberts had previously taken La Colombe to 12th spot in 2010 (38th in 2009), and Franck Dangereux brought it in at number 28 for the first time in 2006. It was Scot Kirton’s turn in 2016 (#76) and 2017 (#73); in 2019 the restaurant was ranked 114 and has rallied to 81st place in 2021 with James Gaag as head chef. FYN is the first new SA restaurant in the top 100 since Aubergine and Rust en Vrede in 2009 – an achievement all the more remarkable for it having been open for just three years, half of which was during lockdown. Judging took place over this whole period.
Peter Tempelhoff, Ashley Moss, and Jennifer Hugé of FYN set out to create a point of difference in South African fine dining, to mould the wildness and beauty of South Africa – its culture, ingredients, people – with the rigour of Japanese techniques to discover something new.
Even though the outcome of these lists were made known to the restaurants and vineyards some time back, speaking about it this week, Tempelhoff’s emotions are still right there on the surface as he speaks slowly, hesitantly, but with a smile in his voice… “Man, words are kind of hard to come by for the feeling that actually came over me when I heard…obviously the elation – we were cheering, we were so happy. There was this relief that washed over me, like ‘wow it was all kind of worth it’, the pushing, the constant trying to reinvent.
“It’s been an exhausting year and a half and I’m sure everybody would say so. Having to change – all the different times we had to shut to get guests and staff home for curfew, no booze – that was a disruption. We made it through to have this at the end … It’s like there actually is light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t find the words to express what this means to me.
“We’re extremely grateful obviously, but I think it’s testament to South Africa and what we can do. What I think is very exciting is that the younger crop of chefs and restaurateurs who have opened spaces can look at what we’ve done in the past three years and say it is possible – with the right concepts, with the right vision, with the right people on board.”
Now is the time to really start the conversation about food, and our restaurants, again – to get the excitement about food in the air, he continued. “We have so many great restaurants in this city – and the country – it’s a kind of a crime that people aren’t frequenting them as they should.”
This is in response to the fear of Covid, and going out into social spaces. “I would say if you’ve been vaccinated there’s no excuse to not come now,” said Tempelhoff, who has a strict vaccination policy for staff, which in turn keeps guests safer. In fact, it’s the best time to be eating out, he said; restaurateurs have had time to reflect, regroup and start innovating again. “I’ve been following a lot of Instagram accounts and watching social channels, and the food has been inspiring, such interesting stuff.”
FYN is graced with the – I want to say “good fortune” but it’s more what they offer through hard work and dedication than luck – with a lot of repeat custom. Tempelhoff told me about one guest who has brought 90 different people to the restaurant over about 20 visits. “We’ve got such a dedicated following, we have to stay fresh and innovative,” he said.
With the current dining hours, the menu has been lengthened a bit so diners can expect an array of four canapés served at the same time, like a kaiseki tray, followed by a tray of game fish – sashimi, tartare, pickles and rice, and three main plates (one cold, two hot). “I don’t want to give away too much but we’ve conceptualised it so we’re doing some things at the table with the most fantastic produce. Nothing stays on the menu longer than a few months. Next week we are changing starters and canapés.”
La Colombe is no stranger to awards, or World’s Best. Scot Kirton, who heads the group of five restaurants – La Petite Colombe, Protégé, Epice and Foxcroft – said, “It is a real honour to have the restaurant included in these awards again this year. They are so important to the team and it’s given them a positive boost to keep on improving and moving forward. I could not be more proud of James and the rest of the team to have achieved this during these tough times for the industry.”
It’s “very humbling to be included in this year’s list amongst some of the best in the world,” said head chef James Gaag. “For the team it’s reassurance that we are doing and moving in the right direction, and incredible motivation to keep pushing forward.”
The ups and down and back to back fronts of lockdown regulations impacted La Colombe as they did the entire restaurant industry,, and it was tough to stay positive, opening and closing all the time, with booze or without. “We kept on pushing the boundaries to keep the experience moving to the next level and keep guests entertained,” said Kirton. “At the same time keeping staff motivated was key, even when we had no alcohol we developed a theatrical non-alcoholic pairing to take the experience up a few notches and keep staff learning and excited to be part of La Colombe.”
One thing they were not willing to compromise on despite the added challenges, is the standard and quality of the experience, said Gaag. “So we’ve adapted and changed systems to achieve this. Menu-wise I feel, despite everything, it’s as good as it’s ever been. It’s exciting, challenging and theatrical.”
Even when they’re riding high in all the rankings and ratings and best of lists, what keeps La Colombe there is never settling for “good enough”. The belief is things can always be improved upon. “Everyone who works here has the same mentality, which is to make the restaurant as good as it can possibly be. We don’t believe anything is impossible and when we have an idea in the restaurant we do whatever it takes to make the idea come to life,” said Kirton.
“I think the biggest contributing factor is the mentality and drive from every staff member. Everyone has the same goal I do, and everyone puts in 110% to try and achieve that goal,” said Gaag. “We are always trying to improve on every aspect of the dining experience…nothing is ever perfect, we can always do better.”
Snyman believes the chefs, the FOH (front of house), the sommeliers and even the scullers all contribute to the success of any restaurant. “Chefs like Peter Tempelhoff and Ashley Moss of FYN and Scot Kirton and James Gaag at La Colombe have polished pedigrees that go back years and years. La Colombe has become a dining institution from the Constantia Uitsig days and chefs such as Franck Dangereux and Luke Dale-Roberts were on the pass,” she said.
“La Colombe has been home to the greatest chefs in our country and ranked #12 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2010 (with LDR at the helm) – the highest ranking an African restaurant has ever achieved in the 18-year history of these awards.
“Peter Tempelhoff headed up the McGrath Collection for many years and was an integral part of the success of the McGrath Collection’s fine dining establishments at all its properties (The Plettenberg, The Marine, The Cellars-Hohenort). Peter and Scot have mentored so many young chefs and helped them become the chefs they are today. These chefs have not moved around a lot; they have been part of the fabric of these restaurants for a very long time.”
If you somehow remain blasé about the inclusion of these restaurants on this prestigious list, Snyman said she is “deeply and completely” in awe of our chefs and their teams in our far flung southern side of the African continent. “We have many challenges that the majority of the restaurants on the 50 Best restaurant list can’t imagine would be challenges. In order for our restaurants to make it onto the 51-100 or the Top 50 list means that practically my entire panel of 40 voters unanimously agree that they deserve to be here and have in turn voted for them.
“Bear in mind my panel of 40 voters reside all over Africa, not only South Africa. They come from Ghana, Mauritius, Kenya, Rwanda, Zanzibar, Namibia etc. In addition to our own voting regions’ opinions, many votes are needed from voters from outside of Africa. We have clearly knocked their socks off as their votes go hand-in-hand with our region’s votes and this combination is resulting in some solid rankings.”
Jazz hands, fist pumps and general gleeful running around may be inserted here.
Although sadly unable to attend the 2021 awards due to travel restrictions, Snyman will be tapping virtually into all the peripheral events leading up to the Awards and of course the awards themselves on October 5. “Sunday will be a full day with the always-incredible #50Best talks taking place with speakers such as Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, NY) talking to us about plant-based gastronomy; Africa’s very own Selassie Atadika from Ghana who will be sharing with the world some insight into West African food that showcases underutilised grains and proteins; and Junghyun Park from South Korea who will allowing us some insight into how he combined traditional Korean and western techniques within a fine dining context,” she said.
Where there is great food, there has to be great wine. The World’s Best Vineyards for 2021 were announced over two dates in September: first the 100-51, then the top 50. Ten Western Cape vineyards are in that 100, and Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus is sitting pretty at number 10. In. The. World. It was also voted best on the continent.
“Being top 10 in the World’s Best Vineyards is a testament to the spirit of the team at Creation who are dedicated to not only building an innovative brand but also to co-elevating each other,” said co-owner Carolyn Martin. Husband Jean-Claude, JC, is the winemaker.
“When the pandemic threatened the business and the entire wine and hospitality industry, our true South African grit came to the fore. Never before in Creation’s journey have we faced as many challenges as we have in the last 18 months,” said Martin, who adds she is proud of Creation’s team, and knows this is the start of a new journey, giving them opportunities to make more dreams come true. Because this is a group effort, I asked for comments from staff at Creation, other than the boss.
“I am elated to share in the celebrations. We have had a trying time and this has definitely called on us to take a moment to reflect and enjoy the good times,” said Louis Petrus Fourie, VIP Service Manager.
Pamela Gordon, Sales and Logistics, said “I attribute our success to one of our core values: PASSION. And then we as a team have Carolyn, someone who never says ‘no’ to a challenge.”
“Passion, team (and hard) work, visionary leaders and resilience!” Salome Geldenhuys, Human Resources. “At Creation it’s about how high we can go and when we get there we start with the next level. With great accolades comes great responsibility – we can’t stop now!” Phillip Marais, Sales. “It’s about cultivating a mindset: to believe that your basic qualities and traits can be grown and improved through effort and teamwork. We see ourselves as ambassadors for South African wine tourism. This is only the foundation towards our moonshot.” Daniela Messina-Hugo, Marketing and Sales. “They come as an acknowledgement to me that as a team player I am pulling my weight and I am doing it right. It brings to the team what I call the winner’s mentality which is fighting to come first all the time.” Theo Mweneziko, Tasting Room Assistant. “Passionately committed to calm when under pressure. In charge and empowered.” Jeanene Booysen, Tasting Room Supervisor. “I believe these achievements are the result of what Creation stands for: Innovation. When preparation meets opportunity it results in success,” said Victor Daniels, Tasting Room Assistant.
“We feel that having 10 South African vineyards in the top 100 World’s Best Vineyards and three in the Top 50 indicates the world-class quality of our wines and service and we are very proud indeed. Our peers are famous brands and we feel honoured to have this recognition,” said Martin.
This is the third year of the World’s Best Vineyards, with the best 100 rated by a full Academy of nearly 600 leading wine aficionados, sommeliers and international wine and travel writers from different regions across the globe who each vote for their seven favourite wine farms in preferential order.
“To me the results are heart-warming. Such a good showing with three of the nine producers of the Constantia Wine Route on the list means that many international judges must have voted for them. Well done Constantia!” commented Dr Winnie Bowman, the Academy Chair for South Africa. Klein Constantia is number 44 and Groot Constantia is 86. Steenberg, at 84, is thankful for the support it received abroad since the beginning of the pandemic to raise its profile as a wine tourist destination. “This has undoubtedly helped to catapult Steenberg into the World’s Best Vineyards list,” said marketing manager Heather Poulos.
“We are absolutely elated to be recognised as one of the World’s Top 100 Vineyards. This award holds even more significance to us during this very difficult year for the South African wine industry and tourism as a whole,” said cellar master Elunda Basson. “The commitment and determination by the entire Steenberg team to continuously deliver intuitive and world class experiences has been rewarded by this fantastic achievement. I am incredibly proud of the team for their unwavering dedication to Steenberg and what we offer our guests.”
Karl Lambour, general manager at Tokara (#97) on the Helshoogte pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek is the model of modesty and humility. “I was reminded at a tasting over the weekend in Hermanus by the eloquent Emile Joubert of Duimpie Bayly’s famous saying – ‘I’ve never seen a horse win a race without a jockey’. At Tokara both our winemaker, Stuart Botha, and our viticulturist, Aidan Morton, would be the first to admit that we have a very fine horse,” he said.
“We received the news of our placement some time ago and were asked to keep it mum; thankfully we can now shout it from the hilltop. What an incredible recognition for us and for South Africa to have so many of our special vineyard sites recognised as world class areas for producing wines. We couldn’t be prouder.”
Frans Smit, managing director at Spier, which is at number 68, said, “We are honoured to be included in the World’s Best Vineyards list, acknowledging that Spier is one of the 100 best places in the world to taste terrific wines. The inclusion of our historic farm alongside internationally renowned wineries recognises Spier as a must-visit tourist destination and is a testament to our team’s dedication to delivering world-class experiences.”
Rounding out the South African inclusions are Babylonstoren (#72), Waterford (#88), Delaire Graaff (#30) and Haute Cabrière. “I’m absolutely delighted,” said second generation cellar master Takuan von Arnim. “It comes at the right time after two years of pain and Covid and alcohol restrictions. We started with nothing so we’ve always done our utmost to improve, and constantly inspired to take things to the next level. Our whole drive is to always become better at what we do.”
Now all we need to do is book a table, or visit a wine farm. Or both. DM/TGIFood
For more information about World’s Best Vineyards and the full list of winners, click here.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 will be announced live at a ceremony being held in Antwerp, Flanders on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 which will be streamed live on the 50 Best Facebook and YouTube channels. Ahead of the ceremony, renowned chef Massimo Bottura of former number one restaurant Osteria Francescana and part of the exclusive “Best of The Best” group, will host a live stream from the red carpet, where stars of the culinary world will gather in person once again. The announcement of the list and individual awards can be followed via the 50 Best social media channels, with the livestream beginning at 4.30pm CET (Central European Time).
The writer supports Ladles Of Love, which in six years, has grown from serving 70 meals at its first soup kitchen, to one of the most prolific food charity organisations in South Africa.
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved