The winners, glitz and spangled influencers at the SA restaurant Golden Globes
Winners abounded at the annual Eat Out restaurant awards, and Gauteng got a half-decent look-in this time. But the room suddenly fell silent when a strange restaurant name was announced. Then, later on, it won the restaurant of the year award. Huh?
What a show. What a day (and night). So much glitz, so much glamour, so much liquor (it’s not a complaint). People swanning, preening, glad-handing, hugging, whooping, cheering, some crying with elation, some mad as snakes. So many winners, but wherever there are winners there are losers too. By the end I could overhear grumbling from some and one woman even shaking with rage on my way to the uber. I kept walking. Lannice Snyman would not recognise the awards she created more than two decades ago. I wonder what she would make of all this?
But getting there, as I have written recently, isn’t always half the fun. This maxim was to return to haunt me while trying to get to the Eat Out restaurant awards last weekend. I’ll tell that story, and the event was an enthralling treat in the end, in an overwhelmingly sort of way, but first, oy vey, getting there…
They say that when we get older, we become invisible. A fellow veteran of food writing in this country and I had first-hand experience of this when a clutch of sightless influencers spent more than 90 minutes oblivious of the two of us sitting in the shuttle outside the hotel, waiting to be taken to the Eat Out Awards at GrandWest in Cape Town. They aren’t entirely sightless, in all fairness. They see themselves. But nobody else.
Journalists shower, get dressed, and hurry downstairs to get the shuttle. In the rarefied world in which influencers strut, they take all the time they like to do their makeup and hair and quadruple-check their clothing and accessories. No mirror was ever more admired than the mirrors of the Sky Hotel on the Cape Town Foreshore last Sunday.
The shuttle was to leave at 11.30am. By 12.50pm some of our feathered and bejewelled fellow travellers were still trickling down from the upper echelons of the brassy Sky Hotel, a venue designed for those with an eye for the glitz, the glam and, well, themselves. The spangled crew were utterly at home there. Even as some of them stepped out of the foyer in sight of us, after 90 minutes, not one of them thought to apologise or acknowledge in any way the two people they had inconvenienced for most of two hours; instead, they preened and posed and selfie’d and practised their blindness to all except ego.
Professional journalists like to arrive on time at an appointment, or preferably a little early, even if time and circumstances often work against this. You like to get the feel of the environment, have a look around; often you’ll be about to conduct an interview, and just like actors and singers about to go on stage, there’s an element of focusing yourself into the task ahead.
A journalist is there to record, write, and tell the story to others. Influencers are there to add to their own story, bank balance and wardrobe. Journalists do have influence. But that is not the job; it’s a consequence of our work. “Influencers” take whatever they can get and in return they promote the brand, the event, the product. “Influencer” does not begin with an I for nothing. Some have an entourage; others even have their own professional photographer follow them around to record them on the take. I don’t mind what they do, and how they choose to conduct themselves is none of my business. Until it affects me directly.
By 12.50pm my colleague and I were rescued by an uber sent by the very apologetic hosts of the media group these preening peacocks presumed themselves to be a part of. By the time we arrived, the ceremonies had already begun.
Some of our late party were among the endless procession of presenters for the day and night (there were way too many presenters). Ego upon overdressed ego sashayed out of the wings, as if they were the true attraction. More than one of them described themselves as having “made it”. Come on: even most Hollywood actors know that when they’re presenting (not getting) an award at the Oscars, it’s about the nominees and the winners, in that order, with them merely having the honour of handing it over. That they do it with wit and style is always a pleasure.
There were awards too. Many awards. And these were different. When my late friend and colleague Lannice Snyman founded the Eat Out Restaurant Awards in the late Nineties, they were a humble and rather serious affair. There was a little ceremony; one of the earliest was on the verandah of a V&A Waterfront restaurant, with Lannice simply announcing them in a countdown from 10 to one, and handing out certificates to the winners.
What was a tiny affair is now gargantuan. In more recent years, these awards have often been described as the Oscars of the South African restaurant industry. But they’re not that. They’re the Golden Globes of local restaurant awards. Because everyone there was getting steadily more pissed, like all the actors do at the Globes, as the day and night went on, and boy was there an opskop by the end of it. Mind you, I left, had to leave, after the pre-opskop, and that was still going by 10.45pm when I finally extricated myself. Circa 9pm or so, the wonderful, massively talented J’Something and his band Mi Casa were romping, utterly stomping the dance-floor crowd. Mein Gott, this man is phenomenal. And the after party hadn’t even started yet. Oy vey.
The only quiet moment came out of the blue. It was when the three-star restaurants were being announced and every brow frowned, every eye blinked curiously, when a place they’d never heard of in KZN was named as one of the winners. It was like a collective “Huh?!” had raced around the room. Like, how can some KZN place get one of our awards? Then, just before I left, that very same restaurant was, WTF, HUH?! … the outright winner: The LivingRoom at Summerhill in Pinetown. It was an utterly gleeful moment. Delicious. The facial expressions were a sight to see. Face after Cape Town face seemed to say, “Pinetown? Where TF is Pinetown?” Others, “Bru, what’s happening to our awards hey?” It was like a foreign-language film winning the Oscar.
This is good news, and I ought to be among the first to say it, as I have on many occasions criticised these awards for being Capecentric, which they always have been and which, despite efforts this year to make things more equitably national, they remain, to a large extent. The counterargument of course would be, and there may be some truth in it, that most of the best restaurants truly are in Cape Town and the Winelands.
So, where are we now? This year the Eat Out awards have handed out stars for the first time: one, two, and three. And that restaurant of the year.
Let’s break it down, starting with KZN, which received just one award; the top one, but there were no stars whatsoever for any other restaurant in that province. More digging needs to be done there next year.
So, working backwards, here’s the breakdown:
Yes, zero three-star restaurants in Gauteng, not even David Higgs’ Marble, which only received one star. Maybe it’s because he has no interest in pretentious food these days and likes to keep things more real.
Western Cape: 4 (La Colombe, PIER, Salsify at the Roundhouse, Wolfgat in Paternoster)
The La Colombe group now swamps restaurant awards and they have a singularly powerful style designed to wow your senses in every way possible. I was at the lunch that launched the original La Colombe when we relished Franck Dangereux’s wonderful way with food. I wonder whether his original, with its delicious simplicity, would even garner a star today.
Everything now is an “experience” of many courses, and if that is what we want of the best restaurants, and if one or two restaurant groups specialise in exactly that, the La Colombe gang and restaurants related to the Luke Dale-Roberts stable will keep on winning the top gongs forever. What about all the other fine menus? Is it not time to divide the top echelons into restaurant types?
Not hard to achieve: one prize for those with degustation menus, another for all the rest. And give them equal status. Endless menus are not the only way, and honestly, too much, too much. It’s time to tame them. All of them.
Good to see Wolfgat still holding its own in this company. And FYN should have been in this echelon, unquestionably.
John Norris-Rogers of PIER, incidentally, was chef of the year. The venue has had a chequered history. I was at the launch of the original Pier in the ‘90s (as was Lannice Snyman, who never missed a thing), and it started out with a bang but ultimately ended tragically. Later Hildebrand moved in from downtown and it was never quite the same again, though still a family favourite for us. It’s good to see the PIER name revived.
KZN: 1 (the Living Room at Summerhill)
Three-star tally: WC 4, KZN 1, Gauteng 0.
Gauteng: 2 (Test Kitchen Carbon, and Zioux)
Test Kitchen Carbon is good but not the best in Jozi. Its cuisine is as top notch as you would expect of any of Dale-Roberts’ restaurants, but I have had better at the original Test Kitchen and recently at Epice in Franschhoek (in the La Colombe stable), which garnered only one star. Zioux, by reputation, has fine food in a supremely glitzy environment that might make one think of, you know, influencers.
My moles, who know their Jozi dining out scene, have their own thoughts on this.
Western Cape: 9 (ARKESTE by Richard Carstens in Franschhoek, Belly of the Beast, Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia, Ëlgr, Foxcroft, FYN, La Petite Colombe, Spek & Bone, The Pot Luck Club).
Lots of Eat Out favourites there. But only two stars for FYN? It’s number 37 in the WORLD. Even on reputation alone, surely it deserves three? Or do they judge only on that one meal placed in front of them when they dine there? There’s more to it than that, or should be.
Richard Carstens is such a legend, the inevitable comeback kid. Great to see him back, yet again.
KZN etc… um, sorry folks. Moving on quickly…
Two-star tally: WC 9, Gauteng 2. Rest of the country 0.
Gauteng: 8. (Culinary Table, Forti Grill & Bar, Les Créatifs, Marble Restaurant, Modern Tailors, Séjour, The Shortmarket Club Johannesburg, Ukkō)
It’s good to see this number. Pat on the back, Eat Out, and pat on the back, judges. I was disappointed to see only one star for Wandile Mabaso’s hugely talked-about Les Créatifs in Sandton, and delighted at the inclusion of Modern Tailors in Rosebank, a truly sexy place that reinvents the Indian restaurant and its food in South Africa. I ate the best samoosas of my life there. And good old Forti: nice one, Fortunato Mazzone, always deserved. But one star for Marble? My Jozi guru gives it three. And no sign of And Then there Was Fire… which everyone is talking about.
Western Cape: 18. (beyond, Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic, Clara’s Barn, Emazulwini, Epice, Farro, Hemelhuijs, Indochine Restaurant at Delaire Graff Estate, Ouzeri, Post & Pepper, RIVA Fish Restaurant, Rust en Vrede Restaurant, Rykaart’s, The Table at De Meye, The Melting Pot, The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal, The Test Kitchen Fledgelings, The Waterside Restaurant.)
Seasoned Cape observers felt that there were several one-star winners here that ought to have got two. The first and second on the above list; and one star for Epice and Indochine? And Waterside, where I had the finest meal of my year…
Familiar faces appear again and again, year after year. But there’s a good peppering of new faces too, though quite how new needs thinking about. Ouzeri only launched in June. Is that enough time for a restaurant to bed in before getting such an award? Shouldn’t there be a minimum of a year’s operation first? Well, that’s what I think, having seen so many restaurants come and go in Cape Town over the decades, often within even a year.
One-star tally: WC 18, Gauteng 8, seven other provinces: 0.
There were other special moments. Mmabatho Molefe of Cape Town’s Emazulwini’s Rising Star award; veteran La Madeleine chef-patron Daniel Leusch being so moved to receive recognition; Rudi Liebenberg of the Mount Nelson being honoured with the Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award (I know she would approve); Liam Tomlin’s Lockdown Innovation prize, utterly well deserved. There were other special awards. Find them all here.
But there were glaring omissions, especially on the Jozi front. Where, for heaven’s sake, was chef Candice Phillips from Basalt, another Joburg oversight? And top-rated Darren O’Donovan from Embarc, ignored; ditto the Marabi Club, Sotto Sopra, Chez Fong, and maybe a little sterretjie for Che Argentine Grill? Everyone in Joburg wants to know.
Will the playing field ever be levelled? It’s hard to believe it will. But there has undoubtedly been improvement. The organisers and judges, who are people I respect, are trying to make them more equitable. I admire their efforts in making these changes, but I don’t know if that Cape bias can ever be conquered and I sometimes wonder if they shouldn’t just make them Cape awards and be done with it.
But they are trying, if not nearly as trying as sightless influencers. DM/TGIFood
Tony Jackman is regional Vodacom Journalist of the Year (Lifestyle) Eastern Cape for 2022 and Galliova Food Champion 2021.
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