SA’s BEST RESTAURANTS 2023
Luxe Restaurant Awards – the winners, the colour, how they compare
Joburg, the Cape and KZN shared the spoils of this year’s national Luxe Restaurant Awards in a ceremony on Tuesday night. The Western Cape was ahead with 12, with Gauteng following with a handsome haul of 10 prizes.
At Tuesday’s plush fifth annual Luxe Restaurant Awards, the truly national awards held in Johannesburg, at Ethos restaurant this year and attended by 100 leading industry chefs and food personalities, there were breath-holding surprises. The unforgettably good four-course dinner was created by Jozi’s best, chefs Candice Phillips and Besele Moses Moloi.
We noted a slight change of headline name, the awards being referred to as Luxe Jonsson Workwear Restaurant Awards. However, as ever, they were chosen by a panel of paying anonymous peers and food critics, as well as by a popular public digital vote. Chad Fourie, managing director of the Hospitality Counsel and chief judge of the awards, convened the judges.
There’s something interesting about the immediate air when sitting next to someone who knows he’s on the short list for an award. I was alongside chef Darren O’Donovan of Embarc, who’d taken his jacket off, in unreadiness. Yet, I could see he was fidgety and the air a little more electric, while Tumi Mogoai, the MC introduced herself and the evening kicked off.
The first award to be called was for Bistro of The Year. It was for Embarc. Darren stared around, stupefied, as though there might be other Embarcs in the room, didn’t even think to put on his jacket on, while the air started fizzling. His face opened with elated emotion. Only allowed, as the house rule for the evening, to speak for two minutes, he blurted joyfully how surprised he was.
That was what almost every winner said. And they were surprised. No one had any inkling whatsoever of whether they were winners or not until their names were called.
That set these awards apart, as did the sheer beauty of the evening. That long ago and never-forgotten scene in the film Barry Lyndon, shot by candle-power, was probably outdone by banks of hundreds of creamy pillar candles of varying heights, in the very lovely Ethos restaurant seating just one hundred people all relevant to the industry. And the air smelt of cloves.
I know it’s a double-edger to be selected to be the chefs for food awards. Even cooking for a mere one hundred is something of an impossibility for the best chefs. We had Candice Philip, surely South Africa’s greatest woman chef who’s between having been at Basalt and opening her own new place, which is still under wraps. We also had another previous winner-chef, Besele Moses Moloi. He took the first (seared tuna with red wine mole, herb salsa, bone marrow and olives) and third (ribeye with coriander chimichurri, king oyster mushrooms and chilli jus) courses while Philip wowed with the autumnal second (pressed potato pave with parmesan crème, baba ganoush and truffle dressing) and fourth (parsnip cheesecake and a burnt butter almond sponge with vanilla gel and coffee reduction) courses. They were all paired with Graham Beck bubbles.
There was probably just one thing that wasn’t wonderful: the MC often left us behind in her announcements of what the award was about before the lists of finalists and the ‘And the Winner is …’ announcements. My neighbours and I kept tapping each other on the shoulders, whispering each others’ ears, “Sorry, er what’s he getting it for?” There was a screen that could have held those awards’ names as they came up, as they did at Eat Out’s influencer-spangled event last November. I saw no influencers here.
I’ve just looked back at what Tony Jackman wrote after attending the last Eat Out awards, asking at the end of the story of his experience there, if the “playing fields will ever be levelled” and voicing the despair of and for chefs outside of the Western Cape, he wrote: “I don’t know if that Cape bias can ever be conquered.” I know that Chad Fourie doesn’t like comparisons made between the Luxe Restaurant awards and Eat Out’s awards, and I am doing just that.
Within the three-tier system of the Eat Out awards, there were 0 Gauteng awards made in their Three-star group, with Western Cape 4 and KZN 1. In their Two-star category, it was Gauteng 2 and Western Cape 9. In their One-star category, it was Gauteng 8, to Western Cape 18. So we can sum up with Gauteng 10 and Western Cape 31, KZN 1. We could say that less than a third of the awards came Gauteng’s way.
At Tuesday night’s Luxe event, of 24 restaurant awards, 12 fairly went to the Western Cape, 10 to Gauteng and 2 to KZN. Much of the country did not get a showing, however. It’s rather a different national restaurant picture, especially when one compares percentages.
The Chef of the Year, last year taken by Wandile Mabaso of Les Creatifs in Johannesburg, went to Johannes Richter of the Living Room in Summerhill, Pinetown, for his powerfully impressive and sustainable food creations. Mabaso took the Culinary Innovation Award. Richter’s was restaurant of the year at Eat Out in late 2022.
Restaurant of the Year this time around was Salsify at the Roundhouse in Cape Town and New Restaurant of the Year was Stellenbosch’s intriguing Post and Pepper. Embarc of Johannesburg was Bistro of the Year.
The rest of the 25 awards went to places and people all over the country:
- Restaurant of the Year: Salsify at the Roundhouse – Cape Town;
- Chef of the Year: Johannes Richter – Pinetown;
- New Restaurant of the Year: Post and Pepper – Stellenbosch;
- Style Award: MAMASAMBA – Rosebank, Jhb;
- Bar of the Year: Zioux – Sandton;
- Culinary Innovation Award: Wandile Mabaso – Bryanston;
- Culinary Media Personality of the Year: Lorna Maseko – Johannesburg;
- Culinary Rising Star Award: Jess Van Dyk – Cape Town;
- Food/Lifestyle Series of the Year: Homegrown Tastes South Africa;
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Meg Meikle – Johannesburg;
- Pioneer Award: David Higgs – Johannesburg;
- Service Excellence Award: SIBA – The Restaurant – Cape Town;
- Sustainability Award: LivingRoom at Summerhill – Pinetown;
- African Restaurant of the Year: Clara’s Barn – Cape Town;
- Bistro of the Year: Embarc – Parkhurst;
- Café of the Year: Just Teddy – Hyde Park;
- Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year: La Petite Colombe – Franschhoek;
- Grillhouse of the Year: Marble – Rosebank, Jhb;
- Hotel Restaurant of the Year: SIBA – The Restaurant – Cape Town;
- International Restaurant of the Year: TANG CAPE TOWN – Cape Town;
- Lifestyle Restaurant of the Year: Artistry – Sandton;
- Pop Up Experience of the Year: Vusi Ndlovu, Edge at the Mount Nelson – Cape Town;
- Street Food Experience of the Year: Ramenhead – Cape Town;
- Wine Service Award: Victor Okolo – Cape Town; and
- People’s Choice Award: Homespun Blouberg – Blouberg. DM
The Luxe Restaurant Awards are created by The Hospitality Counsel (HOSCO) in partnership with industry-leading food critics and sponsored by Jonsson Workwear.