07 May 2012 by Neil Pendock
Neil Pendock says SA crashing out of the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurant List is a disaster for SA wine.
The profusion of restaurants opening up in the Winelands is far more than financially strapped estate owners trying to cash in on
kos; seeking profit that is so desperately missing from the top end of the wine business in this Age of Austerity. For years rapacious restaurateurs have treated their wine lists as nice little earners with current vintages often marked up 300%. So how nice for the shoe to be on the other foot for once. But restaurants are popping up on wine estates faster than Porcini in a Jonkershoek forest after rain, for two main reasons. Restaurants are unbeatable showcases to move product and an opportunity to eat is an important part of any wine tourism offering.
Some of the most exciting restaurants in SA are to be found on wine estates. The best Asian dining is at Indochine on the Delaire-Graff Estate while Richard Carstens does molecular gastronomy across the road at Tokara.
When Dave Hidden disposed of the wine side of his Hidden Valley business to Charles Back earlier this year, he kept Bertus Basson and his Overture restaurant while Bertus’s partner Craig Cormack does the business at Sophia’s on Morgenster. Chas has an excellent restaurant on his new Spice Route operation (prime rib is a feature) while the restaurants on Constantia Uitsig were for many years the most exalted temples of gastronomy in the land.
So when SA crashed out of the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants on the last day of April, food commentators were left scratching their heads as to what went wrong. Was it really only three short years ago that SA had two contenders in the Top 50 (Le Quartier Français at #37 and La Colombe on Constantia Uitsig at #38) and three others in the Top 100 (Jardine at #79, Aubergine at #96 and another estate restaurant, Rust en Vrede at #98)?
This year SA is totally absent from the Top 50 after the Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français tumbled 21 places to #57. Luke Dale Roberts (previously at La Colombe) pops up at #74 with his Test Kitchen is a new entry; and, err, that was it for the African continent. The only contribution from Africa at the awards function at London’s Guildhall was a cringingly inappropriate chocolate chef. Confirming that Africa may supply gastro requisites such as cocoa beans, venison and perlemoen, but when it comes to preparing the stuff, it’s very much white man’s work.
How cruel, when the Northern Cape was recently confirmed as the site of the world’s first restaurant circa one million years ago. The Wonderwerkgat (Miracle Cave) near Kuruman was the site of a binnebraai, an in-door braai popular in the Swartland.
Three years ago, Australia had three restaurants in the Top 100 and now they’re up to four, including Quay at #29. Has SA really melted down in the last while? Gorgeous George Jardine is still cooking up a storm and has moved from the grotty inner city to the bucolic Jordan Estate in the Stellenboschkloof, which should seriously have improved his ratings, not the opposite.
Harald Bresselschmidt is still frying the foie gras in Gardens and Le Quartier Français just gets better and better. So what has changed? The untimely death in 2010 of the foodie’s foodie Lannice Snyman, who co-ordinated the SA judging, clearly has had an effect. But why should SA wine really care?
It is surely a non sequitur that fine wine and fine dining go hand in hand. The S. Pellegrino Top 10 is dominated by Spain in second, third and eighth place and Spanish wine is on a roll with Priorat, in particular, rewriting perceived opinion of Spain as a producer of over-wooded, over-alcoholized blockbuster reds.
In a mature gastronomic culture, drinking fine wines with fine regional foods is de rigueur and something any gastro-tourist would expect. It was the Guide Michelin that performed the invaluable service of alerting wine lovers to the best dining destinations in their peregrinations around the various French wine appellations. Indeed in the days when I could afford to holiday in France, our wine trips around Bordeaux, Alsace, the Loire and Burgundy were punctuated with Michelin stars. Could you really do the same thing with JP Rossouw’s annual restaurant guide or a copy of Eat Out?
If SA wine wishes to take itself seriously on the world stage, it should get into the kitchen chop-chop and help SA restaurateurs to raise their game. A restaurant guide for the Winelands would be a good place to start.
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