Top of the list
When the right food and wine pairing is a prerequisite just to be considered for the country’s premier culinary awards, you’d imagine that the ultimate winners would offer an unforgettable dining experience. You’d be right. By Alan Cooper
In today’s competitive restaurant environment, offering good food, paired with the right wine just isn’t enough to stand out from the crowd. Increasingly picky diners are seeking more innovative options, a reality recognised by the organisers of this year’s Diners Club Winelist Awards.
Some new judges were introduced, along with revised judging criteria and a greater emphasis on the suitability of the food and wine pairing, including other parameters such as: balance, content and presentation. Restaurants that were up to standard with the contemporary diner’s preferences were rewarded.
An eclectic mix of 229 establishments in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – including brasseries and bistros, cafes, destination and fine-dining eateries – were selected for entry. The pr`estigious awards seek out restaurants that have innovative wine lists and are meticulous in offering compatible food and wine menus.
Looking at the quality of this year’s competition, Diners Club Winelist Head Judge JP Rossouw, publisher of Platter’s by Diners Club South African Wine Guide, pointed to the ‘pleasing and varied entries’ the adjudicators received.
‘It gets tougher every year for restaurants to either maintain or evolve their offering to their customers in the fast-paced culinary business. However, it’s clear from looking at this year’s entries, that many eateries are up to the challenge of delighting patrons’ senses with tailored food and wine lists,’ said Rossouw.
After a painstaking judging process, 22 restaurants achieved Diamond status (the highest accolade), 44 were awarded Platinum, 38 received Gold and three earned Silver.
The judges also voted on the best eateries in each of the four regions. The restaurants honoured with the notable award were Restaurant Mosaic (Gauteng), Aubergine (Western Cape), Hartford House (KwaZulu-Natal) and Henry White’s (Eastern Cape).
Located in the Cape Town City Bowl in a historic 1830s-era house, this at-first-glance unassuming establishment has built a reputation over the past two decades as a compulsory stop for any self-respecting foodie visiting the Mother City from South Africa and abroad.
But, they will have to book early if they want to beat the throngs of locals, many of them regulars, lining up to savour chef and owner Harald Bresselschmidt’s unique and imaginative food and wine pairings.
These include abalone sautéed and served with squid ink risotto and lemon verbena emulsion, and accompanied by Paardebosch Rosé; wildebeest seared in a black pepper and coriander crust with artichoke confit and raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette, with Kleinood Syrah; and Valrhona ivory mousse, three textures of pineapple and basil macaroon, with Thelema Sémillon Late Harvest 2013.
‘We are very happy with the award, as one of the few independent restaurants with a wine cellar built up over the course of 20 years,’ says Bresselschmidt. ‘It takes a great deal of investment, time, passion, commitment and discipline, so we do appreciate the recognition. We’re pleased to see that wine lists aren’t only featured once a year in the awards ceremonies, but appreciated by diners on a day-to-day basis. It’s important also to celebrate the calibre of sommelier service necessary to accompany such lists. This too has become more appreciated in recent years.’
Bresselschmidt says their other venue, Auslese, offers a specialised wine and food experience and caters for functions and events. ‘There we contribute to Cape Town’s wine scene through regular launches and pairing dinners with new South African and foreign wines. Thanks to Diners Club’s input and publications, their awards are held in high esteem, so this is a very special and internationally recognised accolade.’
Few eateries make as emphatic a first impression as does Restaurant Mosaic, from the Moorish-style towers of its home, The Orient Private Hotel, rising from the vegetation of the Crocodile River Valley to the bounties of its wine cellar, which is stocked with more than 60 000 bottles under 5 100 different international and local labels.
Then there’s its clutch of awards, a list of which would fill this page. Its Diners Club Winelist tally alone would be the envy of most other restaurants, having earned Diamond status between 2010 and 2013, Diamond status and Best Overall Wine List in South Africa in 2014, Diamond awards and best in Gauteng for 2015 and, more recently, 2016.
With every new dish appearing on Mosaic’s Seasonal Menu, Chef Chantel Dartnall and internationally accredited sommelier Germain Lehodey work together with their cellar team to select the most suitable wine for each dish. During the creative ‘deconstruction tasting’ sessions on Tuesdays, the team meticulously taste each new dish’s ingredients individually, together with carefully selected wines, to ensure they uncover the perfect pairing.
When the restaurant is closed for its annual winter break, the Mosaic team travel abroad to visit Michelin-star restaurants and celebrated wine estates in Europe, as well as small boutique estates in their quest to stock some of the best and rarest wines the continent has to offer. ‘For me, it’s so important to stay on top of the latest food trends in Europe: we always visit a select few leading chefs to see what dishes they are busy creating, in order to ensure that what we do at Restaurant Mosaic is on a par with some the best restaurants in the world,’ says Dartnall.
Guests can choose between various pairing options: a ‘Connoisseur’ wine pairing that features predominantly international wines, or an ‘Enthusiast’ pairing featuring mostly South African wines. They also offer a non-alcoholic pairing, where you can expect delights such as aromatic jasmine tea and rose-geranium elixir.
Pairing options include ‘Jewels of the Sea’, an oyster macerated in Champagne and a light apple jelly topped with a Champagne foam, accompanied by Alvi’s Drift Thornlands MCC; ‘Honeycomb’ comprising Prosopis honey, sunflower shoots and Saint-Nectaire cheese with Domaine Henri Bourgeois Jadis 2010; and, lastly, ‘Little Black Number’, layered Callebaut couverture chocolate mousse, ganache, salted caramel served with a crunchy wafer and Italian gelato, and accompanied by De Trafford Vin De Paille Straw Wine 2003.
Restaurant Mosaic recently launched its Summer Celebrations Menu to mark its 10th anniversary. The menu features redesigns of some of its most memorable dishes from the last decade, as well as a couple of favourite dishes suggested by its regular guests.
The storied five-star boutique hotel, set in the almost impossibly picturesque Giant’s Castle valley just outside Mooi River, has a reputation for warm hospitality and culinary excellence going back more than a century to when it was the home of Sir Frederick Moor, the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal.
More recently, Hartford House has become somewhat of a magnet for foodies from around South Africa and the world. For more than a decade, fine dining at Hartford was synonymous with renowned Head Chef Jackie Cameron. Between 2002 and 2014, the restaurant, under her charge, won a slew of awards, including the much coveted Diamond award for its wine list for five years running, from Diners Club International.
This year’s win shows the restaurant has lost none of its culinary mojo, with Head Chef Constantijn Hahndiek in full control of the kitchen.
‘For me, it’s not just the food that makes a dining experience, nor the wine, but the entire theatre from start to finish,’ says General Manager Duncan Bruce. ‘This includes the atmosphere of the restaurant, the friendly service staff, the introduction of the menu with specific reference to the local produce and suppliers, the wine pairings, and a host of other details that are sometimes more art than science.’
There is a strong emphasis on local ingredients, from the hotel’s own kitchen garden, to poultry and pork from nearby farms, although Hahndiek also ventures further afield to the KZN coastline, in search of seafood fare.
It’s an approach reflected in food and wine pairings such as ‘Smoked Indezi’ comprising rooibos smoke, goat’s curd, beetroot and quince with Lismore Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2014; ‘Fresh from the North Coast’, which consists of poached geelbek, Ulva (sea lettuce), sweetcorn drops and dashi, with Vergelegen Reserve Chardonnay 2013; and ‘Blue Orange Farm’ – roast duck breast, naartjie, heritage polenta and African spinach, which is accompanied by Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2014.
Hartford House is located in the heart of the famed Summerhill Stud, birthplace of many a champion racehorse. If its latest Diamond award is anything to go by, the establishment also remains one of South Africa’s culinary thoroughbreds.
An award-winning restaurant in an award- wining hotel that also happens to be a national monument. Not many eateries in the country, let alone the Eastern Cape, can make that boast, but Henry White’s in The Manor House at Fancourt recently joined that elite club, thanks to its 2016 Winelist Award.
Last year, The Manor House scooped up the World Boutique Hotel Award for Africa’s Best Romantic Boutique Hotel. It earned its national monument status thanks to its colourful history – it was built in 1849.
Henry White’s was named after one of Fancourt’s original owners and was opened with the express intention of filling a fine-dining-shaped hole in the local market.
Under the guidance, initially, of Chef Charles Hayward and, more recently, Petrus de Kock, Henry White’s offers classic dining with an inclination towards seafood dishes, as well as an extensive tasting menu of signature dishes.
It is also home to an extensive selection of award-winning wines. Wine-pairing evenings are hosted there from September to May, with the intention of showing off fine South African wines paired alongside innovative food.
Pairing options include ‘Tuna Tataki’ served with soba noodles, lightly smoked oyster and mango accompanied with Vergelegen G.V.B Semillon – Sauvignon Blanc 2015; ‘Braised Pork Belly’ with roast apple purée, hazelnut crumble, savoy cabbage and passion-fruit hollandaise, paired with Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2015; and ‘Duo of Brulle’ comprising Valrhona chocolate, rooibos, gooseberry gel and passion-fruit sorbet, with Jordan The Real McCoy Riesling 2015.
And if you subscribe to the belief that a fine restaurant should delight the eyes as well as the palate, you will be pleased to know that Henry White’s is home to a permanent collection of artworks by lauded German painter, Klaus Fussman, alongside an array of South African mounted art.
Photography: istockphoto, courtesy images