Awards on the menu as Cape’s top chefs tuck in their napkins
What would you put on the table if some of the land’s top chefs were coming to dinner?
That was the daunting task the organisers of this year’s American Express Dining Awards for the Western Cape faced on Monday, with a guest list brimming with restaurateurs from some of SA’s finest dining establishments.
It was a nippy and wet Monday evening as foodies gathered at Embassy Hill, a grand property in Constantia, Cape Town.
Walking in, the first person I greet is someone who towers over most mortals — statuesque model Mala Bryan, who these days spends most of her time running her ethnically diverse doll range.
Mala was there to support her other half, Giorgio Nava of landmark Cape Town institution 95 Keerom.
What is the secret to a good restaurant, I ask the Milan-born chef-owner. He replies: “Consistency. It’s a simple formula.”
When I mention that I want to check out one of the Mother City’s trendy new spots, which boasts a menu of “foraged ingredients”, Giorgio doesn’t mince his words.
“I drove past that place the other day, and it was empty,” he says. “Trendy should mean popular — Luke’s [Dale-Roberts] restaurants are trendy because they are always full.”
On cue, the man whose foodie haven the Test Kitchen is on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, joins us, and the fine-dining talk continues.
Luke will be kept on this toes this summer — not only will he be opening a new spot at the old Roundhouse in Camps Bay, but he and his partners in the ultra-cool Shortmarket Club, chef Wesley
Randles and manager Simon Widdison, are opening an offshoot called the Commissary.
“Unapologetically loud and noisy,” is how Wesley describes it.
Then it’s inside the venue’s conservatory for the sit-down dinner, where I greet Design Indaba’s Ravi Naidoo, there with his wife Dr Leshni Shah, who tells me he will be launching a new creative project next month “with a star designer”.
A hefty 43 gongs are handed out for consistency, quality, service and food presentation to restaurants that accept American Express cards. Giorgio and Luke’s restaurants both pick up trophies.
And as for the three-course meal, which we tuck into between handing out all those trophies? I enjoyed the mushroom three ways starter and my grilled lamb rump with pea purée main, but a tablemate who opted for the grilled line fish felt the smoked cauliflower purée was too overpowering, and “bland” is how I’d describe the coconut and vanilla panna cotta dessert.