Record numbers as 16th annual American Express Platinum Awards celebrate the re-definition of 'fine dining'

Thursday, 26 September, 2013
American Express Platinum Awards
Sixteen years since the prestigious American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards Programme was launched by Nedbank in South Africa, an unprecedented 94 restaurants have been honoured for 2014. 
The award ceremony was held at Queen Victoria 54, Cape Town on 23 September and broke several records:

•    the highest number of awards in a single year – 94 – up from 83 last year
•    the highest number of new entrants receiving awards – 17 – in any single year since the inaugural awards of 1998
•    7 restaurants received their 10th Award and were added to the Roll of Honour
•    the widest footprint to date: the awards now cover 7 of South Africa’s 9 provinces

‘We are delighted to see the continued growth in participation to 94 restaurants in 2013 for 2014 spanning over seven of the nine provinces. As the exclusive issuer of American Express® in South Africa, the awards demonstrate the Nedbank ethos of ‘Make Things Happen’ – and serve as a catalyst in championing not only the fine dining industry but the fine dining personal experiences which carry moments of truths for many. We commend the restaurateurs whose sterling work and dedication to the industry and delivering an undeniably exquisite culinary experience – give many diners and those that are new to fine dining, a compelling reason to come back for more,’ said Tina Venter: Head of Card Marketing for American Express®.

According to long-time restaurant critic for the Saturday Star and convenor of the American Express® judging panel since the inception of the awards 16 years ago, Victor Strugo, these numbers convey not only strong optimism in the future of the South African restaurant arena, but also a broadening of vision in line with global trends.

‘In recent years, we have seen a re-definition of fine dining for modern times,’ said Strugo.  ‘Restaurateurs and diners are acknowledging that the cornerstones of excellence can – and indeed should – exist across a wide spectrum of styles, ethnicities and ambiences and not only in “classic” or “formal” establishments.’

Fellow judge, publisher and author Tamsin Snyman, who chairs the regional chapter of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, concurs: ‘We must align ourselves with global food trends and thinking.  With travel and technology transfer, South Africa is no longer left behind, no longer adopting last year’s global fashion as our latest thing. Even relaxed, informal, ‘fun’ restaurants uncompromisingly maintain their integrity, honesty and professionalism, serving fabulous food with a high standard of service; they offer me a ‘fine’ dining experience in the true modern sense of that word.’

The third principal judge, renowned author, journalist and broadcaster Anna Trapido explains from a historical perspective why this change is an evolution, not a revolution.  ‘High-end restaurants are an important part of the service sector, but we need to re-define ‘fine dining’ as a genre that works for the time and place in which it occurs’.

‘Classic Eurocentric fine dining conventions were designed to offer guests an experience of indulgence and luxury.’ No one is suggesting that it should disappear, but fine dining Japanese, Indian and other styles broaden the spectrum with more and different ways of providing as much pleasure, and of making guests feel special.’

‘Italian, Californian, Australian, Spanish and Nordic restaurants have re-invented the form to suit their culinary context. There is no reason why we can’t incorporate African and other new world definitions of politeness, deliciousness and beauty into our restaurant culture,’ adds Trapido.

Strugo contextualises this development:  ‘Awards often focus on the snob appeal of cutting-edge cuisine and luxurious glitz.  But fashion is fleeting.  Instead we seek – and see – excellence wherever it consistently manifests and that includes exclusive high end establishments but also the dining mainstream. In both cases we are seeing the creativity of new trend-setters, tranquil as well as lively venues and every type of ethnic expression.  The key is quality and the fact that fine dining can be fun – and vice-versa!’

‘The common link that encompasses all these genres as ‘Fine’ is the consistency in striving for excellence – of ingredients, of cooking skills, of food presentation, of menu and wine list construction and harmonisation, of décor that complements identity, of service and hospitality.  This adds up to overall professionalism.’

Standards are annually re-evaluated by the judges and their panel of experienced ‘ghost’ reviewers.  Awards are not renewed automatically.  ‘Six of last year’s winners failed to receive 2014 awards,’ commented Strugo.  ‘Conversely, five restaurants that had slipped up before raised their game and were re-instated.’

The judges’ final word:  ‘Eighty-four restaurants have won at least four times and 28 have ten or more Platinum Awards on their walls.  In a volatile economy and competitive industry, I think these numbers emphasize that the American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Awards succeed in identifying not only excellence but consistent excellence.’


•    17 restaurants received their FIRST American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Award: Signal (Cape Peninsula); Waterkloof, De Grendel (Cape Winelands); The Orchid Room (Knysna); Five Hundred, La Scala, Signature, Sophia’s Bistro, Vin MMX, Wang Thai (Johannesburg); Neh! (Alexandra); Zemara (Pretoria); Su Casa (Oudtshoorn); Zest (Nelspruit); De Hoek, Rambling Vine (Magaliesburg) and Stef’s Kitchen (Hartebeespoort).
•    7 restaurants reached the prestigious milestone of their TENTH American Express® Platinum Fine Dining Award: Constantia Uitsig (Cape Pensinsula); Reuben’s (Franschhoek); Zachary’s (Knysna); Bukhara, Osteria Tre Nonni (Johannesburg); Geet (Pretoria) and Harvey’s (recently relocated from Durban to Umhlanga).
•    The regional spread of the full 94 Awards is:  Johannesburg 28; Cape Peninsula 20; Cape Winelands 13; KwaZulu-Natal 9; Garden Route 8; Pretoria 7; North West 4; Free State 2; Klein Karoo 1; Eastern Cape 1; Mpumalanga 1.
•    Most significant regional increases:  Gauteng (29 last year); North West (1 last year)
•    4 previously suspended restaurants were re-instated.
•    10 of the 2013 awards were not renewed:  6 suspensions and 4 closures.

The full list of 2014 Award winners:

•    Johannesburg (28): Balata, Bellagio, Bellgables, BICE, Bukhara, Butcher Shop & Grill, Café del Sol, DW11-13, 500 at Saxon, Il Tartufo, Jazz Maniacs (Soweto), La Campagnola, La Cucina  di Ciro, La Scala, Le Soufflé, Mastrantonio, Neh! (Alexandra), Osteria Tre Nonni, Red Chamber, Roots at Forum Homini, Sel et Poivre, Signature, Sophia’s Bistro, Thava, Vin MMX, Wang Thai, Wombles, Yamato.
•    Cape Peninsula (20): Aubergine, Azure, Bistro Sixteen82, Bistrot Bizerca, Bombay Brasserie,  Buitenverwachting, Bukhara, Catharina’s, Constantia Uitsig, The Foodbarn, GOLD Restaurant, The Greenhouse, Haiku; Il Leone, La Colombe, Myoga, Nobu, Planet Restaurant, Savoy Cabbage, Signal
•    Cape Winelands (13): 96 Winery Road, Bosman’s, Bread & Wine, De Grendel, Fraai Uitzicht 1798, Grande Provence, Mimosa Lodge, Overture, The Pavilion, Pierneef at La Motte, Reuben’s (Franschhoek), The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, Waterkloof
•    KwaZulu-Natal (9): Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Daruma, Hartford House, Harvey’s, Ile Maurice, Ninth Avenue Bistro, Roma Revolving Restaurant, Spice, Sugar Club
•    Garden Route (8): La Locanda (George), Kurland Hotel Restaurant, Zinzi at Tsala (Plettenberg Bay), Serendipity (Wilderness), Trans Karoo (Great Brak), Pembreys, The Orchid Room, Zachary’s (Knysna)
•    Pretoria (7): Geet, La Madeleine, La Brasserie de Paris, La Pentola, Restaurant Mosaic, Ritrovo Ristorante, Zemara
•    North West (4): De Hoek, Rambling Vine (Magaliesburg); Silver Orange, Stef’s Kitchen  (Hartbeespoort)
•    Free State (2): De Oude Kraal, Seven on Kellner
•    Eastern Cape (1): Hacklewood Hill (Port Elizabeth)
•    Klein Karoo (1): Su Casa (Oudtshoorn)
•    Mpumalanga (1):  Zest (Nelspruit)