The ‘Little Book’ is here again - WINE Magazine’s Top 100 Restaurants

Thursday, 14 October, 2004
Lesley Beake
It may be little (hand-bag sized, doll) but it packs a powerful punch in the world of gourmet chefs who long for the recognition it brings to their efforts in the kitchen.

Being a chef is not for the faint hearted. They toil in heat and rush and drama, sometimes under difficult conditions, for customers who often turn up late, frequently complain about even the finest dishes, and hardly ever remember to say thank you.

So is it a relief ... or a terror ... to see Jos Baker or one of her team stroll into the restaurant? What happens in the heart of the chef when he or she realizes that this is the moment - and that if the food is good, it will be good for somebody who really understands what that means?

For those who are honoured in 'the guide' as it is universally known, there is (at least until the team start eating around again next year) a sense of hard earned achievement, because those who feature here passed the test.

I read the guide last night with absorbed interest, and it is easy to navigate, listing the hundred best restaurants in South Africa by region (alphabetically within each region) and also under specialist categories, for those who know in advance that they absolutely have to have Thai tonight. It gives a clear, elegant description of each restaurant - descriptions that embrace the soul of each venue as much as describing the food - and leaves the potential diner with a good idea of what to expect, what it might cost ... and if the wine list is any good.

Which is something 'the guide' has been campaigning for over the last few years - with some, but apparently not enough, result. 'Please give us vintages!' Jos pleads to those establishments (tested and found wanting) who failed to make it to the Top 100. 'And take more effort with your wine lists, instead of just relying on the suppliers to describe their wines.'
This year the celebration of chef excellence was held at Le Quartier Francais, winner of the top award last year, and chef Margot Janse and Reuben Riffel of Reuben's across the road served a meal that I will be thinking of (from time to time not, perhaps, exclusively) for the rest of my life. For those who want to drool for a few moments, it started with mesclun of grilled shallots, asparagus shavings and palm sugar vinaigrette - served with the Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2003 - and progressed to Foie gras and magret terrine, celeriac remoulade pressed duck leg with fennel marmalade - served with Môreson Chardonnay 2003 and Boekenhoutskloof's The Chocolate Block 2003. Those who could stay for desert toyed with Chocolate fondant, coriander tuile and hazelnut ice cream with the Môreson Merlot 2001.

The awards (top honours for the Cape in four out five categories) went to:

Top Chef: Bruce Robertson of one.waterfront at the Cape Grace in the V&A Waterfront for wickedly sensuous dishes, reigned  in by balance
Bosman's at Grande Roche in Paarl received the award for best wine list: professional, up-to-date and wide-ranging
Reuben Riffel, back in Franschhoek after a stint in the UK, was named top come-back chef
Markus Farbinger master-baker at Ille de Pain in Knysna received the top specialist award for their boutique bakery-cum-restaurant in Knysna with owner Liesie Mulder
The Westcliffe, in Johannesburg was recognized as having the best service in the country.
As for the rest ... go get The Guide!

Top 100 restaurants is published by WINE Magazine and will be available from bookshops later in October at R79.95
Editor and chief critic Jos Baker. Critics Heather Parker, Donald Paul, Danielle Nasser Weakley, John Maytham, Alice Coetzee, Gwynne Conlyn.