On Monday 21st October 2019, the second of two awards ceremonies to announce the winners of the American Express Dining Awards 2020 took place in Cape Town. Held at the exquisite Norval Foundation Art Museum on the lush Steenberg Estate, the night was a classy affair, with attendees treated to an exceptional 5-star, three-course meal and decked out in their finest attire.
The iconic programme was reimagined earlier this year and has been the premier showcase of South Africa’s culinary scene for 21 years. It now features an expanded range of categories similar to those in the World Restaurant Awards.
“There’s been nothing short of a revolution in the local restaurant industry in recent years,” says Chris Wood, Head of American Express South Africa, “and we’re delighted to be able to recognise creativity and innovation in categories that didn’t even exist when we first launched the Dining Awards programme in 1998. The structure of the programme is now completely aligned with the very best awards programmes around the world.”
The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the prestigious American Express Restaurant of the Year Award, which went to Cape Town’s The Test Kitchen.
Located in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, The Test Kitchen is the epitome of contemporary fine dining. Established in 2010 by celebrated chef, Luke Dale-Roberts, the establishment has garnered many prestigious awards. Earlier this year, it was ranked number 44 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards and was recognised as the top restaurant in Africa.
Ever at the forefront of innovation, The Test Kitchen consistently delights a small selection of dinners (it seats only 40 people a night) with a complex epicurean offering of 21 courses. The first of these are served in the restaurant’s sultry Dark Room, where the quiet focus is on food and conversation, with the remainder of the beautifully plated tasting menu being served in the more formal Light Room.
The Test Kitchen, as its name implies, was established by Luke to give him total freedom to innovate, and he never fails to deliver that meal-of-a-lifetime experience; an unfailingly bold expression of his commitment to adventure with flavours and ingredients.
“There can be no doubt that South Africa’s top restaurants stack up against the best in the world,” says Chris Wood. “And what makes them unique is the way in which they combine classical culinary disciplines with the abundance of fresh ingredients South Africa has to offer, creating a fusion cuisine like no other.
In total, 24 restaurants in the Western Cape were awarded the American Express accolade, while a further 5 restaurants in the region scooped 5 out of the 10 category awards that runs across all regions in South Africa. See below for the full list of winners.
Top restaurants in the Southern and Western region:
- Babel at Babylonstoren: Housed in an old cow shed on the historic Babylonstoren estate in the Cape winelands, Babel has a farm-to-fork philosophy, crafting its delightfully experimental menu from seasonal produce grown on the estate itself.
- Camphors at Vergelegen: Since opening in 2012, Camphors, which is named after the giant camphor trees on the Vergelegen Wine Estate, has consistently garnered some of the country’s top restaurant awards, offering an ever-changing seasonal menu paired with the estate’s classic wines.
- Cavalli Estate Restaurant: Another gem of the Cape winelands, Cavalli Estate Restaurant is famous for serving delicious, fresh whole foods prepared in a way the honours the seasons and the ingredients freshly picked from the estate’s heirloom vegetable garden.
- Eike by Bertus Basson: Situated in historic Stellenbosch, Eike’s set menu with multiple courses is informed by heritage but created with a very contemporary vision, and has been hailed by a top critic as nothing short of perfection.
- Foliage: The setting at Foliage in Franschhoek, much like the menu, is an appealing combination of upmarket bistro and contemporary farmhouse, with a menu that is adjusted daily to accommodate wild ingredients from wild geese to wild herbs and mushrooms.
- Fyn: At Fyn, situated in Cape Town’s city bowl, South Africa’s wild freedom is tempered by the rigours of contemporary cuisine to offer an edgy journey of discovery into flavour.
- The Greenhouse: Housed at the Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, The Greenhouse has been hailed as the culinary equivalent of an artist finding their own style or an author finding their own voice.
- Hacklewood: The five-star restaurant at Port Elizabeth’s Hacklewood Hill Country House reflects the building’s Victorian glory and offers an award-winning cordon bleu menu that has garnered many awards.
- Jardine: Jardine Restaurant in Stellenbosch is famous for its three- and five-course wine-paired menus, which change weekly and push all the boundaries of taste sensation.
- Jordan: Jordan Restaurant on the Jordan Wine Estate was one of the first chef’s signature restaurants in the winelands and offers smoky, smouldering country flavours in simple combinations on a contemporary plate.
- La Colombe: Situated in the leafy Cape Town suburb of Constantia, La Colombe has consistently received world-wide acclaim and is regarded as being amongst the top restaurants in the world.
- La Tête: La Tête on Bree Street in Cape Town is the realisation of a culinary dream for two brothers, who deliver an unconventional menu centred around a nose-to-tail philosophy of using all parts of food animals.
- Le Coin Français: Franschhoek’s Le Coin Français, a recent addition to the town’s famed line-up of restaurants, embodies the essence of the valley after which it is named in heritage, cuisine, art and wine.
- La Petite Colombe: Situated at Le Quartier Français Hotel in Franschhoek, La Petite Colombe is the little sister of Constantia’s La Colombe and has already received several top awards for its gourmet cuisine.
- Overture: Nestled in the foothills of the Helderberg, Overture has celebrated South Africa’s rich culinary heritage since opening in 2007, drawing inspiration from nostalgic food memories and old family recipes.
- Protégé: Recently opened in Franschhoek, Protégé hits all the right notes with its refined, flavour-packed approach to casual fine dining, a concept that is gaining in popularity all over the world.
- Rust en Vrede: Situated on the famed Rust en Vrede Wine Estate near Stellenbosch, this restaurant is justifiably famed for offering the very finest, carefully crafted dining experience in a truly world-class venue.
- Salsify: One of the four restaurants in the Luke Dale-Roberts portfolio, Salsify is located in The Roundhouse, a national monument in trendy Camps Bay. The restaurant is known for delivering an opulent culinary journey that skilfully combines contemporary and classical notes.
- The Pot Luck Club: Perched on the top floor of the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock – and another of the four restaurants in the Luke Dale-Roberts portfolio – The Pot Luck Club has been dubbed the coolest place to be in Cape Town, delighting dinners with innovative cuisine served in a relaxed but edgy environment.
- The Restaurant at Waterkloof: A modern space featuring spectacular vistas, Waterkloof Wine Estate’s signature restaurant is literally taking quality dining to new heights, whetting the appetite with contemporary classics complemented by the estate’s elegant wines.
- The Shortmarket Club: One of the four restaurants in the Luke Dale-Roberts portfolio, The Shortmarket Club in the Cape Town city bowl specialises in contemporary interpretations of established favourites, which are inspired by fresh ingredients sourced directly from local suppliers.
- The Test Kitchen: The showpiece of the Luke Dale-Roberts portfolio, The Test Kitchen is the epitome of contemporary fine dining and received this year’s American Express Restaurant of the Year Award.
- The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal: Situated in the beautifully revamped cellar on the famed Boschedal Wine Estate, which was established in 1635, the focus at The Werf Restaurant is on presenting contemporary farm-to-table dining using the very best local, seasonal and ethically-sourced ingredients.
- Zinzi: Located in chic Plettenberg Bay, Zinzi, which means ‘abundance’ in Swahili, delights dinners with distinctive local and international dishes lovingly prepared using only the freshest ingredients. A meal at Zinzi is an abundant experience of honest food, warm service and superb ambience.
Restaurants in the region also scooped five of the ten category awards:
Style: For an establishment with unique style and flair. The triple volume space with views of Table Mountain, Kloof Nek and Lion’s Head features a spectacularly stunning ceiling piece of hanging wooden discs, the drama is further heightened by the dark tones of the natural elements used throughout while the blurring of the line between kitchen and restaurant sees culinary showmanship add an extra dimension to the stylish space. The Winner of The American Express Style Award 2020 is Fyn.
Young Talent: For an ambitious young talent. This young chef wowed the judges with every course from Amuse Bouche to the Petit Four finalé delivering on technique, flavour and presentation. A year into running his own kitchen, he together with his team are running a service second to none. The American Express Young Talent Award 2020 goes to chef Ryan Cole.
Best Newcomer: For the best new restaurant to debut on the American Express Dining Awards list. This is a restaurant that pays homage to the historic significance of Stellenbosch with an outstanding locally sourced menu that is a study in food heritage of both the chef himself and of our country. The Best Newcomer Award 2020 goes to Eike by Bertus Basson.
Service: For service excellence from the time diners make their booking until the time they leave the restaurant. A service second to none facilitating a dining experience like no other from your welcome through to wine and everything in between. The American Express Service Award 2020 goes to The Test Kitchen.
Restaurant of The Year: A multi-sensorial dinner that delivers a dining experience of the most extraordinary proportions. From dark through to light, the diner is taken on a gastronomic journey like no other. The American Express Restaurant of The Year 2020 is The Test Kitchen.
The top restaurants in the northern, central and eastern region:
Abingdon: This exclusive restaurant and wine bar, situated on the Abingdon Wine Farm in KwaZulu-Natal, is famous for its gourmet harvest boards and relaxed summer dining under the estate’s heritage oak trees.
Culinary Table Restaurant: A contemporary take on city-meets-country, this welcoming family-owned restaurant near Johannesburg’s Lanseria Airport is known for its honest garden-to-table menu.
Epicure: One of the City of Gold’s destinations de jour, this Sandton restaurant features both fine food and African street food, which is a special attraction of its late-night dining experience.
Grei at the Saxon: Discreetly tucked away in the Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold, Grei exudes sophistication and features a succulent cuisine known for its herbaceous and natural themes.
Marble: Situated in the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Marble is a celebration of contemporary South African cuisine and especially the country’s love of cooking with fires.
NCW: Situated in an Edwardian house in the historic Johannesburg suburb of Meville, NCW focuses on pushing culinary boundaries with interesting flavour combinations, textures and presentations.
Qunu at the Saxon: Qunu offers a modern African table, using both local and international flavours to inspire unique, vibrant and entertaining culinary experiences.
Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient: Situated at the Orient Boutique Hotel in Pretoria, Mosaic is a signature hotel restaurant that offers artfully crafted gastronomy in an elegant, art nouveau setting.
Saint: Another Sandton favourite, Saint offers a contemporary take on traditional Italian cuisine, fondly prepared by top Italian-trained chefs who are unashamedly obsessed with food as an art form.
Silver Orange: A well-loved attraction in the village of Hartbeespoort, north of Johannesburg, Silver Orange offers delicious fusion food and an award-winning wine list in a laid-back country atmosphere.
The Chef’s Table: A gem situated in Umhlanga, just south of Durban, The Chef’s Table features an open-plan kitchen, where diners can watch the restaurant’s beautifully-plated meals being prepared.
De Oude Kraal: Located in the original farmhouse on the Oude Kraal Country Estate near Bloemfontein, this restaurant offers five-course gourmet meals prepared with love and featuring daily variations based on the season’s finest ingredients.