South Africa's Wolfgat takes two crowns at World Restaurant Awards 2019

The  Staff Canteen

Food celebrities from around the globe gathered in Paris tonight for the World Restaurant Awards’ inaugural event at the former stock exchange, Le Palais Brongniart in Paris.

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Created to better reflect the world’s diversity of restaurants, the event was judged by an equally varied panel: from chefs, restaurateurs and journalists to consultants, creative directors – and even the global director of premium products and benefits at American Express.

In an interview last week, author and co-founder of the awards Joe Warwick told The Staff Canteen that he wanted the event to be like the Oscars of the food world, inspiring people to eat food they otherwise may not have heard about.

There was certainly an atmosphere of cultural refinement as the elites of the restaurant industry kissed each others’ cheeks while humble but no less talented award nominees stood awkwardly at the sight of cameras.

Awards were given to restaurants, not chefs, though for the most part, except for the drinks-focused awards, they still were there to receive the plate-trophies - which the evening’s host Antoine de Caunes told us were handmade in France and kept at exactly 50°C.

Representing the Restaurant of the Year, Wolfgat, also the winner of the ‘Off-Map Destination' was chef owner Kobus Van der Merwe. 

Wolfgat, a 20-seat restaurant in a historic fisherman’s cottage in Paternoster on the west coast of South Africa, was named after the cave atop which it sits. Its seven course seasonal tasting menu, an ode to the local area's heritage serves mainly seafood, enhanced with indigenous pickings foraged along the shore line, like wild herbs and succulents, seaweed, and has a reputation for being affordable despite its quality.

Far from a solo achievement, said Van der Merwe, he and his team of six - mostly women, and none of which, other than himself, have any formal food training - “certainly didn’t feel worthy” when they were longlisted, and that to have come as far as they had was “an absolute honour,” let alone winning the evening's most prized award.

Tonight’s event was proof that it’s not all about out with the old, in with the new: Lyon’s la Mère Brazier, launched in 1921 and taken over eleven years ago by twice Michelin-starred Mathieu Viannay won the ‘Enduring Classics’ award, while Monaco’s Alain Ducasse - who has nine Michelin stars to his name, has written countless books, owns dozens of restaurants, hotels and cooking schools around the world and recently launched his tenth chocolaterie, in London - took the title of ‘Tattoo-free chef’ of the year.

Meanwhile, Inua, owned and run by Rene Redzepi’s former right-hand man Thomas Frebel was crowned 'Arrival of the Year', Lido 84 was recognised for its House Special of caccio e pepe cooked in a pig’s bladder, and Alain Passard’s Arpège was named Instagram Account of the Year.

But equally, evidence that the judges can see further than the end of their noses is that - despite shortlist nominations for Highbury and Islington’s Black Axe Mangal, National Restaurant Award winner Kiln, West African-inspired Ikoji, in St-James’, and Core chef Clare Smyth - London received only a single award: that of the Red-Wine Serving Restaurant of the Year.

Noble Rot was founded by wine writers Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, now the editors of the eponymous magazine. The pair said they were “absolutely delighted” to have won the award.  

“The hospitality experience is about service and the food is absolutely critical of course, but for us wine is maybe a bit more important than it is for some other restaurants,” Andrew said.

“We’ve always staked a big claim on this, to really care about the wine and make sure the  list is exciting to give people a reason to come back and drink different different wines every time they come and dine with us, so to win an award which acknowledges that - even though it’s a red wine award and our white wine list is brilliant as well - is fantastic.”

“There’s never been a better time to drink red, white, orange wine than in 2019 so we’re mega pleased to have won this award,” Keeling added.

“It’s great that the awards are trying to do something different as well, we really appreciate it.”

Written by Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th February 2019

South Africa's Wolfgat takes two crowns at World Restaurant Awards 2019