When it comes to sizzling hot kitchens, South Africa remains the culinary capital of the continent, home to an array of talented chefs whipping up a cornucopia of tasting menus, foraged dishes and world-class wine pairings.

MC's Elana Afrika-Bedenkamp and Maps Maponyane – courtesy of Eat Out Awards
MC’s Elana Afrika-Bedenkamp and Maps Maponyane – courtesy of Eat Out Awards

The very best of those chefs, restaurateurs and sommeliers were celebrated in late-November at the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, held at the GrandWest Arena in Cape Town.

At a glamorous ceremony that saw musical legends and local celebrities grace the stage to entertain the thousand-strong crowd of food-lovers, chefs and media, the brightest culinary talents in South Africa were given their due in what has become an annual highlight of the local calendar.

The Test Kitchen's billionaire shortbread – courtesy of Eat Out Awards
The Test Kitchen’s billionaire shortbread – courtesy of Eat Out Awards

While the annual Eat Out guide reviews 500 of South Africa’s best restaurants, the Awards themselves celebrate only the 30 finest eateries in the country. The format of the Awards was also updated for 2017, with a shortlist of 20 counting down to the best restaurant in South Africa.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Test Kitchen in Cape Town was once again confirmed as Africa’s top gourmet destination, bagging the coveted Restaurant of the Year title for the sixth consecutive year.

It’s a fitting accolade for a restaurant often ranked amongst the best in the world, but just as illuminating for gourmet travellers planning an itinerary to Africa were the host of other winners on the night.

Highly respected chef-patron Liam Tomlin won the 2017 Eat Out S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year Award. Tomlin has expanded the refined small-plate concept of his inner city Chef’s Warehouse to outlets in the Constantia winelands and the Franschhoek valley, to great acclaim from diners and critics alike. His Indian-focused restaurant in central Cape Town, Thali, has also redefined modern Indian cuisine in the city.

While acclaimed Constantia restaurant La Colombe only picked up fourth place in the coveted Top 10 rankings, its new sister restaurant in Franschhoek, La Petite Colombe, bagged the Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year Award as well as the Eat Out John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service. Another person recognised for outstanding service was Moses Magwaza, the sommelier at Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient, who won the 2017 Eat Out Wine Service Award.

Moses Magwaza – courtesy of Restaurant Mosaic
Moses Magwaza – courtesy of Restaurant Mosaic

Service, along with the need to offer a holistic and memorable dining experience beyond what’s on the plate, was a key theme of this year’s awards.

“2017 has been an exceptional, exciting and competitive year of eating out”, said Eat Out Editor and Head Judge Abigail Donnelly, who worked with four anonymous judges to decide the winners. “Restaurateurs, chefs, producers, waitrons and sommeliers have upped their game to offer world-class dining experiences. It goes beyond quality and consistency: it’s a commitment to excellence.”

An excellent example of that commitment was the inaugural winner of the Eat Out Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef Award: Kobus van der Merwe of Wolfgat restaurant in the west-coast village of Paternoster won this new category, chosen by the votes of fellow chefs.

Chef Wesley Randles from The Shortmarket Club – courtesy of the Shortmarket Club
Chef Wesley Randles from The Shortmarket Club – courtesy of the Shortmarket Club

“He blows my mind every time I eat there”, said Wesley Randles, Head Chef at The Shortmarket Club. “He’s the only one in the country who can serve you something you’ve never eaten in your life before, and the only South African chef really serving heritage food.” Other chefs hailed this unassuming self-taught chef as “a spokesperson for real South African coastal cuisine”.

Sustainability is close to van der Merwe’s heart, and was also a key consideration in the awarding of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. This year, the title went to Camphors at Vergelegen in recognition of their commitment to environmentally and socially responsible practices.

If you’re planning a year of eating your way through South Africa’s finest restaurants, here are the top 20 winners of the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards to get you started…

  1. The Test Kitchen
  2. Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient
  3. The Restaurant at Waterkloof
  4. Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia
  5. Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort
  6. Camphors at Vergelegen
  7. La Colombe
  8. The Shortmarket Club
  9. Overture
  10. The Pot Luck Club
  11. Jardine Restaurant
  12. Foliage
  13. Wolfgat
  14. Jordan Restaurant
  15. Fermier Restaurant
  16. Thali
  17. DW Eleven-13
  18. Hartford House
  19. Luke Dale-Roberts X The Saxon
  20. La Tête


The Test Kitchen receiving the number one spot as Restaurant of the Year – courtesy of Eat Out Awards
The Test Kitchen receiving the number one spot as Restaurant of the Year – courtesy of Eat Out Awards

Richard Holmes
Richard Holmes is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. His work on African and international destinations has appeared in a wide range of consumer publications both in South Africa and abroad.