New Media, organisers of the Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards, recently announced that internationally acclaimed food writer and restaurant reviewer Bruce Palling would assist in judging South Africa’s top restaurants.
Abigail Donnelly, Eat Out editor and judge, is “very excited to have Bruce joining us as judge. He is not only an exceptional food writer but also brings extensive international experience and knowledge to Eat Out and our awards – something that we’ve always aspired to.” Bruce enjoyed his first visit to South Africa and, while he knew from his experience as a judge for the San Pellegrino Awards that South Africa is well represented among the top international contenders, he was happy to experience for himself what the local restaurant industry had to offer. South Africa’s Top 10 restaurants will be announced at the Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards in Cape Town in November.
I spoke to Bruce Palling, who lives in London and is the food columnist for the Wall Street Journal Europe and has a much-admired blog www.gastroenophile.com which is well worth a look at.
Do you have a culinary background?
No – quite the opposite really. My parents had an austere Australian approach to food. It was up to my ‘bohemian’ friends to introduce me to exotics like avocado pear!
A full-time restaurant reviewer. Isn’t that every food lover’s dream job?
I guess it must be, though I see myself as a food writer rather than a restaurant reviewer.
Being a high-profile food writer and restaurant reviewer requires a certain type of character. What type of animal do you think best typifies the qualities needed to be a successful restaurant reviewer?
Would love to be a cheetah, a self-sufficient creature of grace and elegance with no fear of humans!
How did you get started as a food writer and restaurant reviewer?
I was working for The Independent as their first correspondent in the Indian sub continent and on a trip home the features editor, even though I really knew more about wine than food in those days, asked me to do a review of restaurants from Venice in California up to the Napa Valley. It was here that I first experience the joys of Chez Panisse. This writing was noticed and I started working for Vogue and others as a food writer.
What do you look for when you review a restaurant?
Is there a contented murmur? Activity? People gesticulating? I want to have fun, it’s not an intellectual exercise. One needs to be almost captured by the Maitre d’ and made to feel special. I spent years as a mystery diner for the Soho House Group. Someone once said that he thought the secret of success in restaurants was to make celebrities feel like ordinary people and ordinary people like celebrities.
What role do you think blogs like yours have to play in terms of how people are getting information online – both now, and in the future?
I think it is very much up to the people reading blogs to get out of them whatever they want – I never want to impose my views on anybody.
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently and where?
An outrageous meal in Poland – ‘Cook it Raw’. Twelve leading chefs gather for 5 days and prepare a twelve course feast. And its 50/50 success or failure I might add. This meal included two small wild boars cooked in a pit oven next to one of Poland’s deepest lakes by Ben Shewry, one of Australia’s top chefs. The wines weren’t up to much, but the food was!
What are your favourite wine styles? And your current favourite South African Wine?
Having drunk them for over 40 years, I have a profound love of Bordeaux wines, though now I am converting to the joys of Burgundy, especially those from Morey and, of course, Vosne-Romanee. (I quite understand why people convert to the joys of Burgundy.) The most interesting South African wines I tasted were 2007 and 2005 pinots from Vriesenhof.
What dish do you want as comfort food?
Very simple North Indian food – remember I was a correspondent there for a number of years. I am addicted to the Lahore’s Barbecued spiced lamb chops, Rogan Josh and some of their delicious vegetable dishes – like chillied aubergine or spinach. I am rather partial to Fish and Chips too!
Offal – do you like eating offal?
Definitely! I love Andouillettes – a sausage made from pork intestines. Also calves liver, brains, tongue, kidneys and especially sweetbreads. However, my real passion is for game, especially if it is cooked by Brett Graham, at The Ledbury, the greatest chef in Britain.
Do you eat fast food? If yes what?
I am fond of burgers, though not from the chains!
What’s the ideal breakfast you’d want to wake up to?
I so enjoy kippers for breakfast, with butter and lemon. And a good kedgeree!
What book is on your bedside table now?
Under a cruel star – a life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly
Between Meals – an appetite for Paris by AJ Liebling
The Complete Escoffier [the one with every single recipe]
Delizia – the epic history of Italians and their food by John Dickie
A quintet of Cuisines – the Time Life series
and Platter’s South African Wines 2012
Your desert island disc?
My very own iPod with the unabridged Ulysses, Proust, Gibbon, a huge amount of Bach, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Messiaen, Bartok.
Which five guests would you like to make up a party of 6 for dinner?
Only people I knew and all with a profound love of wine
Jeremiah Tower, the greatest California Chef and co-founder of Chez Panisse
Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, we’ve been friends for a couple of years. He is a passionate wine lover.
Stephen Browett, Chairman of Farr Vintners
Aubert de Villaine, of Romanée Conti, in the hope that he would bring along a couple of bottles of my favourite La Tache ‘42.
and my wife Lucinda – whom I met outside Clarke’s Restaurant in Kensington Church Street when she asked me to hold her bicycle so that she could go in and buy a baguette!
Bruce has an impressive CV. Born in Australia, he spent five years on provincial and national dailies before travelling to Indochina in 1972, where he was the BBC World Service correspondent in Laos. He later reported in Vietnam and Cambodia, leaving Phnom Penh with the last American helicopters in 1975. He has since worked in South-East Asia, Southern Africa (Rhodesia 1976-77), the US and South Asia for a variety of organisations, including The Times, The Washington Post and The Independent. After returning from India in 1989, he was Travel Editor of Tatler, where he founded the annual Travel Guide before leaving journalism to found the award-winning travel company Western & Oriental. Bruce was a Mystery Shopper for the Soho House Group and has been on the judging panel for the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards for the past six years. He is also a panelist for the UK’s National Restaurant Awards.