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The Restaurant hangs up aprons

One of the country’s top fine-dining restaurants, The Restaurant at Waterkloof, will permanently close its doors later this month.

The imminent closure of the award winning Somerset West restaurant was announced on social media by head chef Gregory Czarnecki on Monday (9 November). He attributed the decision to the “strange and difficult times” most in the culinary industry find themselves in as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the closure of The Restaurant at Waterkloof,” Czarnecki said. “Despite all our efforts to keep the restaurant afloat, our dream alive and to pursue our passion in these strange and difficult times, it has become impossible for us to follow our business model.”

Emotional reactions

The announcement was met with a mixture of shock and sadness from its loyal patrons, many residents of the Helderberg and tourists from across the globe. Many also shared their experiences and fond memories of dining at The Restaurant, wishing the head chef and his team well for the future.

“[This is] very sad to hear, considering this restaurant won several culinary awards and is listed as number three in the top 10 restaurants in South Africa,” one patron commented.

Another wrote: “[This is] such sad news, and yet I can say with much gratitude that this restaurant was a magical experience that I was so privileged to enjoy. It was sensational. Good luck to all the staff going forward. I wish I could attend the last serving.”

A Swedish patron also shared her sadness at the closure of the eatery. “We had an absolutely fantastic day at your restaurant with wine tasting and superb food back in December 2011, and we still cherish the memory. The view and your chenin blanc were a favourite! I wish you all the best.”

Food meets wine

The Restaurant was started by Czarnecki about 11 years ago. It was especially popular among foodies and those in the culinary industry for its ever-changing technique-driven four-course tasting and eight-course degustation menus, both inspired by the head chef’s French heritage.

The sophisticated dishes were mostly paired with the award winning wines created by Waterkloof Wines, which forms part of the popular Stellenbosch Wine Route, and enjoyed against the backdrop of the magnificent False Bay coastline, surrounding mountains and sprawling vineyards.

Awards aplenty

In its lifetime, the eatery and its chefs have raked in the awards, including being crowned the top restaurant in South Africa at the 2018 annual Eat Out Awards (“SW eatery claims coveted crown”, DistrictMail, 22 November 2018).

At the time, Czarnecki attributed the win to passion possessed by him and his staff, while having fun doing what they love daily. “This was the first time I could close the restaurant for the ceremony, so the whole team could attend the function,” he told DistrictMail after the ceremony.

It first entered the top-tier rankings of the annual competition, a highlight on the culinary calendar, in 2015 when it claimed sixth place on the the top-10 list. From there on, the venue became a regular feature on the list, placing third in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

The Restaurant at Waterkloof, which specialises in “contemporary, minimalistic and French cuisine”, was also named South Africa’s Best Wine Tourism Restaurant at the 2015 Great Wine Capitals Global Network Best Of Wine Tourism Awards in Mendoza, Argentina. This glowing accolade followed the eatery’s five-star success in the acclaimed JP Rossouw Diners Club Restaurant Guide for 2015 as well as it being awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award for several consecutive years since 2011, and being added to the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame.

But it was not only the eatery itself that shone in competitions; in 2016, Czarnecki was also crowned the country’s top chef when he claimed the Eat Out S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year award (“Culinary masters sizzle”, DistrictMail, 24 November 2016).

What’s more, Paul Thinus Prinsloo, the chef de partie at The Restaurant at Waterkloof, is still the holder of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Africa & Middle East award, a title he won at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef regional competition in Cape Town in October last year.

He was meant to participate in the Grand Finale, representing Africa and the Middle East, in Milan, Italy, but the competition was postponed due to the pandemic (“Chef Paul prepares for global cook-off”, DistrictMail, 2 April).

Covid’s knockout blow

But despite all the achievements and accolades gleaned over the years, and the success The Restaurant at Waterkloof achieved through its top quality fine-dining experience to patrons locally and abroad, the blow dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic and its forced lockdown, like for many other businesses, was just too harsh to deal with.

Said Czarnecki: “When I started this journey at Waterkloof 11 years ago, I could have never conceived that it would end this way. It is unfortunately a battle that we could no longer continue fighting, and so we have decided to hang up our aprons.

“From starting out as the ‘new kid on the block’ to becoming the best restaurant in the country, Waterkloof has been an amazing journey filled with memories that I will treasure forever. It has helped me grow as a chef and made me who I am today.”

The head chef also thanked his staff for their hard work and dedication to their craft, adding that he “deeply regrets” the impact that the closure will have on them and their families.

Czarnecki also expressed his gratitude to everyone that supported the restaurant over the years. “You were the reason we kept pushing boundaries and enjoyed sharing what we loved the most.”

Although The Restaurant at Waterkloof is closing its doors, the wine estate’s Tasting Lounge and Healey’s Deli will remain open. The Restaurant’s final service will be lunch on Sunday 22 November, and Czarnecki invited all interested persons to the eatery’s final farewell.

V For more information on The Restaurant at Waterkloof’s final service or offerings at the Tasting Lounge and Healey’s Deli, visit www.waterkloof.co.za.

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