On 22 November 2020, The Restaurant at Waterkloof closed its doors. A final service attended by industry leaders, close friends and loyal patrons was conducted with the grace, class and professionalism we had come to expect from the majestic establishment. Perfection from start to finish, amuse to petit fours and everything in between.
It was a day of sadness, but also a celebration of all The Restaurant at Waterkloof had achieved and stood for – and it was a day of hope for the future. Anyone lucky enough to attend knew that this was not the end of the story for chef Gregory Czarnecki but rather the closing of a chapter.
Under the guidance of its French-born chef, The Restaurant had for 12 years marched to the beat of its own drum. Never following trends or adapting to compete, it stayed true to its premise of modern French cooking matched with a fervent dedication to the finest produce, picking up a slew of awards as it did so – including the 2018 Eat Out Restaurant of The Year Award.
Czarnecki, a master of restraint and precision and a pioneer in our food scene, always kept Waterkloof ahead of its time, with no detail overlooked. The chef’s ethos of “simplicity is complexity resolved” was evident from the moment you walked in to the moment you walked out.
The menu for the day was to include the best of the last 12 years. As guests, we chatted about our best ones over the years and – testament to Czarnecki’s prodigious skill – we all had far too many favourites for one meal.
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I reflected on my first visit and the cheeky twist on a floating island: a starter of delicate parmesan custard, topped with an egg white espuma “island” capped with caviar. Or perhaps the Smiling Valley marron – one of the best dishes I’ve ever had: the perfectly cooked marron, the tomato concasse, the creamy Hollandaise and the memories of a childhood in France that accompanied it – a masterclass in storytelling in the most subtle and flavourful of ways.
Once we were started, so many more came to mind. The Egg 63 – a Waterkloof signature of sorts: the humble chicken breast with truffle, steak and Époisses… and the scallop – we couldn’t forget the scallop!
Naturally, one could not reminisce about the best of Waterkloof without touching on the petit fours course. The most magnificent experience, with enough dishes to cover the table, from choux to macaroons and Czarnecki’s iconic rhum baba, not to mention his intricate chocolate work: each bonbon filled with the most interesting, unusual and mouthwatering of flavours to be guessed around the table.
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Chocolate has over the years become a speciality of sorts for the chef, each one perfectly moulded and tempered to a gem-like sheen. Those who have attended Eat Out Awards in years gone by will remember the hundreds of them prepared for the 2018 awards, or the scene-stealing, show-stopping chocolate bunnies smashed on the tables by rabbit-helmed waiters at the last awards.
In true fashion, the consummate professional Czarnecki ran this service with the drive and expertise of all those that came before, with clockwork precision and military service. Because, like his guests, he knew the closing of a chapter is not the end of the book.
Although our dining landscape is left poorer by Waterkloof’s closure, we are richer thanks to the impact that it had and will continue to have on our food scene for years to come. I, for one, cannot wait to see what story Czarnecki chooses to tell as he embarks on his next chapter.
To stay up to date with chef Gregory, follow him on Instagram at @czarneckigregory.