I don’t visit Paarl very often, usually disappointed with the restaurant offering of the town. Last week I spent a day there, to visit Jan Willem & Seuns, and Melissa’s newish branch. I had given up on Bosman’s at Grande Roche, after repeated poor experiences in the restaurant. However, a chance meeting of Bosman’s new Restaurant Manager and its Sous Chef at Maison in Franschhoek a few days prior led me to return.
During the busy festive season days I took a break at The Kitchen at Maison in Franschhoek, and sat next to a table with a couple, which turned out to be Austrian Chef Christoph Terschan and Restaurant Manager Onwaba Maholwana of Bosman’s. We chatted for ages, talking through the whole Eat Out Top 20 restaurant list, and our respective experiences with the restaurants. Onwaba was well-informed about my previous Bosman’s disasters, and encouraged me to revisit Bosman’s, to give the restaurant another chance. As bad luck would have it, I chose a day on which both Onwaba and Chef Christoph had the day off, but I decided to give it a go anyway.
One of the biggest problems of Bosman’s is the inept treatment one receives at the boom from the outsourced Servest security person. He came to my car with a list and asked what I wanted. It being 12h50, I told him that it was obvious that I had come for lunch, an answer he did not like. He then told me that as I did not have a reservation, he would first have to call Reception, to ask if they could accommodate me for lunch. I had to wait for 10 minutes on a 37º C day to receive permission to enter the property! His English was poor, it being hard to understand him!
In the good old days of the Grande Roche hotel, the boom hold-up was to give the staff enough time to walk towards the parking area, to help collect one’s luggage (if applicable), and to greet and welcome one to the hotel. Those days are long gone, and no one came to greet me. I walked into the building and still no one came to greet me or ask if they could assist me. I had to ask if I could have a table, and they said yes, of course. Deputy Restaurant Manager Jacques Mbuyi took me outside, to a table shaded with an umbrella, only one other table being occupied on the terrace, and one taken inside! Jacques explained that he was serving guests inside, even though he had waitrons, so he could not come forward. I noticed that none of the guests arriving subsequently were greeted by the staff, all having the same experience as I had.
I had barely sat down, and was taking some photographs, when GM Anja Bosken marched up to my table, with no hello or welcome (we have met a number of times at the hotel over the almost four years), and in a very abrupt Germanic style she interrogated me as to why I had come to have lunch, as I ‘always critique the restaurant, and you are never happy, so why do you come‘, she asked! She added that she did not like the way I had spoken to her boom man, but of course she had not been there, and I explained to her that her hotel has the worst boom service I have experienced in the Winelands, and that it is a problem each time I visit! At no stage did she welcome me, or ask me to provide input about the boom interaction. I explained to her that I had met her two colleagues at Maison. Then she marched off again, and soon left the hotel with a group of visitors. We have awarded three Sour Service Awards to Bosman’s to date, the latest here!
The table had top quality WMF cutlery, looking new and unscratched, placed on a dirty cheap plastic woven placemat. The table had a white table-cloth, and a material serviette. On the table was a vase with frangipani, but they appeared to have been in the vase for a few days, some of the petals looking wilted. They used to have underplates at Bosman’s, but this touch has gone. A cold rolled facecloth was brought to the table, a welcome touch on such a hot day. The lawn had been mowed just before lunch time, creating a very strong cut-lawn smell. On the dot 14h00 the weedeater resumed its duty, in the proximity of the accommodation close by, despite the lunch guests sitting outside!
The menu was placed in a leather holder, and offered five options per course. I did not like all the combinations of side dishes, but Jacques went to check with the kitchen, and the chef seemed flexible and amenable to changes. The bread plate was brought to the table, a most disappointing white bowl of mainly thin baguette slices and only two dried-out half-slices of yesterday’s whole wheat bread! This was accompanied by bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar brought to the table. Gone are the three dishes of butter, lard, and cream cheese with chives! Jacques brought butter to the table, after I asked for it.
I didn’t like any of the starter dishes offered, so ordered the pan-fried kingklip medallion with baby potatoes (replacing risotto) and a side ‘salad‘ (mistakenly called that, the salad just being a collection of green leaves, one of the types having a very strong burny taste, almost tasting of mint, and a few croutons), replacing a red onion salad (R135)! Jacques went to find some cherry tomatoes to add some colour to the boring ‘salad‘! The fish was inedible, being over-salted, so I asked Jacques to send it back to the kitchen, for another portion to be made without salt. The second time round the kingklip was perfectly prepared. I received a fish knife from Jacques when I asked for one, as it did not come with the kingklip automatically. I gathered that while ‘Michelin-trained’ Executive Chef Roland Gorgosilich was on the property, and probably also was in the kitchen, he was not cooking the dishes, or at least not my fish!
Other main course choices were Wiener Schnitzel, at a very pricy R180; dry-aged sirloin (R185); oven-roasted springbok loin (R185); and Asian-flavoured vegetable Spring rolls (R120). Starter choices include mixed baby leaf slad with Parma ham (R75); beef carpaccio (R110); confit and smoked Franschhoek salmon trout (R125); Miso-shitake broth (R105); barbeque-glazed smoked snoek (R100); and sweet-sour chilled red pepper gazpacho (R125).
I love Tiramisu, and this dessert attracted my attention, but oddly it was made with gooseberries (R70). Once again, Jacques could organise that it be made with strawberries, with coffee parfait, mascarpone, vanilla ice cream, chocolate soil, icing sugar, cocoa powder, coffee gel cubes, and a berry coulis. They clearly have a good pastry chef at Bosman’s, and the deconstructed Tiramisu was beautifully plated and very tasty. The dessert came with a standard dessert spoon, far too big to get into the glass, so I had to request a teaspoon! Other dessert options are coconut-lemon domino (R78); vanilla-honey crème brûlée (R75); and a local and international cheese board (R100). Despite the heat, there was no proactive offer to bring more ice for my water.
The staff look professional in the combination waistcoat and aprons they wear. In chatting to the staff, it was evident that all of them I interacted with were very recent appointments. Jacques himself started three weeks prior, taking on the role of Sommelier as well. He was at Singita, Roots Restaurant, and at Constantia Glen before, having been more focused on wine before. He has completed a two-year Cape Wine Academy winemaking course. I got the feeling that Jacques was very keen to push his own credentials to me. Joanna Pizer is the Head Sommelier at Bosman’s.
When I asked Jacques for the bill, he said: ‘It’s on the house, my GM said to tell you that she does not need your money‘! I was shocked at this final act of rudeness from Mrs Bosken.
On the same day I posted my experience on Facebook, not mentioning the name of the restaurant, but it was quickly clear that my Facebook friends could identify the restaurant as Bosman’s. The comments repeated my observation: that Bosman’s (and with it the Grande Roche) is sliding downhill year on year, a restaurant that once was South Africa’s best! It does not even make the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant list anymore, even though Chef Roland has been at the hotel for a number of years. It appears that the hotel’s marketing department forgot to enter Bosman’s for the Eat Out Top 500 list, which meant that they did not receive consideration for the Top 20 Restaurant list! The slide seems to have accelerated since the arrival of Mrs Bosken, and money-saving (as evidenced by the bread offering, the lack of butter, and the small portion sizes) appears to be the major focus now. Most serious restaurant patrons no longer bother with Bosman’s and the Grande Roche, having written it off their Paarl restaurant list!
Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, Plantasie Street, Paarl. Tel (021) 863-5100. www.granderoche.com (The website has only one food photograph!). Twitter: @Grande_Roche