The Twelve Apostles Hotel is located at the foot of the mountain with the same name, with a wonderful view on to the Atlantic Ocean, and whales and dolphins can be seen from it on occasion.   Last night it took a step to move closer to Camps Bay, by inviting the Camps Bay Accommodation Association  member guest houses to dinner at its Azure Restaurant.

The impression created throughout, from the time that the guest house members entered the hotel, a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World and voted Best Hotel in Cape Town in 2010 by Travel & Leisure USA, was two-fold:  Belonging to The Red Carnation Hotel Collection South Africa, every member of staff interacting with the public proudly wears a red carnation in his/her shirt/jacket pocket, a very clever touch in creating brand awareness for the hotel group, which has other interests in South Africa, being The Oyster Box and the regularly award-winning Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, in addition to properties in London, Geneva, Guernsey, Florida, and Dorset.  Secondly, each member of staff that we met during our evening at the hotel went out of their way to be friendly, to chat, and to become one of our group, sharing pre-dinner drinks, and seated with us at dinner at Azure.

Horst Frehse is the new GM of the hotel, a doyen of GM’s, and for many years he was “Mr Grande Roche”, followed by Singita. He moved from Asara to the Twelve Apostles in December.  He personally greeted every guest house member, and apologised for not being able to join us for dinner.  He announced that the Spa will close for two months, to undergo a R5 million renovation, whereafter it will be operated by the hotel itself.  Hotel Manager Brett Davidge and his team were present.  A nice touch was that Chef Henrico Grobbelaar flew back from a meeting in Johannesburg especially to prepare the meal, and he chose the guest house group to try out two new starters and two main courses he is including in his new winter menu, to be launched on 1 June.  He personally introduced the menu, and came to us after the meal, to obtain feedback. Chef Henrico told us that he is wanting to focus more on seafood in his new menu, and that he is sourcing ingredients locally and fresh, seafood coming from Hout Bay. Chef Henrico was a FIFA Executive Chef during the World Cup last year, was Sunday Times  Chef of the Year in 2009, and leads the South African team for the Culinary Olympics.

Azure is a very large restaurant room, but divided into two halves via a central table, with big blue and silver vases and lots of candles.  One side has a fireplace, adding atmosphere, and it was cosy and warm in the room, despite the wintry weather outside.   The colour blue given to the name of the restaurant is reflected by day through the lovely seaview from the restaurant, and from Moroccan-style blue lights by night.  Tables have tablecloths, good quality large material serviettes, and were laid with Hepp Exclusive cutlery and good glassware.

The bread basket contained a wonderful selection of home-made breads and rolls, including rye bread, wholewheat bread, and olive bread, as well as bread sticks, impressive in its presentation.   The starter choices were a most delicious Grilled Yellowfin Tuna served with a sweetcorn relish, avocado puree and cilantro vinaigrette.  The tuna looked beautiful on the plate, almost like marrow bones.  The other starter was a salad of roast beetroot, zucchini, parsnip and Fairview goat’s curd with black olive paint.  The tuna starter was by far the most ordered, and was an absolute hit.

The main course choice was lamb loin with stirfried tatsoi, mizuna, julienne vegetables, lentils and spicy peanut sauce, a fusion dish that Frehse had requested of the chef.  The generous portion of pan roasted kingklip with cauliflower white bean truffle puree, mushroom and adzuki with Port miso veal jelly was excellent.  It was nice to see a fish knife for the kingklip. There was no choice of dessert, as Chef Henrico wanted us to try Mrs Bea Tollman’s Lemon cheese cake with Honeycomb ice cream, a special recipe that Chef Henrico described as the one of the best in the country, and which takes three days to make.  

Azure’s current menu is low key in being typed pages bound in a black holder.  Its introduction lists the fynbos that is added to the food preparation, this having been the speciality of previous chef Ricardo de Carvalho.  It states that the Abalone for its main course has been ‘purchased in terms of Section 13 of the Marine Living Resources Act 1998, and is in keeping with Live Aquaculture Abalone harvesting’.  Starters range from R60 for a trio of cold soup, and a chicken noodle soup, to R 175 for Bea’s Eggs Royale, three scrambled eggs served in their shell, with smoked salmon, black caviar and oysters. Main courses start at R110 for mushroom and tofu lasagne, to R 455 for Crispy fried abalone.  Steaks cost around R150.  Desserts cost R70, with Bea’s cheesecake costing R85.

It is clear that The Twelve Apostles hotel group is ultra professional, and all guest houses left with a bag of information about the hotel’s facilities, including the current Azure menu, and about its sister property Bushman’s Kloof.   Thabang Rapotu was an excellent sales executive in encouraging a group of us to book for the “Tea by the Sea” afternoon tea next month.  The guest house guests were invited on a tour around the hotel, and were shown some guest rooms too, the hotel using the opportunity to educate our group about its facilities.  Malusi offered excellent service in looking after the water and wines, and I enjoyed the Rust en Vrede Merlot 2009.  A most generous and enjoyable evening was spent with the Twelve Apostles Hotel team, and the guest houses left the Twelve Apostles feeling that Azure is the best restaurant that Camps Bay has, and that they would recommend it to their guests for fine-dining in future.

POSTSCRIPT 26/5: Thanks to Kurt Ackermann for pointing out an error as to the tuna used in the starter last night.  I must have misheard Chef Henrico, and I called him this evening to check with him, after seeing Kurt’s comment.  He has assured me that he used Yellowfin Tuna, on the Green SASSI list, and I have corrected it above. 

Azure, Twelve Apostles Hotel, Camps Bay.  Tel (021) 437-9000. www.12apostleshotel.com (The website contains the menu but not the winelist.  It is a pity that the Image Gallery does not contain any photographs of the food served at Azure, other than of the seafood platter).

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage