On Tuesday evening I had the honour of experiencing Rare Grill, which was named 2017 The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship winner, the first time in the five year history of the Championships that a Cape Town steakhouse has won the award. What makes this Award so amazing is that the Rare Grill only opened in Kenilworth nine months ago, and only seats 26 patrons!
On Sunday evening I met Rare Grill owner Greg Bax at La Parada Constantia Nek, when he was chatting to Harbour House Group’s Stuart Bailey. He invited Stuart and I to visit his Steakhouse, and arrangements were made for Tuesday evening, given that I had already written about The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship Awards last week, and through that had become a Facebook Friend with Greg. The 2017 Top 10 winners are listed below, with the winners of the speciality awards too:
I have not been to Kenilworth in years, and would have been unlikely to get to the suburb or to eat at a Steakhouse in general, given that I am trying to continue my weight loss journey. The invitation was too good to resist, and Google Maps ‘drove’ me safely to the restaurant, on a square facing the car park, with such minimal branding that I had to ask where it is. One enters into the one room restaurant, with the bar counter prominent closest to the door. At the furthest end of what is a small room, I could see Greg behind the Grill, preparing the steaks. The walls have blackboards with the steak cuts and the prices, even though a menu is provided. On the wall too are shelves displaying wines, and it would appear that these are special wine deals. At the far end was a picture of a person in a chef’s outfit, possibly of a younger Greg. Behind the bar The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championships Award is proudly displayed, and bottles of Wolftrap are visible elsewhere in the restaurant too. The Rare Grill has won a year’s supply of the wine, Greg not being sure how much it equates to, he told us. Boekenhoutskloof owner Marc Kent, producer of the wines, came to eat at the Steakhouse on Saturday evening, and told Greg to order as and when he needs it! Tables are basic wood top ones, and Bistro chairs are comfortable.
The table had a candle, with salt in a little ceramic holder. A steak knife and fork with a napkin made of dishcloth-like material, being thick and larger than the average napkin, completed the table decor. We sat at a two-seater table at the far end of the restaurant, the cosy corner taking two tables only, and a heater in our section kept us nice and warm on the rainy evening. Tables are close to each other, but never too close for one to lose privacy.
In our corner a collection of framed pictures of cattle decorated the wall. After two days of attack from a pig and a dog, the cow pictures were a welcome change of scenery!
I sat at the bar counter, waiting for Stuart to return to the restaurant, having taken photographs and greeting Greg. I sat next to two diners, the one chatting to me almost immediately, and it turned out that Sam Kutcher used to be a waitress at Rare Grill, and had opened the restaurant with Greg nine months ago. She had recently been in a car accident, and her car was written off, and hence she is unable to travel to Kenilworth from Stellenbosch to work there. She was such a fabulous PR person for the Rare Grill, getting me the menu and wine list, giving me background information, telling me what Stuart had been drinking on arrival, and spontaneously offering me a bite of her 300g rump steak, as well as a bite of her CBC beer-battered onion ring, and I do not even eat onions! She described Greg as a passionate person.
The Menu is an A4 laminate in light brown. Starters include mushroom bruschetta, deep-fried Camembert, baby calamari, sticky chicken wings, bone marrow, and carpaccio, in a price range of R52 – R80. Garden and Greek salads cost R42 and R55, respectively.
Greg brought a bowl of biltong slices to our table, and we munched on these while we perused the menu, ordering a fillet and a rump steak. The steak arrives on the plate on its own, and one orders one side dish as part of the price, for which we selected sweet potato mash and the CBC beer-battered onion rings, to share. The grass-fed steak was tender, and a delight to eat. It is aged for up to four weeks, according to the menu. Greg meets with his meat suppliers regularly, to choose the best meat available. The menu offers diners the opportunity to order larger cuts of meat.
A blackboard listed the steak prices: Hereford/Angus Grassfed T-bone (R240), Nguni Ribeye (R210), Grassfed Angus fillet (R200/R220), Wagyu Sirloin (R350), and Sirloin on the bone (R180). On the menu steak options were sirloin or rump, offered at R115/R135 for 200g/300g, and fillet R150/R170 for 200g/300g. Other main courses offered are Baby calamari (R140), peri peri chicken (R130), steak roll (R98), and pork ribs (R165). Sauce options are Béarnaise, peppercorn, and mushroom (R20).
For dessert Stuart and I shared a crème brûlée, which was served with a berry compôte (R52) as well as two delicious hot chocolate vodkas. Chocolate brownies (R50) are an alternate dessert choice.
The dinner was an opportunity for me to get to know Stuart better, the Brand Manager of the La Parada and Tiger’s Milk restaurants, as well as handling Events, Operations, and Sponsorships for the Harbour House Group, which has grown to 26 restaurants (with the opening of Tiger’s Milk in Lynnwood Ridge in Pretoria this weekend), and seven Tiger’s Milk restaurants, up from only two last year. We spoke about reviewing, and Stuart remembers the review I posted about the then new Hussar Grill Green Point well, as well as the one I wrote about the Camps Bay branch. As a guest house owner in Camps Bay, I and my fellow guest house owner colleagues were spoilt annually by the Hussar Grill, to thank us for the business we sent to the restaurant. It soon became our favorite restaurant recommendation, the booking system being efficient, our guests being well looked after, and the menu being extensive and offering good value for money. For seven years Stuart put his ‘life, blood, and soul’ into the Camps Bay branch of the Hussar Grill. He spoke about the evolution of top ‘mid-range’ restaurants in Cape Town, lifting the quality of the restaurant industry through their dedication to quality, doing their best and dedicated to being the best, and ultimately making Cape Town one of the top five restaurant destinations in the world. He included restaurant reviewers too, in that they helped restaurants to up their game when they were found lacking.
Stuart grew up in Cape Town and went to Wynberg Boys’ High School, having top wine makers Paul Gerber and Adi Badenhorst as fellow learners in the school. Stuart wanted to be a chef, and started waitering at Saddles in Pinelands whilst he was still at school. At 19 he was appointed as the General Manager of Saddles Pinelands. He and his mother bought Cattle Baron in Bellville, the first franchised Steakhouse operation, his mom looking after the finances and Stuart the operational side. They won the Chateau Libertas Steakhouse of the Year in 1999. After selling the restaurant, as well the Stellenbosch franchise of it, he and a business partner bought the Hussar Grill in Rondebosch, growing the collection to six outlets in Cape Town, and adding nine Slug & Lettuce restaurants. Stuart still has a share in the latter, while the Spur Corporation bought the six Hussar Grills. Stuart joined the Harbour House Group last year, and said that he has ‘arrived‘, having been offered ‘a platform to perform’, and he is allowed to do his ‘own thing’, being given freedom to excel. He counts Michael Townsend of the Harbour House Group as one of his mentors, alongside Adrian Rheeder of the Hussar Grill, and Ronnie Dick, the founder of Cattle Baron. Stuart and I are both Sagittarians, and we shared a number of traits we have in common.
Greg grew up in Amanzimtoti, and his career path began as a waiter at Mike’s Kitchen in that town whilst he was still at school. In Cape Town he started at Slug & Lettuce Newlands, a restaurant collection which belonged to Hussar Grill before it was sold to the Spur Corporation. He then moved to Hussar Grill Rondebosch, as General Manager and partner for eight years. When the Hussar Grill restaurants were sold to the Spur, Greg soon realized that the changes in running the restaurants were not for him, and he decided to leave a year ago, without much money to his name. He scraped together his first R50000 towards opening his own restaurant, and was recommended to speak to his friends, requesting them to back him with similar amounts. With R300000 he managed to open Rare Grill in November. He did much of the work himself, laying bricks for the bar counter, he shared. He entered the 2017 Wolftrap Steakhouse Championships, and made the Top 10 list, and he was excited to be invited to Johannesburg, to the awards ceremony. He was aware of Chef Pete Goffe-Wood, the head judge, having eaten at the restaurant, and JP Rossouw, the convenor of the awards, eating there too. At the award ceremony he thought he would receive a new award, Newcomer of the Year, as the owner of the only new restaurant, and was ready to celebrate after it was announced that Rare Grill had won this category. He was told by another Cape Town Top 10 restaurant HQ that Rare Grill would have to fly the flag for the Western Cape, and Greg was in shock when Rare Grill was named the top Steakhouse in South Africa, and the winner of the Championships. He shared that the last two weeks since the award announcement have ‘escalated quickly‘, and that the Steakhouse has been full every night since then. Greg runs the restaurant with two waitresses and two kitchen staff. I noticed how hands-on Greg is with Social Media, doing his Instagraming and Facebooking way past midnight.
The big challenge for Greg is how to deal with the demand for his restaurant since winning the Award, only having space for 26 diners. He has an upstairs section, and will be using it to run Master Steak Cooking classes from there, from end August onwards. He has been running similar classes at Silwood Kitchen for the past six years, not only teaching attendees about steak preparation, cooking sauces, but also pairing meats with wines. Greg laughed nervously when he spoke about having to host the 2018 Wolftrap Steakhouse Championships, as the winner this year, with about 100 guests expected.
Corkage is charged at R30 for the second bottle of wine, with no corkage charge on the first bottle. Greg allowed me to bring in a bottle of Fairview Single Vineyard Stok by Paaltjie Grenache 2015, which I had recently received as a gift from Fairview winemaker Stephanie Wiid.
The winelist is a laminated A4 double-sided page, and no vintages are specified. Only two of the six ‘Whites & Pinks‘ are offered by the glass, being Brampton Sauvignon Blanc (R43/R130) and Zonnebloem Sauvignon Blanc (R50/R150). Chardonnays are by Warwick and Ernst Gouws & Co, while Rosés offered are by Eikendal and Allesverloren. Sparkling wines offered are Villiera Brut (R220) and Uitkyk Glass Memoirs MCC (R270). Brampton Old Vine Red (R43/R130) is the only red wine available by the glass. Bottles of red wine can be ordered for brands of Merlot, Tinta Barocca, Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Red Blends.
Rare Grill is an unpretentious Steakhouse which does nothing more than to deliver on offering the best quality steaks with the best level of friendly service. Plating and presentation is not the strength of this Steakhouse, but the origin and quality of the steaks is! It is low key and hidden away in Kenilworth, and its new-found fame makes it essential to book. I loved the music playlist in the restaurant, many of the songs going back to my youth.
Greg’s message to aspirant restaurant owners is that one ‘does not have to have millions of Rands to become an owner-operator of a restaurant‘.
Disclosure: I asked the waitress for the bill. She returned to the table to tell me that Greg insisted that we were not to pay for our dinner, a generous gesture.
Rare Grill, 166 2nd Avenue, Kenilworth, Cape Town. Tel 076 4600 423 www.raregrill.co.za Twitter: @RareGrill Instagram: @raregrillza Monday – Saturday Dinner, Friday Lunch.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein