Carne (and other restaurant) cons!

While we all love to eat out, it is disappointing when one gets taken for a ride by restaurants making false claims, or if they are dishonest in the presentation of their product and service.

My favourite hobby horse is wines-by-the-glass.  I have discovered regularly that the chosen vintage for such wines is seldom that which is advertised on the winelist.   Few winelists have a disclaimer, covering them for a vintage running out.   I always ask for the wine to be poured at the table – I also want to taste it before a glassful is poured.  Few restaurants do this.  Last week, at Wijnhuis in Newlands, a restaurant that places wines prominently in the foreground, I ordered a glass of Delheim Shiraz 2004, as per the winelist.   The waiter brought the poured glass to the table.  When I asked him to pour it at the table he came with a 2006 bottle.  When questioned about the vintage difference, he shrugged his shoulders.  The vintages had run out, he said, as if to say – so what?!    The older the wine, the more expensive it is.  So therefore, by deduction, a restaurant should charge less if the vintage is younger than advertised. 

At Vaudeville earlier this month four glasses of wine were poured out of a bottle, and the bottle was not left on the table.  When we asked for the rest of the wine, we were told that it was finished.  Any restaurateur will tell you that you can pour up to 6 glasses of wine out of a 750 ml bottle.   The GM begrudgingly brought 2 further glasses of wine to the table.   Surprisingly they do not tell you that the bottle is finished, nor sell you another!  

Newport Deli in Mouille Point wipes the mayonnaise off the tuna and chicken from the previous day’s sandwiches, puts them onto fresh bread, adds new mayonnaise, and calls the sandwiches “fresh”!

According to an ex-waiter of Bayside Cafe in Camps Bay, the left-over vegetables (usually butternut and spinach) returned from the table are put back into containers, and re-used for the next patrons!

A more devious dishonesty is when a restaurant makes a claim on its menu and website that it serves only organic beef, lamb and game from the owner’s farm in the Karoo, and an insider whistleblower tells friends that the restaurant in fact uses meat delivered from the same meat suppliers used by other restaurants in Cape Town.   The restaurant in question is Carne, well-known as a specialist meat/steak restaurant, which states on its website:  “Dedicated entirely to meat as is evident from its Italian name, Carne SA is a carnivore’s paradise serving a unique offering of the finest cuts of Romagnola beef, Dorper lamb and game, all organically grown on Giorgio’s own Karoo farms.   To test this allegation before confronting Carne, the December statement and an invoice from one of Carne’s largest meat suppliers – Gastro Foods – which supplied about R60 000 worth of meat, including Romagnola “beef T-bone”, “beef prime rib Carne” and “Beef Rump Swiss”, to Carne in December, were checked.  Botes Meat Centre also supplied Carne with meat to the value of about R15 000 in the same month.   We then wrote to Carne owner Giorgio Nava, asking him to comment on the allegation that not all his meat, as claimed on his website and his menu, comes from his farm and that not all of it is organic.   This was his reply:   The traditional meat suppliers in cape town supply us from time to time with offal ( because we need fresh daily, impossible from the Karoo ) and two traditional suppliers store my carcase when ,my two cold rooms are full. One traditional supplier cuts my meat from time to time when I cannot handle the amount of work. We buy samples of meat from many suppliers to compare regularly with our grass fed meat. Hope my answer satisfies you.  Regards,  Giorgio Nava”!   With a purchase of R 30 000 – R 60 000 per month of beef from Gastro Foods, and about R 15 000 – R 20 000 from Botes Meat Centre, it appears likely that most of the beef served at Carne is NOT from the Karoo, NOR is all of it organic!!!   This is outright dishonesty, unacceptable for any restaurant, and especially for one on the Eat Out Top 20 list.

POSTSCRIPT (30 January)

Since this post was published, Giorgio Nava has called, and explained that he rears beef on his farm in the Karoo, and sells the carcasses to meat suppliers such as Gastro Foods at market-related prices.  They cut these up, and he buys the beef cuts that he serves at Carne back from them, at market-related prices.   This was his written reply:  Chris I think you’ve got the wrong information. The two butchers you mentioned in your article buy my whole carcases they mature for me they cut for me as I stated before and they sell back to me the cut I need for my menu  as I cannot utilise the whole carcase in my restaurant.”  

This was confirmed by Andreas Reichmuth, the GM of Gastro Foods, who called proactively to support Carne.   HOWEVER, Mr Reichmuth spontaneously volunteered, without being asked, that he delivers ostrich and game to Carne too, which does not come from Mr Nava’s Karoo farm.   Gastro Foods does not supply lamb.

Despite legal pressure from Mr Nava and his lawyer, we stand by our story that not all meat prepared at Carne is from Mr Nava’s Karoo farm, and may not all be organic,on the following grounds:

1.  Mr Nava has confirmed that he does buy in “meat from many suppliers to compare regularly with our grass fed meat”.

2.  Gastro Foods’ GM confirmed on 29 January that his company supplies to Carne game that is not from Mr Nava’s farm

3.  Rossouw’s Restaurants wrote on 10 January 2009 that “….plus some of the meat comes from Nava’s own farm”, implying that not all of it does come from the Karoo farm.

We have requested Mr Nava to provide us with details of the lamb that he uses, and whether it is supplied by a meat supplier, and whether this is done on the same basis as the arrangement he has with Gastro Foods for the beef supply.   We have also asked for organic certification of his meats.  Both requests were denied, and the writer has been referred to Mr Nava’s lawyer.

We are surprised that Mr Nava did not explain the sale of his beef carcasses and buy-back relationship when he was approached for comment prior to the publishing of the post.  He offered no information about his lamb and game supply.   We asked Mr Nava: “I have been told that your website may be misleading in claiming that all the meats that you use are organically produced on your Karoo farms, and that they might in fact be delivered by traditional meat suppliers in Cape Town”.

POSTCRIPT (2 February) 

Mr Nava’s lawyer has written to confirm that Carne has a similar sell/buy-back relationship with Botes Meat Centre as far as his lamb and game is concerned.  He did not address the request for the organic certification.   He also wrote that “Mr Nava considers this matter to be at an end”. 

The controversial claim on the Carne website has not yet been amended.

POSTSCRIPT 3 (24 April)

Carne has finally “admitted” that its marketing has been misleading – read our follow-up story here.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: 

15 replies on “Carne (and other restaurant) cons!”

  1. Angie says:

    This is simply disgraceful, what a complete and utter fraud, will never visit this restaurant again.

  2. Lancelot says:

    Good work Chris.

  3. Carl says:

    WOW, this is crazy…. I use a website called Restaurant Supplier to get my supplies. It’s really great!

  4. frank says:

    this agreement to sell/buy-back the meat seems fishy to me… so Carne is paying a 14% VAT on HIS OWN meat?

  5. Mary says:

    No questions to what you are eating when you order from my client, La Cense Beef. You know you are getting grass fed beef which is delicious and good for you.

  6. Dr. R says:

    Fair enough that wines in the glass should match the wine on the menu, but your “deductive” logic doesn’t hold: not all old wines are good (ie. worth a higher price tag), and neither are all young wines bad (ie. deserving to be cheaper).

  7. andrew harvey says:

    Just on the subject of Carne – i always have mozzarella in europe, never here, the real thing does not keep well and was only introduce into the uk recently along with low cost carriers.

    carne has decided to stock it all the same, the imported variety. the menu reads: “caprese salad: Italian tomato, fresh basil, chopped capers and creamy water buffalo mozzarella from Naples.”

    Whereas i am sure it would have been given the name “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana had it been sourced from the Denominazione di origine (DOC) producers”, it would still be acceptable to call it mozzarella made in Naples with buffalo milk if it is indeed imported from Naples. I would like to know whether this is indeed the case because, eg if one uses real buffalo mozzarella more than three or four days after producition, it is nowher near the real fresh product. if one was to import it therefor, one would have to freeze it which would destroy it or else use it within literally a day or two at most. As a result most sa restaurants, including the most upmarket extablishments use mozzarella fior di late made in the style of buffalo mozzarella, but from cow’s milk.

  8. Wayne Rademeyer says:

    it is a regretable fact that many South African restaurants, particulary Italian restaurants, sell so-called “buffalo-style” mozzarella (industrial fior di latte with misleading labelling)as buffalo mozzarella and charge a premium therefor. There is no such thing as buffalo-style mozzarella.

  9. Thanks for your interesting information Wayne.

    What is ‘buffalo’ mozzarella made from if it isn’t from buffalo? Is the Buffalo Ridge mozzarella from Wellington the real thing?


  10. Wayne Rademeyer says:

    Hi Chris

    I apologise for my late response. Buffalo mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalo. “Buffalo-style” mozzarella is fior di latte (ie cows’milk mozzarella)which is unethically labeled as such by a few producers (Consumers Protection Act will hopefully stop this). Unfortunately the imported buffalo mozzarella more often than not contains cows’ milk and the Mozzarella di bufala Campana is no quality guarantee (google “buffalo mozzarella scandal”). It is important to note that there are two quality standards (DOP) in Italy re buffalo mozzarella – one for buffalo mozzarella sold in Italy and one for buffalo mozzarella exported out of Italy. The latter requires the addition of preservatives among other things.

    Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella is made from 100% water buffalo milk. We own the only water buffalo milk herd in the country and we are the only buffalo mozzarella producers in Africa. We label our buffalo mozzarella as “mozzarella di bufala” to distinguish it from the incorrectly labelled SA fior di latte and to indicate that our mozzarella is in fact made from buffalo milk.

    We obviously do not affix “Campana” to our label as we are not trying to pass our product off as Italian. Far from it in fact, we are proud of the fact that our buffalo mozzarella is a wholly South African product made by myself, a multi-generational South African. Our packaging proudly states that our mozzarella is a South African product.

    Many of the top chefs, whose restaurants you regularly review, have been to our farm to view our buffalo. I would like to extend a similar invitation to you.

    Andrew Harvey is however mistaken in his assertion that the top restaurants use fior di latte or the reasons he states. The majority of the top ranked restaurants use Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella di Bufala, our product (It would be crass for me to name them here). Those restaurants that stock fior di latte do so on the basis of price, ie more profit per plate when quality is not the goal.

    All buffalo mozzarella imported into SA is frozen. Furthermore, as export mozzarella it is required by DOP legislation to contain preservatives whether or not the particular producer/importer lists it as an ingredient.

    The old chesnut that buffalo mozzarella only lasts two days is often-repeated marketing by the Italian producers. It is as laughable as the claims by gullible tourists to Naples who claim that buffalo mozzarella was freshly made to order in their little obscure restaurant (a physical impossiblity).

    We make our buffalo mozzarella in the traditional manner of Campana (as required in terms of the Italian DOP legislation) – we use only buffalo milk and no preservatives or additives other than culture and salt. Buffalo milk has a much higher nutritive value and higher natural preservative action than cows’ milk. Our buffalo mozzarella has a natural shelf live exceeding 14 days.

    My family an I imported water buffalo and started Buffalo Ridge for the very reasons Andrew laments, viz. the unavailablity in SA of the best buffalo mozzarella that Italy has to offer.

    As a side note, a well-known restaurant for a long time passed off our buffalo mozzarella as Neapolitan in keeping with their “authentic” marketing approach. obviously, we no longer supply to them.

  11. Thank you for your detailed explanation about Buffalo Ridge mozzarella, and how it is made Wayne.

    I have been meaning to visit you and Primitiv in my old home town of Wellington, and am proud of the exciting things being developed there. Angelo from Grand Dedale allowed us to try it at a dinner when I stayed there in January.



  12. Kobus says:

    The Buffalo Ridge mozzarella is a superb product, and hats off to Wayne for it- it is a true taste experience. But all of these comments are Jonny-come-latelys to the local cheese scene. Senor Nava not is using any “imported mozzarella” at all any more- he certainly doesn’t need to since Puglia cheeses in Cape Town started making a range of artisanal mozzarella-style cheeses, from burata to fior di latte to bocconcini to nodini, all of them significantly better than anything local, or, as a matter of fact, anything I’ve tasted in Italy. BRAVO!!!

  13. Dear Kobus

    Welcome back – I have been missing my ‘sparring-partner’!

    Buffalo Ridge will be at ‘Taste of Cape Town’, from tomorrow until Sunday.


  14. Kobus says:

    Thanks Chris. If you want an interesting story for your blog, contact the crowd from Puglia cheeses.

  15. I must contact them Kobus.

    I fell in love with their Stracsiatella mozzarella at the Eat In Night Market last month – disappointed that I cannot find it at Giorgio’s Mozzarella Bar.


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