imageEighteen months since our first story about the Leeu Collection, and the first acquisition of property in Franschhoek by Mr Analjit Singh, its first Leeu House property opens its doors on the Franschhoek main road on 1 December. The launch on Friday was the first tangible manifestation of the impressive property and hospitality portfolio acquired and developed by Mr Singh, and it was our first introduction to the local management of the Leeu Collection.

The property, near the top end of Huguenot Street towards the imageHuguenot Monument, was previously called Rusthof, and housed Ryan’s Kitchen. Last year, over the Bastille Festival, Leeu House lionsthe first signs of construction at the property were evident, and Ryan’s Kitchen moved to Place Vendome at the entrance to the village, a much larger space and a step up compared to what he had before.

We were welcomed with a glass of MCC, and canapés prepared by Leeu House Executive Chef Oliver Cattermole and his team were served: a Dirty Mary; pork rib croquettes with parsley aioli; barrel-smoked salmon and miso roulade; and billionaire’s shortbread. We experienced his creative cuisine at Dash at the Queen Victoria Hotel in the V&A Waterfront. He moved to the Le Franschhoek Hotel, the former What’s On in Cape Town, imageand Mondiall at the Waterfront, moving back to Franschhoek to join the Leeu Collection about a year ago! In the UK he worked at Le Gavroche, The Ivy Restaurant, and Novelli in the City.

imageOn Friday I met Luis Pinheiro, Regional Director of Leeu Collection, as well as Matthew Smith, the GM of Leeu House and of Leeu Estates opening next year. Luis started his career at the Carlton Hotel in the ‘Eighties, at a time when I was working higher up in the building at J. Walter Thompson. After ten years he moved to the Mount Nelson, returned to the Carlton Hotel, went back to the Mount Nelson, and then joined Reid’s of Madeira, Lapa Lisbon, and Pestana hotels in Portugal. Then he moved to the Table Bay Hotel, followed by Dubai World, which owns Shamwari. He ran Rani Resorts in Mozambique for five years, which included the Victoria Falls Hotel. Matthew Smith joined from Ellerman House, where he had worked for eight years, and previously worked at Sol Kerzner’s Leeukoppie Estate in Hout Bay, and at Cape Royale Luxury Hotel.

The Leeu Collection consists of Leeu House; Leeu Estates which will open next June as a 17-bedroom country house retreat and boutique winery; Le Quartier Français, a 21-bedroom hotel, which was bought to join the Leeu Collection on 1 September; the Tuk Tuk craft beer microbrewery (with a Mexican eatery), opening in February next door to Leeu House, in collaboration with CBC; and an Indian restaurant Marigold will open in May or June next year across the road, where The Grill Room used to be, a decision not yet made about how best to use the former shops behind the restaurant building. Mr Singh owns a share in Mullineux and Family Wines too. Luis told me that their bookings for Leeu House are looking good already.

Beverley Boswell is the interior decorator for Leeu House and Leeu Estates, and she told us that she imagecommissioned every item used in Leeu House. She works with natural fabrics and materials. One enters at the front door facing Huguenot Street, and no longer from the side. The area which was previously Ryan’s Kitchen has become a rectangular lounge, with the kitchen behind it. The carpet is made from blocks of Nguni skin, sewn together with 140000 stitches. imageChairs with interesting upholstery and couches run along the wall, with coffee tables. The lounge is separated from the reception desk by a screen made from kudu leather strips (riempies) dipped in tea by Pierre Cronje furniture makers. The building was erected in 1970, imageso is not authentic Cape Dutch. Mr Singh wanted the roofing to be replaced with thatch. Floor boards are imported Belgian oak. Black and white tiles are used in all the bathrooms, as well as in the breakfast room, having been sourced locally but laid seamlessly by artisans flown in from India. All the paintings and sculptures were sourced locally, including two by Lionel Smit in the passage leading to the bedrooms. The gardens have been landscaped by Franchesca Watson.

Eight bedrooms of the original Rusthof were left the same structurally, and the bedrooms and bathrooms are reasonably spacious. Two new bedrooms were created imagewhere the main entrance used to be. Another two bedrooms will be added on top of the brewery building, giving a total of 12 bedrooms. The rooms are decorated in a neutral cream colour, the black imageand white floor tiles in the bathrooms being a strong contrast to the more muted decor of the bedrooms. Each of the bedrooms have interesting bedside lights with branches and birds sticking out above the lampshade, each of them different. They were made by an artist from Plettenberg Bay. Air-conditioning units were purpose-made to be small and discreet, blending in with the colour of the walls.

As it was a lovely day, we were seated outside at two tables of ten, being a mix of writers and Leeu Collection staff. Chef Oliver talked through the menu. Nicola Tipping, who handles the marketing for Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines, introduced the Mullineux wines which were paired with the lunch menu. They are based in the Swartland, and their wines are sustainable, organic, elegant, fresh, and have balance, with only a little sulphur added. She said that a temporary tasting room has been created for Mullineux Wines at Le Quartier Français.

imageThe starter was estate-grown asparagus, pancetta, and hen’s egg, a colorful first dish. This was paired with Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc, being their ‘entry level‘ wine, made from grapes from 40 year-old vines.

The main course was kingklip masala, served with puy lentils, carrots, and coconut. This dish was paired with one of two Mullineux wines which are especially imagemade for Mullineux Wine Club members. The wine is called Skin Contact Chenin Blanc, and Nicola explained that it is a ‘white wine made in a red wine way‘.

A third course was unusual, a combination of roasted grapes, with blue cheese Gougéres (a baked savory choux pastry mixed imagewith cheese). This course was paired with a second Mullineux Wine Club wine, being the Mullineux Grenache.

The dessert was a delicious vanilla seed panna cotta, served with chopped pineapple, and lemon verbena. It was paired with Olerasay, a new Mullineux Chenin Blanc straw wine which is made by means of fractional blending. The wine won the Platter’s Dessert Wine of the Year recently.

imageCoffee orders were placed and my dry cappuccino made with Truth coffee imagewas perfect. Petit fours were pistachio macaroons, and Rooibos pâté de fruits.

The opening of Leeu House impressed and made the establishment of the Leeu Collection tangible to us for the first time. We have written about the entity over 1½ years without having met any of its executives, and had previously seen little information about its planned properties. The Leeu Collection stands for quality, and is a ‘hallmark of everything we do at Leeu Collection. It defines us’, said Hector de Galard, Leeu Collection Managing Director, who did not attend the opening. Attention to detail is paramount, and this is applied in its cuisine, decor, and service. ‘Nothing is too much trouble for guests’ is the service philosophy which drives the operation at Leeu House.

Disclosure: We received a Leeu Collection Cap, a bag of salt, and a Le Creuset salt holder.

Leeu House, Leeu Collection, 12 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 492-2222. www.leeucollection.com Twitter: @LeeuCollection

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog  Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage  Facebook:  click here