At the end of a Garden Route tour with my Parisian friend last week, we spent one night at Temenos in McGregor. As Tebaldi Restaurant at Temenos was fully booked, we chose to eat at Open Kitchen, a restaurant which opened in winter last year, but which I had not experienced previously. It serves good steak and Tapas, but the service is very slow!
We tried to book telephonically twice whilst driving to McGregor, a landline number coming up for the restaurant via Google, which I called, and twice had to leave a message on the answering machine. We were surprised to not have received a call back.
We chose to go anyway, despite there being no booking confirmation. A friend (a local), whom we had a drink with just before the dinner, was sceptical about our eating destination, he not having had good experiences of the restaurant. On one of the eating occasions he and a friend were served red wine which was so warm that it was undrinkable. They walked out.
With that introduction, we were a little hesitant about Open Kitchen, but we basically had no choice, as there was no other restaurant that we could eat at in McGregor. We saw a clothes shop within the restaurant immediately on entering, and had to have a look there first. A friendly lady Philippa came out from the back of the shop, welcomed us, and offered us her assistance.
We walked through the large bland restaurant, filled with wood top tables and Café style chairs, and a large TV screen at the far end of the room. We walked through to the outside area, with tables and benches, and I immediately recognised Six Dogs Distillery’s Charles Hopkins, and Paul van der Spuy, owner of Blue Collar, White Collar men’s clothing store in Cape Town. This made me feel much better about the restaurant already. There was a third man chatting to them, whom we got to know as Craig Price, and later we learnt that he is the owner of the restaurant. Craig is formerly a commercial deep-sea diver, who has moved into construction. He told me that he had planned to create a restaurant building, and then to sell it, but then realised that he had to run it as a restaurant before he could even consider selling it.
On arriving, we had seen Neville, the only staff member visible, a manager/waiter all in one. He seemed grumpy and did not welcome us or express any niceties to us as guests. There must have been four tables occupied inside, and the same number outside. We got our glasses of water reasonably quickly, as did my friend receive her glass of wine. We had to ask Neville a lot of questions about the Tapas options, and he kept having to go into the kitchen to ask the chef. This made the order process take even longer, our order finally taken about 45 minutes from the time of arrival. My friend had seen the Tapas dishes served at the table of Paul and Charles, and there was some confusion as to whether a particular dish was calamari or squid heads, my friend therefore ordering the incorrect dish on Neville’s advice. Neville quickly got the dish corrected and replaced with the calamari one. We were told that we have to order a minimum of three Tapas dishes each.
All three my Tapas dishes arrived at the same time, tiny on first appearance. I ordered grilled calamari (R45); a Caprese salad filled with lettuce, which was not declared on the Menu, it only stating the ingredients as Fior di Latte mozzarella, basil and tomato. But there was no basil!; Last, but not least, was tempura mushrooms, which I dipped into an Asian sauce (R25), a more filling dish. I had chosen this option from a tempura vegetable dish, requesting that it be mushrooms only. It would usually consist of baby carrots, onion, peppers, courgette, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.
At this point the lady manager Philippa of the dress shop came to our table, now acting as manager of the restaurant, asking us how things were going and if we were happy with our meal. I fired away, telling her that the portions were far too small. She retorted by telling me that it was Tapas! I told her that I had never seen such small portions. She said that their clients had told them to reduce them in size. I then told her that we had to wait for 45 minutes for our order to be taken. She apologised, saying that it was her fault for not getting any additional staff to work, as there were no pre-bookings. I told her that had she returned my calls, she would have had at least one booking. This is when she became highly defensive, saying that she had received no messages from me on their answering machine. And then implied that I was lying, asking if it was not strange that she had received all other booking messages except mine (two calls!). I challenged her on her alleged implication, and she then told me that I was getting heated up (yes I was) and rude (no I was not). It was at this stage that I called Craig for support, standing not far from us, and he came to the table, and appeared shocked at her interaction with me. He asked me to write a summary for him of what had transpired, so that he can take action. I will send him this review.
Main courses range in price from R85 for a Chickpea Burger, to R135 (Tom Yum Prawn Stir Fry, and Calamari served with hand cut chips and a salad). They also offer Chicken Schnitzel, and Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Stir Fry. The Beef Burger is priced at R100, and the Chicken one at R85. Fillet steak costs R185, sirloin R155, and Ribeye R165, all three 300 gram in weight and served with hand cut chips and a salad. Pork ribs are a speciality of the house, Craig told us, charged at R150 for 600 gram. Sides cost R25. Some of the Tapas dishes are available as larger Starters. There is a selection of Salads too.
I love chocolate mousse, and had even checked if Temenos would have it available that evening, but it was not on their menu. When I saw it on the Open Kitchen menu, I had to have it. It was not served with a new serviette. It was strangely served in a cup, but fabulously topped with fresh green figs (R60). I went to the chef, to ask him what his ingredients are, and he shared that it is chocolate, cream, and marshmallow. Mmmmmm. I asked Craig where one can get green figs in McGregor, and he said they are picked from his garden. He invited me to come to his house nearby in the morning, to pick some, as the birds are eating them. He also took care of the bill, an amazing service turnaround. On leaving, I asked Craig if there was something between Neville and Philippa, given that she was so defensive about the service speed, or lack of, and he confirmed this. Other dessert options are a slice of cake or tart, at R55, and ‘handmade’ ice cream at R50.
The Open Kitchen chef is Willem Viljoen, previously of the Post House in Greyton. That was all I got, other than his chocolate mousse ingredient list. On our table was a wooden basket with stainless steel cutlery wrapped in a paper serviette, and BidFood Black pepper and SeaSalt grinders.
We sat nearest the kitchen window outside, it being open, and from which emanated the most delicious steak smell. It definitely is a recommendation to have steak rather than Tapas at Open Kitchen. And to not be in a hurry if one wants to eat at the restaurant. We are grateful to Craig for turning around an evening that could have been a disaster, to one that was a surprise new eating experience in McGregor. I was in seventh heaven in finding Craig’s house the next day, and the fig tree, the gardener helping me to pick the ripe ones. As Karoux sadly no longer exists, once one of the best restaurants in the area, one has no choice but to eat at Temenos or at Open Kitchen in McGregor.
Open Kitchen, 41 Voortrekker Street, McGregor. Tel (023) 625-1111. Facebook. www.openkitchen.co.za. Dinner only
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein