Within 2 minutes of walking into Biga Café, Bakery, and Deli the rudeness of co-owner Hanli Carstenson came to the fore, and this continued from her, magnified by a rude departure ‘greeting‘ from fellow co-owner Glen Herringshaw, when I popped in there yesterday, after visiting the Hermanuspietersfontein market further down the street!
Biga (meaning sourdough starter in Italian, Hanli said) has been open since December, and has taken over the space of former Season, one of the few restaurants in Hermanus which I enjoyed eating at (mainly for its calf’s liver and mash). It has also taken over some of the space of Hornbill House, an art gallery, which still exists but in a reduced space.
On arrival I photographed the interior, and the Bakery treats. I wanted to photograph the breads, even though most of them were wrapped in paper, making it hard to recognise them. I asked the staff member manning the Bakery sales who the owner is, and he could not remember the name. Hanli arrived, to write down the names of the three owners, and stood in the way of my bread photograph. I asked her if she could stand out of the picture, but she refused, saying that I would have to wait until she was done! Suspiciously she asked me why I was taking photographs (I had not intended to write a review initially, but after what I experienced there, I decided to take notes). The waiter told me that Hanli had previously managed the Gecko Bar in Hermanus. Glen told me proudly that he owned two restaurants in Cape Town, both of which I had not heard of before: Nag’s Head in Noordhoek (now owned by Bobbie Skinstad and renamed The Toad in the Village seven years ago) and Restaurant 101 at Simonsvlei, appearing to have been owned by him more than 10 years ago! A Google search did not bring up Glen’s name at all, and it appeared that Hanli had misspelt his surname as ‘Herningshaw’! Glen Herringshaw is the General Manager of Brandability, a promotions company. Third co-owner is Charl Myburgh, Sales Manager of Brandability. I was told that there is a silent partner too, with the emphasis on the ‘silent’!
Devon, the waiter serving me, was new to the restaurant and to Hermanus, so had to go backwards and forwards to get my questions answered. He was willing to assist, and came back regularly to check if all is OK, an unusual good touch of service. The restaurant is very spacious, and much lighter than I remember of Season, and one steps straight into the restaurant, instead of having to take a side door. The Season section now is the open-plan bakery, it appears, and other dishes probably are prepared in the former Season kitchen. One can still sit outside in an enlarged patio covered with greenery, helping to protect one from the heat of the day. Outside one sits at the bunk benches which Season had previously. There is ample seating, probably catering for 50 patrons or more, very rustic basic tables and chairs set up inside in different sections, facing the parking, inside the ‘Deli’ section, against the Bakery, and in what looked like the coffee-making area with an unusual library! No more than four tables were taken in the hour in which I was there. The tables have a cactus plant in a terracotta pot, natural Himalayan salt and black pepper grinders, sugar sticks in a ‘blikbeker’, unbranded balsamic vinegar and olive oil bottles, and a tin can containing paper serviettes and the cutlery.
The ‘Deli’ name is a misnomer, represented by only one shelving unit, which contains tomato chutney, Oryx desert salts, Bourbon vanilla sugar, sweet chili sauces, raspberry preserve, coffee plungers, Eric Todd peri-peri sauces, The Treat Company crisps and sweets, Leo Foods biscotti and biscuits, and Beer Bread Mix. At the entrance one can decant olive oil from a large Hemelsrand container, at R 110 for 1 liter and R55 for 500ml, in the branded tin, or R20 less if one brings one’s own container.
The menu and winelist is printed on two A4 sheets. It is introduced as follows: ‘We keep it simple with healthy ingredients, good bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, locally sourced wherever possible’. An all-day Breakfast is served. It states that its ‘organic bread‘ is baked fresh every day, and contains nuts, organic flour, seeds,and grains. Breakfast options are widespread and unusual: croissants (R18 – R20), Gypsey ham and cheese croissant (R28), Banana bread with mascarpone and preserved figs (R35), avocado and tomatoes on toast (R27), fruit salad (R25), granola parfait (R27), French Toast (R35), and free-range scrambled egg with tomato jam and organic bread (R 27). Scrambled egg on a croissant costs a surprising R8 more!
I ordered the egg with bread, and asked for the tomato jam to be excluded, but there was no reduction on the price, I was told, as it was a ‘free addition‘ to the plate! I ordered avocado in its stead, at an extra R10. The bread is not toasted, and one receives a slice of rye bread (with a very hard crust) and one of ciabatta, with two melted portions of butter. I asked for cold butter, which waiter Devon brought. I had asked Devon to ensure that no salt or pepper or any additive such as balsamic vinegar be added, but it arrived drizzled with olive oil, and covered with salt and pepper, with a pea shoot as garnish. Devon took the plate back and had the egg made again. The next challenge was ordering a glass of orange juice, which only comes with carrot and mint. After some negotiation, I was allowed the glass of pure orange juice (R15), delicious with lots of ice on the very hot day.
The Lunch menu offers a platter of ‘Artisan Breads and dips’ at R 35, with German cured meats costing R45 extra, and Fairview cheeses at R20 extra. Quiches cost R49. The Biga Burger costs R65, with add-on options priced separately. Hot tartines cost R69, and cold ones R49 – R85. Salads cost R55 – R75. Sandwiches range from R35 – R45. Only five ( Hornbill Pinotage and Cape Blend, Hermanuspietersfontein Bloos, and Walkerbay Cabernet Sauvignon and Rosé) of the 13 wines on the ‘Wine Menu’ are from Hermanus, ironic as the restaurant is in the Hermanus Wine Village precinct, and at the start to the Hermanus Wine Route! Only two wines are offered by the glass. No vintages are provided.
The music at Biga was lovely, Cuban-style, with a short unwelcome interruption of some heavy pop. There is more energy at Biga than I ever experienced at Season. I stopped at the entrance to pay, after having requested a chocolate croissant as a take-away. A man sitting at the bar counter, who turned out to be Glen, begrudgingly answered some questions, becoming ruder and ruder as he went along. He then aggressively told me that no one else has ever complained, and I replied that I had not complained, but that a number of mistakes had been made in respect of my order. I had not voiced any dissatisfaction to the waiter, other than requesting that the mistakes be rectified. He did not get up when speaking to me, and had not made any effort to come to my table to find out if all was to my satisfaction before. He then lambasted me for having asked Hanli to move for the photograph, embellishing the feedback with a number of f-words, which was shocking, coming from a co-owner, and in addressing a customer. Ironic is that the bill comes with a questionnaire, requesting a rating of food quality, service quality, and atmosphere, as well as suggestions for improvement. The final blow was Devon – when I received the bill for R72, I gave him R102. I was shocked when he asked me if I wanted change, implying a 40% tip!!!!!!!! With two of the three co-owners being so rude, and so many errors made, time will tell if Biga will survive seasonal and fickle Hermanus!
POSTSCRIPT 29/1: A reader of this blog has questioned the claim of ‘organic bread’ sold by Biga, and a call to Biga identified the source of the flour as Eureka, which is NOT organic. Eureka owner Nico confirmed that it is not organic, and said that their flour has: ‘No additives, preservatives, or bleaches’!
Biga Café, Deli, and Bakery, Hemel-en-Aarde Village. Hermanus. Tel (028) 125-0025. www.biga.co.za (under construction) No Twitter. On Facebook and Instagram. Tuesday – Sunday Breakfast and Lunch.