Word has spread about newly opened Chardonnay Deli in Constantia, and my expectations were high when Manley Communications sent the media release about it in December. The expectations created via the media release were not met unfortunately, and we found a Farm Stall with below-average and poorly presented food in its Eatery!
I had arranged to meet my lunch host Tony Ward at the Farm Stall, not knowing exactly where it was, and hard to see in a bend, and to turn right into to park, given the traffic load on Constantia Main Road. The branding on the roof of the building is smallish, not helping one to find it. There was barely any parking in front of or near the Farm Stall, it appearing that the parking area absorbs a large number of cars from the neighbouring High Constantia centre near the Groot Constantia turn-off. At the front door signage defines what is inside: Artisan Bakery, Delicatessen, Grocery, Juice & Coffee Bar, Organic Produce, Light Meals. Putting the eatery details last highlighted for me that it is their lowest priority!
I walked from the entrance to the coffee bar counter (they serve Truth), no one welcoming or guiding one when one arrives. I was surprised that there was little seating at the counter, but it was just for the coffee drinkers. There was no
indication that one had to walk through the building, on to a terrace, and down steps to the tables and chairs set up under the oak trees. Tables are tiny, and look like they are made from barrels, with Boutique Vineyards Trudeau branding on the top. A clay container is meant to hold a knife and fork rolled in a thin cheap paper serviette, but ours was empty. An Oryx salt grinder is on the table, but none for pepper. It was full outside, with Constantia ladies lunching at an eclectic collection of mismatched chairs and tables, and that must explain the slow service. There is a blackboard menu, which was behind me relative to where I was seated. The waitress seemed hesitant to bring it to the table. Our waitress Robin was charming and confident, and quickly explained that they do not yet have a liquor licence. However, she offered to bring some ‘apple juice’, at a very fair price of R24, served in a water glass! I wondered why they had named the Farm Stall after Chardonnay, it not being the dominant wine variety which Constantia is known for, more often associated with Sauvignon Blanc! It will be good for the nine wine estates on the Constantia Wine Route if they have one central tasting venue in their midst, once the liquor licence has been granted. I had asked for a jug with ice water, and even though it took some time, I received exactly that, with slices of cucumber being unusual.
Our table was next to a tree, and at its base were different herbs, including basil, which a staff member came to pick some leaves from. I ordered an omelette, which promised fresh basil, and a mozzarella filling (R38). When it arrived, there was no basil to be seen, and therefore I picked my own fresh basil next to the chair! One cannot get fresher than that. It was served with delicious slices of multigrain bread. The choice of bread was not asked (they also bake Ciabatta and 50% Sourdough), and we had to request butter, and the missing cutlery. Tony ordered quiche (ingredients not specified) and salad, which arrived with a topping of pancetta, but hid the quiche (R47)! It was laden with salad. Food presentation is not a speciality of the house, my omelette having broken during plating, and long-last seen sprouts with unusual calabash-shaped mini-tomatoes adding colour to the plate. Tony’s plate was untidily presented with a flood of red/brown items, there being no contrasting colours at all! The calabash tomatoes were included inside the omelette, giving it an odd appearance, the tomatoes making bumps!
Owner Charmaine Lilje came to the table once only, to check if all was in order. She took little interest in who we were, and was more concerned about a red spot in her eye, and if it would show in the photograph I took of her. When I spent more time inside the Farm Stall after Tony had left, she told me that writer Kim Maxwell was coming to do a story, and needed five dishes to photograph, and their recipes, clearly excited about the coverage to come.
There was knocking and hammering close by, a building on each side of the Farm Stall being renovated. One is at the level of the outside eating, and that may be to accommodate tables in winter. It was a Stellenbosch memory, hearing acorns falling on the tin roof of the Farm Stall.
The interior of the Farm Stall looked untidy and disorganised to me. It is big, but there is little to buy for its size. Near the entrance is a fridge with vegetables, and baskets of fruit. Very little is visibly priced. I bought five bananas, and was shocked at the cost of R30 for them, being told that they are ‘organic‘. This is not indicated inside the Farm Stall. There are cake options, such as flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake, double chocolate brownies, and carrot and beetroot cake, a slice costing R35. Behind the cakes is a messy looking counter, with plastic bowls to be seen, presentation once again not being the forté of this establishment! The three bread styles can be tasted on a central table, baked by Malik Mosia, but one does not smell any baking inside the Farm Stall! The ‘Deli‘ name is a bit of a misnomer, as they only sell their own jams (including ‘rasberry‘ and tomato jams), Colman’s mustards, cheeses, and Richard Bosman charcuterie. The payment counter is long and seems an unnecessary waste of space. The lady at the till seemed to not be interested in her customers, and did not inform me about the price of the bananas. What is interesting is that I saw a photograph of Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg of The Kitchen at Maison with Charmaine, bringing her his self-made charcuterie, but they do not appear to sell it at the Farm Stall. It may be used in the meal preparation, but this is not mentioned anywhere.
Reading the Manley Communications media release after having written my review, I was surprised to see the mention of interior designer Salome Gunter’s name, as the involvement of any designer is hard to see in the haphazard untidy Farm Stall interior. Charmaine is described as ‘A self-taught chef with a business degree, Charmaine is the owner of successful catering company Chardonnay Chefs. After graduating, a visit to Ireland reignited a burgeoning passion for food and a determination to make it her career. On her return to Cape Town she worked under the likes of Olympia Café’s Kenneth McClarty and award winning food greats Franck Dangereaux and Luke Dale-Roberts at La Colombe, and in 2009 Charmaine started her catering business. Chardonnay Deli is the next step for her. Here, the catering arm of the business will have its HQ…’. None of this description about Chef Charmaine was visible to us as patrons of the eatery. The release quotes her as saying: ‘we want people to come as they are and enjoy what it is we like to do and that’s feed people fresh, fabulous and inspired food‘. I can attest to the freshness of the basil, at least, even if I picked it myself! I did not see anything else claimed in the PR puffery!
Yesterday afternoon I went back to Chardonnay Deli, after attending a concert nearby, just to test if we had a particularly bad day on Wednesday. I saw Charmaine as I walked in, and nodded a hello, but she did not acknowledge my presence. I saw a collection of roast chickens on the cake counter, double the size of the Woolies ones, at R128. There was no cake left, other than the flourless chocolate cake (R38, weirdly plated with the fork the wrong way round!), so I ordered that with an iced coffee (boring and weak, mainly consisting of milk, expensive at R28). The same waitress Robin served me, and kept calling me ‘my dear’, despite not remembering me from five days ago, explaining that her ‘head is spinning‘, they have been so busy! At 15h45 she was already removing the cutlery pots (they close at 19h00), and did not serve me, due to a miscommunication between herself and Jani Schnehage, the cake and pastry baker, previously having worked at Cassis and the Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa. I asked Robin about the building being renovated next door, but she knew nothing about it. The building being renovated in the sitting area outside will become their new bakery and kitchen, and the current space used by the bakery will become indoor seating, she said. Good was seeing that the menu had changed between Wednesday and yesterday. As I went to pay, I took another interior pic, the one of Wednesday having too much light in it. It appeared that Charmaine had recognised me after all, and said that I should rather use the one of ‘pretty me’, which I had taken of her on Wednesday. I told her that it was coming! There was no other interaction from her, not welcoming me back, and she does not connect with other patrons sitting outside either. This was despite Charmaine having seen on Facebook that I had posted my photographs of Chardonnay Deli after Wednesday’s visit. It is clear that Charmaine is not interested in building relationships with her patrons!
It appears unlikely that Chef Charmaine is in the kitchen, and the basic menu, while inexpensive, does not reflect her claimed cuisine pedigree at all, and neither does the food presentation! The publicity shot of a salad (left) did not reflect what we were served! One wonders why Manley Communications associates itself with this sub-standard eatery and Farm Stall, other than that Charmaine appears to be a friend of their client Chef Luke Dale-Roberts!
POSTSCRIPT 2/3: Chardonnay Deli posted this response on Twitter early this morning: ‘@WhaleCottage we are applying for a license and our menu will be more exciting soon. We are only 2 and 1/2 months old’.
Chardonnay Deli Farm Stall, 87 Constantia Main Road, Constantia, Cape Town. Tel (021) 795-0606 www.chardonnaydeli.co.za Twitter: @ChardonnayDeli Monday – Sunday 7h00 – 19h00.