During my week of writing the first section of my third SwitchBitch Book in Franschhoek last week, I finally ate lunch at La Petite Ferme, after a long absence, wanting to see the interior renovation, and to experience the cuisine of Chef Kyle Norris, whose food I have not previously tasted. It was a costly mistake!
Chef Kyle is one of a succession of chefs who have headed up the La Petite Ferme Kitchen. I had not met him previously, and know next to nothing about him, his Facebook page only revealing that he studied at the leading Christina Martin School of Food & Wine, and has worked at FarOut Village Hotel (never heard of before) and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga, having no where near any fine dining experience. I therefore called the restaurant last Friday, at short notice, to check if Chef Kyle was working, and this was confirmed by the receptionist. I then booked a table.
As I arrived at the property, a man in a green outfit half waved, half stopped me, being lame in asking why I was there, a ridiculous question! As I was late in arriving for my reserved table, I carried on driving. It was clear to see from the car park that there was not much happening at the restaurant.
I was shown my table, in an enclosed terrace area. I remembered with nostalgia how fantastic an experience it was to visit La Petite Ferme, before it went into accommodation and winemaking, then personally managed by John Dendy Young. There was a firm favorite of Franschhoek trout, and the service was personal and superb. It was bursting at the seams on weekends, as locals, Capetonians, and Bolanders like us came to eat there. The view has always been the crowning glory, but last Friday it did not seem so spectacular, possibly because an increasing number of other Franschhoek restaurants offer a view too. I went to photograph outside, and could not believe how noisy it was outside, with children screeching in an outside seating area.
By the time I returned to my table, the green-grey leather-bound menu was waiting for me. The table had a table cloth, a plus, a side plate in grey, and an underplate in white with a visual of the view from the restaurant, which no ceramic artist can capture compared to what one sees from one’s restaurant seat! Some but not all the plateware is made by The Potter’s Gallery in Kleinmond, the name of which Ryno did not know, and when he returned, he gave it to me incorrectly! Cutlery is by Sola, a good international brand. The placemat is a cheap plastic.
As I sat down, I confirmed that Chef Kyle was in the kitchen. I was told by the Restaurant Manager Ryno Swartz that Chef Kyle had just left to attend a meeting. I wondered what respectable Chef would leave his kitchen for a meeting elsewhere over the busiest time of the day, especially as I had called ahead. I did not provide my surname when I made the reservation, but surely the receptionist would have told the chef that a diner was expecting to see him.
The menu is introduced as the Autumn Menu, in which the chef team have ‘expressed their creative freedom, experimenting with various flavours, ingredients and textures to create authentic country style cuisine. Each wonderful dish stems from the origins of La Petite Ferme – country cuisine with a fresh contemporary touch. (Not sure what this sentence refers to in respect of the ‘origins’. And very humble in referring to their ‘wonderful’ dishes!). Wishing you a delicious culinary journey with La Petite Ferme’. Mine certainly was not!
In perusing the menu, I had a heart attack looking at the prices. Firstly, there was no a la carte option, one having to pay R375 for two courses and R440 for three courses. I spoke to Ryno about this, saying that nothing on the list of main courses suited my dietary requirements, which surprisingly were not requested on arrival. Therefore paying the same amount of R375 for a starter and a dessert made this a preposterous dining cost, working out at R185 each for the starter and dessert, no top restaurant in our country would charge so excessively, made worse by this restaurant not having any restaurant industry standing or top 30 ranking! Hearing only foreigners at the tables around me, it was clear that I had fallen into a Tourist Trap, no locals being so dumb to pay this excessive price. Ryno had no sympathy for me, telling me that I was welcome to order a Main and one of the two other options, despite giving him my Main Course feedback!
The Main course Assiette (plate/dish) of the day was oxtail, and the soup of the day was Butternut and fennel. I laughed when I thought how silly one would be to order a Butternut soup at R185!
I was not expecting a bread plate, but I can see that it is served to fill diners up, as the portions at the restaurant are so small! Mine was filled with three slices of ciabatta, and an olive oil and balsamic mix, coming from the dark ages of restauranting! As I detest balsamic, I requested real butter. I used some of the bread to have with my starter, as the three Melba toast shards were not enough for it. Facebook Friends have been most uncomplimentary about the state of the bread when I posted a photograph of it. A friend of mine ate there over the weekend, and they had two different spreads on their bread plate.
My Starter choice was home-made Duck liver parfait and cured Duck pastrami, the latter being tiny rolls, and the former one a small blob of a helping, all hidden by the three raisin bread Melba Toast slices. Ryno couldn’t wait to ask me what I thought, in a most aggressive manner which implied that I could only answer that it was fabulous. I thought the parfait to be stodgy and boring, and the pastrami rolls so small that they added nothing to the dish. I questioned whether Duck was used for the parfait or the pastrami. I did like the combination with the orange preserve, the waitress herself not being sure if it was a preserve or a pickle, but then settled on the former in her description of the dish when she brought the plate to the table. My research about pastrami says that it is usually made from beef, brined, partially dried, seasoned with herbs and spices, and then smoked and steamed. What I was served does not appear to meet this description. Chicken liver parfait should have brandy and/or port in it, but I did not taste any. A parfait is finer than Chicken liver pâté, the cooked livers having gone through a sieve. I found this portion to be too small to justify the average price of R185. Looking back at the menu, it says the Orange was ‘pickled’ and not preserved, and that there should have been Boschendal brandied apricots’, but these were not on my Starter plate!
Other starters offered are Herbed buffalo mozzarella, Baked Camembert, Smoked salmon salad, and Soup of the week. Main course options are Rooibos Honeyed Pork Knuckle, Pulled lamb, wild mushroom arancini (with a lot of cauliflower in the dish), Pickled vine leaf trout, and Assiette of the week. Desserts choices are Pecan Nut pie, Bourbon Brownie Pumpkin Tart, and a La Petite cheese board with local cheeses.
For dessert I almost made the fatal error of ordering the Gateau of the day, and even had it brought to the table, a rich Chocolate mousse cake, interesting in its presentation and topped with gold sprinkle. Sanity prevailed from a diet perspective, and I am happy that I chose the Saffron poached pear, in a gold/yellow colour, with pear syrup, mango pearls, vanilla jelly, mini meringues, and the most delicious Viognier ice cream, which was a substitute for the Gorgonzola ice cream intended to accompany the pear. I loved the look and taste of the dish, but was put off by the most unattractive plate/bowl it was served in. I was not offered tea or coffee to accompany the dessert.
The waitress pounced on me for feedback, but I told her that I would tell the chef, were he to present himself, but he never did. My waitress had a habit of standing really close to me, and pointing her finger at each item she was telling me about, and I feared that she would get so close that she would start touching the individual elements. I had to ask her to give me some space. I found the staff to talk down to their patrons, overhearing them interacting with the tables close by. My waitress wanted to remove the unused cutlery of my first course, but my book was on top of it, so I assured her that I would not take any of the cutlery home with me! Music is irritating in being so soft that one can hear something playing but what it is is not identifiable.
I wanted to leave and get out of the place as soon as I could, yet could not see my waitress, so I asked another. She first had to find my waitress, who then had to return with the credit card machine, after presenting the bill. No one greeted me or bid me farewell when I walked through the restaurant reception on my way out.
I was shocked to read the message on the website from the GM Riaan Kruger, sprouting forth about their ‘exceptional cuisine’, ‘leaving guests with breathless reactions’ (from shock at the prices), ‘it’s not the envelope that matters, but the content’ (where did they find this one, and was does it mean?). The website claims ‘Award-winning cuisine… ‘ at La Petite Ferme, but it has never won any restaurant accolade!
I can not find any redeeming factor in favor of La Petite Ferme, the view not being different or special enough to compensate for this excessive rip-off pricing which clearly communicates to us locals that this is no longer the friendly special restaurant it used to be. Locals are not welcome here!
POSTSCRIPT 30/4: Chef Kyle Norris wrote this response to my Review on Facebook:
‘So after some thought , I will not post a reply to Chris Von Ulmenstein blog , as personally I don’t think it’s deserving of one…..and couldn’t put up with her tit for tat mentality……….but on the other hand should I wish too……this would be my reply to her Blog.
Thank you for your wonderful review on “how not to” review chefs you have not met nor taken the time to get to know – either via personal contact or research -instead choosing to make Facebook your insight to who I am, where i have come from and how I run my kitchens.
I have no need to splash my accolades all over Facebook or any social media network for that matter. I am not the type of chef who gets off on accolades however I am in my position because of the passion I have for what I do, not for the glory. All you need to know is I have worked with some great chefs both locally as well as internationally.
I am not sure what qualifies you to write reviews and comment on not only my career, however of other chefs with whom you have never dealt on a professional level, let alone in a personal capacity. It appears that perhaps you suffer from an inferiority complex with regards to you not having been able to cut it within the hospitality industry in South Africa?
May I suggest to you that you should stick to writing fictional books? Pack your harpoon away and call off the unnecessary hunt of some of the best chefs our country has to offer and leave it to those who know about the culinary world to review it.
It is sad that you have such a negative attitude towards the cheffing community here in Franschhoek – and most of Cape Town for that matter – as most of your reviews are based on personal vendetta more than they are based on the chefs actual ability as well as your over all experience of an establishment.
Articles of this nature are boring and proves that you have no back bone.
As for my not being available at your beck and call – for future reference for both our restaurant and any restaurant for that matter it is common courtesy for the guest to provide full details when making a booking which may include full name and contact details as well as any dietary requirements which you may have, however these should be life or death type of allergies and not restrictions which you have placed on yourself. These are just suggestions which would assist both you and the restaurant which you have chosen to visit and make life somewhat more pleasant for both parties – I am not chained to my pass and do have other matters to attend to, however a person with your understanding of how a professional kitchen works I am sure that you understand this. Had you personally reached out to me timeously prior to your visit I may have been able to arrange to be on property, alas having a booking for “Chris” and a query as to whether or not I will be there unfortunately falls flat on deaf ears as it simply could have been anybody.
In hindsight, had I known that it was you for which the booking was for I would have made a concerted effort to meet the woman that has been banned from numerous restaurants in the Western Cape as you must be one of the most notorious “critics” around where your name precedes your presence.
I have full faith, not only in my kitchen team but in Ryno and his front of house team as well and they have my utmost full support.
I apologise that our style of cuisine and service did not suit your far superior Michelin pallet, however it appears to suit those guests who return on a regular basis, both national as well as international’.
This was my reply to his post:
’Wow, as someone who has not met me, you do have a lot to say about me. You appear very defensive. Perhaps you will train your restaurant reception to ask for surnames and dietary requirements. It shows me that you have read the Review, which is good. 👏
I review restaurants and not chefs. I have no vendetta against any chef, in Franschhoek or elsewhere. There are some excellent chefs in the village. It is time that chefs put their egos in their pockets, and accept constructive and honest feedback.
You did encourage me to come and eat at La Petite Ferme. I apologize that it took such a long time for me to do so. I am sorry that we could not meet on Friday.
If you had done better research on me and my writing, you would have known that I do not write fiction – I write the truth with honesty, in my reviews as well as in my non-fiction books!
I am impressed that you multitask, handling the role of chef (when you are there), as well as of PRO for the restaurant as well!
You can write many things about me, but ‘inferiority complex’ is the furthest from the truth!
I will add your post to my Review on the Blog’.
POSTSCRIPT 30/4: I have searched for Chef Kyle’s work experience over the past 14 years. It seems to be all over the show, in KZN, in Nigeria, in Greece, and Mossel Bay, not one of the establishments having any serious culinary reputation. He has been at La Petite Ferme for a year.
La Petite Ferme, Pass Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-3016 www.lapetiteferme.co.za Twitter: @la_petiteferme Instagram: @la_petiteferme Monday – Sunday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein