Last week I invited my friends Clint and Llewellyn Lambert (GM of the Franschhoek Boutique Hotel, and influential blogger at Hospitality Hedonist) to join me for dinner at Le Petit Manoir in Franschhoek, which opened in July. Having had more than enough time to settle in, it was a severely (and costly) experience, of a completely dysfunctional restaurant. I apologise for the longer than average Review, summarizing my experiences with Chef Kevin Grobler’s cooking since 2015.
Preface: Meeting Kevin Grobler at JAN in Nice in 2015
On 23 June 2015 I ate at JAN restaurant for the first time. It had received a Michelin knife and fork rating, a preliminary sign that a restaurant is on the way to a Michelin star. Chef Kevin had joined JAN just a week prior, from Delaire Graff, bringing with him fellow Delaire chefs Rutger Eysvogel and Scott Armstrong. They seemed a happy team, and I photographed them in the kitchen each time I ate at the restaurant. I was impressed that Chef Kevin stepped into Chef Jan-Hendrik’s shoes so easily, whenever the latter travelled to South Africa, or guided a Food Tour in Italy.
Subsequent meals at JAN, cooked for by Chef Kevin, were dinner with my son on 15 February 2017, and lunch on 2 September 2017, shared with Jeanette van Manen, owner of Apricus Locanda. At the end of June of 2018, Chef Kevin had already left, when I ate lunch at JAN, cooked by Chef Rutger. All of these meals were superb, other than some service issues during the 2017 dinner.
Lunch at Le Petit Manoir on 19 July 2018
Whilst I was in Apricale in June this year, writing my SwitchBitch Book 2, about walking the Camino and the transformation I experienced, I received a link about Chef Kevin opening the restaurant at Le Petit Manoir in July. Of course it rode on the name of JAN restaurant, and its Michelin star, and soon Franschhoekers were (mistakenly) talking about the Michelin star restaurant opening in Franschhoek. No wonder the expectations were so high and the disappointment so great!
I was one of the first to write about this news, and Chef Kevin shared it widely. On 13 June he messaged me as follows: ‘Hi Chris. Hope you are well after your long walk. I was wondering when you would be back in SA as I would like to invite you to the new project I am involved in. Hoping to hear from you soon’.
I wrote back that I was returning to Cape Town at the beginning of July. He informed that they opened the doors to the restaurants with a reduced menu over the Bastille weekend. I wrote to say that I could come for lunch on 19 July, swopping my trip days around to suit his opening times. I wrote that I might bring Llewellyn along, but he could not make it.
It was a very hot day, I wearing a summer dress. I sat at one of only two occupied tables at the lunch. My phone battery was low, so it was charged for me. Tables are wooden top with metal legs. Outside chairs are white cane, mixed with black moulded tub chairs. The outside area is nicely designed, with plant holders inside the restaurant wall, filled with water-wise succulents. A central water feature recycles water. The baker comes in at 3h00, I was told. Pastry Chef Nicole Loubser, also from JAN restaurant, had joined Chef Kevin’s team too. She has since left, to join Gåte restaurant, opening at Quoin Rock this month. Ceramics are by Diana Ferreira, Dale McRitchie, and Catherine Brennan. Cutlery was Nicholson Russell, in rose gold. Napkins were white gauze. Inside chairs are a blue-grey tub design, with wooden table top tables, made with wormy chestnut, and this was picked up in the flooring too.
The building was bought in February 2017, formerly Augusta House. The business is owned by Frank Heyneke, Brian Groenewald, and JP Lombard (whose father owned restaurants in the Northern Cape). I was shown the guest rooms upstairs, and my eye caught the smeg mini bar fridges. Each room has a Nespresso coffee machine too. We looked at Chef Kevin’s vegetable boxes in the back courtyard too. I was shown the cheese and cold meat glass room, much like that of Villa 47.
In the evening they served a Tasting Menu at R750, with a la carte dishes for lunch. Two things were odd about this meal. I was not shown the menu, Chef Kevin deciding what I should eat, and Chef Kevin sat down to have the lunch with me, a first! No dietary requirements were established. There was no Amuse Bouche, despite Chef Kevin saying that he had prepared a six course meal for me. I was not asked preferences of dishes. I was completely in his hands. I received a menu on my departure, and that describes a carrot and goat cheese mousse Amuse Bouche. Even though I always ask for tap water, I was charged for a bottle of still water at R28. Breads were ciabatta and a farm-style white, served in a beautiful wooden bread holder, with a roasted apple butter as well as Bovril butter, the latter which I declined. This was accompanied by smoked apple and mushroom salt.
My first dish was fresh salmon, served with in-house fermented radish and tomato chutney,and chamomile leaves, to which a smoked tomato broth was poured at the table, having a strong taste from the herbs and spices added. For the heat of the day it was a light dish, and very colourful. Chef Kevin told me that they use more natural ingredients, and fewer items on a plate, to ‘not be close to JAN ‘. Chefs Scott and Chef Kevin’s wife brainstormed the menu with him. I was shocked to hear that Martine Bauer does the PR for Le Petit Manoir, yet is editor of Franschhoek Life, a conflict of interests and highly unprofessional!
The second course was cured and roasted carrots, served with a white chocolate and buttermilk dressing and herb oil, hazelnut dukkha, and carrot and quinoa risotto, a different dish to the one described in the menu which I was given. Making carrots the king, and being vegetarian, suited my taste and eating program.
Pork pot stickers are not normally my eating choice. It was served with elderflower, pickled Granny Smith apples, coriander foam, and crackling popcorn, so tiny that one could not taste it to be crackling. This was followed by the fourth course, of braised short rib, cured and smoked overnight and which Chef Kevin makes with his own spice mix, over a three day period, served with charred celeriac, a kale and mustard leaf pesto, and a smoked beef jus. Chef Kevin told me that Ryan Boon supplies their meats. He is looking to create vegetable gardens at local residents’ homes, where they have space.
Dessert was the whiskey tipsy tart served with whiskey ice cream and salted caramel popcorn as well as a mousse, with honeycomb. The tipsy tart and ice cream was made with Jack Daniel whiskey then.
With my dry cappuccino I was served friandise of homemade Ferrero Rocher, miniature shortbread, and vanilla marshmallow.
I was shocked when I was presented a bill, for R430, being charged for the salmon, short rib, tipsy tart, water and cappuccino, but not for the pot stickers, the carrot dish and friandise, given that Chef Kevin had invited me to try the restaurant just a month before! Interesting was that the prices in July were about a third less than the prices of our dishes in October. Even the menu of my lunch showed prices per dish, which were a third more expensive on my bill, eg salmon starter (R75 on the menu charged R105), shortrib (R75 on the menu but charged R180), tipsy tart menu price and bill price the same at R90.
After the lunch I thanked Chef Kevin and he replied : ‘Thanks for taking the time to come and join us. It was a fun lunch. Really enjoyed it. Have a good day!!’
Dinner at Le Petit Manoir 24 October 2018
I spent five days in Franschhoek with the purpose of completing my second SwitchBitch Book, this one focused on walking the Camino earlier this year. A morning walk on the first day led me to Le Petit Manoir, the only restaurant open, and greeted in a most friendly manner by its Manager Frank. The waitress was amazing too, bringing me a packet in which to place all the heart stones which I had found on my walk, and Frank personally made my dry cappuccino, which was perfectly made. My battery was very low, so Frank brought a charger cable, and gave my battery a boost. Beautiful Sixties music was playing, so I asked Frank if I could return to work in the restaurant, at the counter at which the charging connection is installed. Chef Kevin had just arrived at work, after a busy weekend celebrating his son’s Birthday, one saw on Facebook.
I did exactly that, bringing my iPad, and was very productive in writing. Oddly, the same waitress ignored me completely, not even asking if I wanted something to eat or drink, and Frank took over, bringing me a jug of water. At lunchtime I was feeling peckish, and asked the waitress who walked past what salads they offer (on a 33C day). She said they have none. I had seen that they bake pastries, so I ordered a croissant, despite trying to wean myself off them, with butter and grated cheese. It wasn’t long after that Chef Kevin came to my seat with a plate of kale kimchi, smoked wildebeest, red cabbage purée, sorrel flower, chick pea sprouts, sunflower seeds, and fresh pear. He came to ask for feedback, and I told him that I loved the smokey taste of the game meat, and its combination with the pear, but not the kimchi. I loved its presentation too. I ordered a dessert from the menu, none really what I wanted, but I chose a dish of Coconut Variations, which sounded the lightest of all. But it was boring, with a coconut panna cotta, a smear of mint, and roasted pineapple. There was no sign of coconut in the dish, not even some shavings. I had to leave and find a quieter table, with very noisy British guests nearby, and the music changing to an esoteric jazz, not my favourite at all. Before leaving, I booked a table for the following evening, saying that we would definitely be two pax but possibly three.
I had been told that the outside lighting the restaurant has added had attracted a number of walk-in patrons, and this appeared to be the case on the full moon night we ate there too, a 33 C day, the pleasant evening temperature making it perfect for the walk-ins to sit at the outside tables. As we had booked, ours was the table closest to the outside door. I was impressed that the restaurant was doing so well, having heard that it appeared to be struggling, with business still slow. We were told at the end of the evening that it was their busiest night since opening, with 86 pax in total, but only 14 having booked! We were not told this during the service, as we might have decided to come back on another evening or lunch.
We were greeted by Kally, given a menu each in a folder, and I could not get over her make up, her eye liner going far beyond her eyes and then curving up, making me think that she was already made up for Hallowween, and in my spontaneity I said so. She responded with a look of disapproval, and an arrogance for the rest of the evening, in all her communication, reciting dishes and their ingredients as if she were a school teacher and we her dumb learners. She asked about our water preference, and I asked for Franschhoek tap with lemon and ice, but had to ask for the lemon and ice when it arrived without it. Llewellyn and Clint ordered a bottle of water (R30). We had a candle on our table, but it remained unlit throughout the dinner. I asked Kally where she had worked previously, and she said that she had worked at Homespun in Tableview.
Due to the water shortage, there are no table cloths in the restaurant, and they use gauze napkins with the Le Petit Manoir branding. A delicate bread knife was on the side plate, in Silver but covered with a black film, which Frank had told me the day before was chipping off, so he was using a permanent black marker to cover the parts that are exposed, given that the supplier refused to replace the Nicholson Russell bread knives, although they did replace the cutlery used for the other courses.
We found it hard to order, our evaluation of the menu being that it was still a winter one, and very heavy, with almost only hot dishes in what clearly was summer already. We had seen bread at other tables, but ours took a long time to arrive, Kally telling us that it was baked in-house, and that it was farm loaf white and sourdough, a slice of each Bread type for each of us. With it was served a butternut purée, tasty but evoking baby food memories, and Bovril butter, topped with dehydrated mushrooms. The Bovril butter was the worst of all the food we were served, most people not eating Bovril. At our table only Llewellyn ate it, and I shared the plain butter I asked for instead with Clint! In Franschhoek locals shake their head in disbelief at this experience. The bread plate left me cold, the breads being unexciting and the white loaf breaking, disappointing given the caliber of Chefs Kevin and Scott, both having worked in Chef Jan-Hendrik’s kitchen at JAN in Nice for three years! We talked about Bovril and Marmite, and Clint recalled that his mother spread Bovril on his school sandwiches when he was naughty. He hates it to this day.
The second worst dish of the evening was the Amuse Bouche, a sweet one resembling a dessert! It was described to us as pineapple coconut foam, ginger coconut crumble, with a pineapple crisp. There was a cream in it too, but this was not mentioned. We had to eat the Amuse with a massive gold-coloured spoon, almost the size of a serving spoon. Llewellyn ordered a glass of Holden Manz Chenin Blanc (R60), which arrived promptly, but Clint’s order for the same wine had to be repeated!
Children at a neighbouring table ran up and down past us, without any control by the restaurant staff or by the parents of the children. The music became unbearably loud at this stage, and was heavy esoteric jazz, moving away from the lovely Sixties music. At no stage did Kally enquire about our dietary requirements, so I suggested to her that this might be a good idea!
Our starters arrived, and ‘teacher’ Kally recited the ingredients to us, far too fast for me to keep up in writing it down, her description being more detailed than that on the menu. My starter was pot stickers, containing shredded pork, topped with sorrel foam, and accompanied by pickled apples, apple purée, unusual apple ribbons, braised pak choi, ‘crackling’, with a pork reduction and decorated with a leaf of clover (R96). I’m not sure what possessed me to order this dish, other than the word ’pork’, and the ‘crackling’ of course, the latter was little pinpricks of white which did not taste like crackling at all, a huge disappointment! ‘Teacher’ Kally told me knowingly but incorrectly that sorrel and clover are one and the same thing, with a ‘how could I not know’ delivery! The apple purée had a bitter taste.
Llewellyn ordered the Beef Tartare on an avocado mousse smear, one hardly being able to taste the avocado, there being so little of it, it just adding colour to the plate, given the rather messy looking roughly ground tartare. With the dish came fresh peas, pickled baby corn, deep-fried quail egg, a balsamic glaze, baby onions, and a teriyaki dressing (R105). Clint’s gnocchi tasted good, I trying a little piece of it, which was served with braised and pickled radishes and beetroot, and a ginger and parsnip purée (R96). This was probably the most attractively plated dish of our dinner, but on the wrong very busy plate! Other starter options are fresh salmon served with a smoked tomato broth (R105), which I should have chosen instead; mushroom and truffle risotto (R90), which we wanted to order but felt to be too heavy and hot for a hot summer evening; and duck liver parfait served with onion variations (R110), usually my favourite, but I was put off by all the onion accompaniments, not eating onion at all.
Llewellyn’s main course was mackerel, which Kally told us is a fish type related to snoek, being oily and salty, which the chefs had smoked, served with a calamari tube, a calamari tentacle, a mussel, fennel chutney, curry, onion and dashi purée, to which an Asian Onion broth was poured at the table (R185). I declined a main course, not finding anything I particularly wanted to try. Clint was sold the Braised short rib by Kally, being the chef’s recommendation she said, it being smoked, braised for ten and a half hours, pressed into a square shape, and finished off in the oven. It was served with a kohlrabi disc, kohlrabi purée, a jus, and kale and mustard leaf pesto (R200). Clint felt that the dish was not balanced, too much meat and barely any vegetables. Other main courses offered are a vegetarian potato fondant with leeks, ‘a play on vichyssoise’ the menu informed (R155); beef fillet (R200 for 150g, R250 for 200g); lamb loin and lamb kidney (R240); and cured roasted baby carrots and goat cheese mousse (R155).
For dessert Llewellyn and I wanted the ‘whiskey’ (in inverted commas, as the beverage served was Bain’s from Wellington, and not Irish, according to Kally!) Tipsy tart, made with cinnamon and ginger, served with salted caramel mousse, caramel popcorn, honeycomb crumble, and ‘whiskey’ ice cream (R100). The dessert was boring in its presentation, the deconstructed brown tipsy tart pieces dominating the plate, with only the ice cream giving it a touch of colour. I ordered a Jameson with my ‘whiskey’ dessert, but Kally persuaded me to have their mini ‘fabulous’ Irish coffee, with cream and coffee and whisky, and I made the fatal error to trust her recommendation, a lesson for me, in it being served in a tot glass, and the ‘cream’ looking like a cappuccino froth (R19)! It tasted nothing like an Irish Coffee.
Clint found it hard to choose a dessert, and settled on the chocolate log, almond and charcoal ash, a trio of beetroot served with liquorice ice cream (R95). Clint was sceptical of the ice cream, but it wasn’t overpowering, he said. The three beetroot variations were sour beetroot gel, beetroot coral aerated (so tiny one could barely see it to appreciate the artwork in it), and a dreadful sickly-looking beetroot tapioca. He did not finish most of his chocolate log. Clint ordered a scoop of Malibu Mango ice cream on the side, accompanied by some raspberries and blue berries, while I ordered a scoop of Salted caramel popcorn ice cream (R20 per scoop). Other dessert options were almond eclair and ganache (R105); a coconut textures dessert which I had eaten the previous day and found to be very boring, with no visible coconut (R95); and goat cheese cheesecake (R95).
We had barely finished eating when Chef Kevin came to our table, asking for feedback. I introduced him to Llewellyn and Clint, and told him about Llewellyn’s blog and hotel status. I was so disappointed by this dinner, that I told him, starting with the waitress feedback, and feeding back the poor plating, the poor meat/vegetable balance on the short rib, the Bovril butter, unexciting bread plate, and the tiny mackerel piece. He looked sheepish in hearing the feedback, perhaps then sulking already, as it is clear that most chefs only want to hear praise. He explained that they were overrun by patrons that evening, serving 86 covers, of whom only 14 had booked. It caught them by surprise, he said, their busiest day since opening. We questioned the heavy winter menu in summer, at the end of October. He told us that it would rain this week, and therefore he was sticking with the winter menu until then. There was no apology from him in sharing this with us.
I asked for the bill and the credit card machine, and the bill arrived with orange pastilles, and homemade toffees. I had to walk up to the front desk to pay, as the machine did not arrive, doing so with Manager Frank. He did not apologise nor ask for feedback, charmingly saying goodbye, and then that was that. During the course of the meal he did not come to our table once, to generally check on our well-being, only having added one extra chair to our table when Clint joined us at the dinner. Walking back to the hotel, we kept going over the meal, and deciding it was poor and poorer, the more we spoke about it. I was angry for paying R1181 for it, it being such a disappointing experience. I posted this paragraph on my Facebook post of the day on my return to my room:
’Llewellyn Lambert, Clint and I were looking forward to dinner at Le Petit Manoir, which opened in July. Chef Kevin Grobler is the Executive Chef, former Head Chef of JAN Restaurant in Nice. Working with him is Chef Scott Armstrong, also previously from JAN.
It was a great disappointment, from the word go, with our waitress who was made up for Halloween already and treated us as if she was a school teacher, forgetting things we asked for, not topping up the water, and I just could not get past her off-putting make up. The menu is too heavy and winter-orientated, especially on a 33C day! Plating was disappointing, and some ingredient combinations weird. And as Murphy would have it, it was their busiest day since opening, with 86 pax, of whom only 14 (including ourselves) had booked a table. And it was Full Moon…‘
I expected to hear from Frank the following day, but there was a deathly silence. Two days after the dinner, I decided to see Frank, to tell him how we felt, but saw Chefs Kevin and Scott in the window of the restaurant, and went up to them. I was told that Frank was not in, and that the other two owners had no interest in talking to me. Then a tirade of angry abuse came out of Chef Kevin’s mouth. He is angry, I made the waitress cry (wow, I did not know I had such a super power). I gave him feedback about the meal in front of my friends – I should have taken him to one side and told him – and he didn’t even know who they were! My guests were part of the eating experience, and it was their feedback too, participating in the feedback to Chef Kevin. Llewellyn is a restaurant writer too, based in Franschhoek, and Chef Kevin should have known about him and his following when opening the restaurant in Franschhoek. He used the f-word in every sentence, and told me that he can understand why I am banned from restaurants! He said that Chef Piet Huysentryt had been there that evening too, and loved it, so he will only go by what Chef Piet says, and ignore my feedback. (I spoke to Chef Piet a few days later, and he told me that they only had one course that evening! Chef Piet owns the one Michelin star Likoké restaurant in France, and The Conservatory event venue in Franschhoek.) He went on and on, saying that he had looked after me every time I ate at JAN restaurant, but Chef Jan-Hendrik was in the house on each of those visits. He also said that he took time to show me the new Le Petit Manoir restaurant when I ate there in July. How dare I criticise him on a public platform like Facebook, after everything he had done for me, he asked! He proudly told me that the restaurant has moved up 44 slots on TripAdvisor since it opened in July. I could not help but be surprised that a Chef who has cooked in a Michelin star restaurant could use TripAdvisor as a measure of the ‘success’ of his restaurant! It is currently (7/11) ranked 17th in Franschhoek.
I stayed calm and polite, and tried to not hear his swearing at me. The final insult was that I had a cheek to bring an extra guest! I should have walked away quicker than I did, being totally disrespected by an egotistical rude bully chef! I may have been verbally abused by other bully chefs Bertus Basson and Liam Tomlin on Social Media, but no chef has ever verbally abused and attacked me face-to-face as did Chef Kevin last Friday! He who wears a Michelin star tattoo in his neck – what a shame!
The fact that the owners did not want to talk to me during and after the meal shows their lack of hospitality experience. Throwing millions at a new building housing their four bedroom guesthouse, their joke of a ‘Deli’, and riding on the reputation of a Chef who cooked in a one star Michelin restaurant in Nice but is not showing his talent, is a recipe for disaster for Le Petit Manoir. I do not see this partnership lasting. Chef Kevin should open his own restaurant, and find his own comfortable space of the type of food he likes to serve, clearly very meat-dominant! And he should go to anger management classes, and learn to take feedback positively instead of swearing at patrons! There is no consistency in this restaurant, when one compares the photographs of the dishes of July and October, and sees the dish and water price increase rip-off by 25 – 30% in four months! And the chef has not changed the menu in four months since opening, other than substituting the celeriac with kohlrabi in the shortrib dish, and coming with a nonsense excuse as to why he is still stuck with his winter opening menu!
Conclusion: I have come to the conclusion that Chef Kevin has little creativity, and that he worked in the kitchens at Delaire Graff and then JAN, with dominant owners/Executive Chefs, who created the dishes, which he had to execute as Head Chef!
POSTSCRIPT 2/11: I have just seen the Restaurant Week promo, on the Le Petit Manoir website and running until 4 November. It falsely and stupidly claims that Chef Kevin will serve the guests in addition to cooking the food, and falsely offers a Winter Menu in a Spring restaurant promotion! And they just cannot stop riding the Michelin star!
POSTSCRIPT 5/11: I am delighted to read that Le Petit Manoir is to launch its summer menu tomorrow. The dishes seen on Facebook and Instagram look amazing, light, colourful, and summery.
POSTSCRIPT 7/11: My astoundment at the amateurishness of this restaurant has just grown once more, seeing it advertise on Instagram its new Breakfast Special as a ‘Champagne Breakfast’, offering L’Ormarins sparkling wine from Franschhoek!
POSTSCRIPT 7/11: I am receiving a number of abusive comments from friends of Chef Kevin and his wife on my Facebook page. Where they are personally abusive and disparaging, I am deleting them.