One of the better restaurants in Plettenberg Bay (there aren’t many, and two favorites The Grand and Nguni are currently closed for winter breaks) has been Sand at The Plettenberg. Two years ago the restaurant changed its name to SeaFood at The Plettenberg, in line with a similar restaurant at sister hotel The Marine in Hermanus, and last year new Executive Chef Grant Parker took over the kitchen when the hotel re-opened after a long winter break. The setting and selection of mainly seafood dishes was perfect on a beautiful day.
I had been assisted in the foyer of the hotel by Guest Relations Manager Laula, who did everything, including serving me in the restaurant. She is a very new staff member, but was willing to find information for the questions which she could not answer. She sent Annemie Parker, the General Manager and wife of the chef, wearing her Relais & Chateaux pin, to explain the changes in the branding of the restaurant. Little about the restaurant interior has changed since she took over in running the hotel a year ago, coming from Cybele Lodge, except for two panels of photographs with Southern Right whales, but hard to identify as such, with the way the light falls on the glass panels over them. Annemie said that McGrath Hotels Group Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff comes to visit every two months or so. She said that Chef Grant devised most of the dishes on the new restaurant menu, with guidance from Chef Peter, but with a section of The Collection signature dishes, which are served in all three the McGrath hotel restaurants, including The Conservatory at the Cellars-Hohenhort in Constantia. With the change in restaurant name, the style of the restaurant to that of a Bistro was also changed, away from fine-dining.
The interior does not seem to have changed at all, the hotel-like long cream-coloured cloths with white overlays appearing very familiar, and not really matching the SeaFood name or theme of the restaurant. The table layout looks haphazard as one comes in, with a lot of space between tables, breaking cohesion in the restaurant. Luckily the weather was so perfect, after an unusually cold spell on Thursday, that all of us sat outside, admiring the view onto the river and ocean. Tables outside have a table cloth, and a very good quality serviette (I experienced some very worn ones at two establishments elsewhere in Plett), with excellent quality Hipp Premium cutlery, and pedestrian unbranded salt and pepper grinders on the table, and thankfully no olive oil and balsamic vinegar holders! A black cat came to say hello, called Peter, and I could not help thinking of Chef Peter and his slick Rayban look at Constantia Fresh earlier this year. Apparently Peter Cat is very popular among the locals, who come regularly to check if he is OK. I do not agree that cats should be allowed in a restaurant, especially one serving fish, so Peter Cat was quietly moved somewhere else. I was promised that he was well behaved, and would only walk under my table and brush up against my legs, but this was not what I had come to the restaurant for!
The menu is printed on an A3 size white board, slipped into what felt like a wooden frame, unexciting in its presentation, and the only splash of colour is a gold fish which is part of the logo of the Seafood restaurant name. There is a Terrace menu too, but I wasn’t offered this one by Laula, yet I heard her describe it to a patron who ordered a beer. The Terrace menu is available from 11h00 – 17h00, and looks even less exciting in its presentation, being an A5 laminated sheet, once again bearing the Seafood restaurant name and logo. The offering on this menu is exceptionally poor and disappointing, with barely any choices offered on the sweet and savoury sides. Unforgivable for a five star hotel and Relais & Chateaux property is the spelling error of ‘Club Sanwiches’, which are offered on white or brown bread, with chicken mayonnaise, bacon, tomato, and fried egg; or smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and gherkin, both costing R75. A selection of biscuits costs R35, scones with cream and jam cost R38, The Plettenberg’s cupcake of the day costs an unbelievable R55, and that’s it for the Terrace menu!
I had a time restriction, and it took some time for my order to be taken, even though we were only four tables in total. A waiter brought a bread plate, with two lovely small slices of seedloaf hidden by a crisp, and a slice of white bread, and butter served with a Relais & Chateaux logo imprinted on it. From the Cold Kitchen list I chose Cape Seafood Plate, which was a selection of small fish treats, with smoked salmon and capers, prawns on an avocado and red onion salsa, pickled calamari (which the chef replaced with grilled calamari on request), and a very tasty whitefish tartar which contained capers and red onions too (R125). Odd was the gap on the plate between the salmon and the tartar. Some Melba toast with the dish would have been perfect, especially for the tartar. Other Cold Kitchen dishes are prawn Caesar salad with white anchovies (R80), a Chicken Caesar salad (R75), and a Garden Route salad of pear, avocado, celery, walnuts, and pecorino (R65).
From the Hot Kitchen list I ordered the chef’s favourite as well as that of Mrs McGrath, I was told, being Thai scented fish cakes, which were colourfully presented, with a pickled cucumber salad, an avocado salsa, and a sauce with a very unexpected bite, available in two portion sizes (R65/R95). I was tempted by the Plettenberg Fish & Chips, being beer-battered hake, mushy peas, tartar sauce, and hand cut chips (R110), but was worried that it would take too long. One can also order twice-baked cheese soufflé (R65), as well as tempura tiger prawns, egg fried rice, Asian vegetables, and a chili-soya sauce dressing, available in two sizes, one assumes (R115/R210). Two soup options are available too, the market vegetable soup costing R60, and The Plettenberg’s seafood soup R75.
From the pan one can order moules frites in two portion sizes (R80/R130), ravioli of prawn and creamed leeks served with a bouillabaisse reduction sauce (R85/R135), Martha’s Cape Malay chicken and prawn curry (R145), stir fried calamari in two portion sizes (R70/R125), almond crusted catch of the day (R135), which was kingklip yesterday, not quite kosher given that it is a SASSI orange-list fish! Ironically Chef Peter is hosting a series of Kitchen Sessions in Cape Town in July and August, and sustainable fish usage is one of the topics! Tandoori spiced white fish is served with lentil dahl, cucumber raita, and tomato sambals (R135). A deluxe seafood platter with roast crayfish, tempura prawns, calamari, wine-steamed mussels, and grilled white fish costs R695 for two persons.
What is very odd is the five The Collection signature dishes, which are meat dishes, not fitting in with the SeaFood name of the restaurant, and which are available at all three the McGrath hotels, and were previously on the Sand menu. On offer is the Plettenberg Gourmet beef burger (R95), slow cooked pork belly (R135), grilled beef rib eye (R145), slow roast crispy duck (R145), and grilled Outeniqua springbok loin (R150). Side dishes cost R25 each. Desserts were predictable, ranging between R55 and R70, and include dark chocolate and toffee fondant, vanilla crème brûlée, malva pudding, strawberry & chocolate Eton Mess, a trio of ice creams (chocolate and orange, strawberry, and green tea and pistachio) or sorbets (grapefruit and cranberry, mango and orange, and lemon and grapefruit), of which Laula did not know the flavours, and had to check, and a platter of local artisan cheeses.
The 24-page winelist is impressively presented in a black leather binder with the Relais & Chateaux logo on the cover. The introduction explains that the winelist is ‘work-in-progress and hopefully will never be complete‘! The winelist contains a disclaimer that the vintages ‘are subject to change without notice’, which means that they do not have to update the list so often. Corkage costs R50. Seventeen wines by the glass are offered, including Villiera Tradition (R50), Krone Rosé (R55), and Plettenberg Bay organic Bramon Brut 2010 (R65). Chef Peter’s wine Marvelous Blue, made with Adam Mason, is on the winelist, at R40 a glass. One page is dedicated to the wines of Plettenberg Bay, reflecting a growing number of local producers, including Bramon Brut; Packwood Gent MCC, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay; Newstead Chardonnay; and The Crags Sauvignon Blanc.
I had told Laula that I had to leave at 14h15 when I arrived, pressurising her to make a copy of the main menu for me, so I was annoyed that she decided to clear the table first when I asked her for the bill. Annemie kindly made the copies of the two menus happen for me, and walked me out of the restaurant to reception where I paid. I was told that Chef Grant was in the kitchen, so it was disappointing that he did not come and greet his guests, but I had not requested it. For her title at the hotel, one would have expected better service from Laula, which became less good as the number of guests grew to six! However, the overall experience at SeaFood at The Plettenberg was a much better one, largely due to the friendly service of Annemie, compared to the disastrous experience I had at SeaFood at The Marine in Hermanus a year ago, a case study for everything that can go wrong in a restaurant, a Relais & Chateaux one at that, and one which the management of McGrath Hotels and Chef Peter never bothered to respond to! The decor is very marine orientated, and quite rightly so, given the hotel’s location, so the lack of update to the restaurant furnishings other than the whale pictures is disappointing. The reception has a picture of a mermaid, and the bar some wooden fishes. Surprisingly the lounge is completely untouched, as old-fashioned as it has always been, and not suiting the more modern character of the hotel, but this is Mrs McGrath’s wish, I was told.
SeaFood at The Plettenberg, The Plettenberg, 40 Church Street, Plettenberg Bay. Tel (044) 533-2030. www.collectionmcgrath.com Twitter: @McGrathHotels
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage