The menu and business card of the Opal Lounge claims that it is the most beautiful restaurant in Cape Town.   It could more aptly be called the most arrogant and pretentious restaurant in Cape Town.   This is the restaurant that, at its time of opening about a year ago, charged for tap water.  A review by ‘Rossouw’s Restaurants’ quickly made the restaurant drop this policy.

The reason for trying out the restaurant was a Valentine’s promotion e-mail which had been received from the restaurant, and the menu that came with it, which looked excellent.  

On arrival we were met by Conrad, who opened the glass door for us, as a gale force south-easter was blowing.  Immediately we were struck by his pretentious greeting, full of airs and graces, which made us feel unwelcome.    He has previously worked as a waiter at Emily’s and Ginja, as well as at overseas restaurants. 

About half an hour later the manager Francois Hough introduced himself, and asked rather aggressively why I was taking notes about his menu and his winelist, who I was and where I was from.  I told him that I write a blog.    I told him that I had to take notes as their website is under construction.  I asked him for his surname, but he refused to give it to me.  He became more friendly as the evening wore on, but did not seem to know how to deal with feedback presented when he asked for it.  He was previously at Paranga, Pepenero and Manolo. 

The restaurant is based in a lovely house, built in 1897, on Kloof Street, and was previously the home of Manolo (not having been shy in the arrogance department either), and a restaurant with French chefs before that.  The building seems to have had little staying power or luck for the previous owners.  It has two lounges, one being an open plan one off the passage, where the Manolo bar and one of the dining rooms used to be.   Two other rooms are used as dining rooms.  The room on the right to the entrance was unbearably hot.  The room we chose became hotter as the evening wore on, and the airconditioner seemed to make little headway in cooling the room to a more acceptable temperature.

The promotional letter describes The Opal Lounge as “Sophisticated yet very homely”, a contradiction in terms.  “Not an ordinary restaurant, but one which has been styled with passion and attention to detail to give your guests an extraordinary dining experience“, boasts the promotional letter (its writing in bold). 

The menu says “Our sincere hope is that you have a glorious experience in any one of our Lounges; that you leave happy, and in the truth that everything we endeavour to do for you on this occasion will bring you back to make this your second home” (underlining as per the menu)!   Our experience was exactly the opposite.

The winelist is beautifully presented in a heavy black leather folder, and has commendable descriptions eloquently written for its extensive collection of wines, not only describing each vintage in great detail, but also each wine.  This is how the Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Bella Rose is described, for example: “Bella Rose has the faintest tinge of salmon pink, a lively presentation of Pinot Noir flavours, a pleasing fine mousse and it reveals an elegant dry finish.  The discreet blush of Belle Rose is emphasized in the name the “beautiful rose””.  This is copywriting at its best!

Interesting was seeing that the red wines are listed before the white wines.   Champagnes stocked are Veuve Cliquot, ranging between R 800 – R 1 200, Bollinger Brut at R 860, Krug at R 2 400, Pol Roger at R 800 and Moet Chandon at R 650.   Cap Classiques range from R 140 for the Eikendal to R 275 for Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blanc and Cuvee Bella Rose.  Pinot Noir wines ranged in price from R 230 for the Catherine Marshall to R 645 for Hamilton Russell.  The Shirazes cost between R 165 for the Neil Joubert and R 410 for Kevin Arnold.  Grootte Post’s Merlot costs R 175, while that of Veenwouden and Meerlust costs R 410.   Chardonnay ranges from R 165 for Eikendal and Haute Cabriere, to R 585 for one from Hamilton Russell.  The Sauvignon Blanc is priced in a range from R 130 (Eikendal) to R 195 (Steenberg).  

Our first problem arose when we ordered the wine, wanting the 2005 vintage of Warwick Three Ladies, as per the winelist.   The vintage had run out, we were told.  Another two wine choices followed, with the advertised vintages not being in stock.  Our fourth choice was a Steenberg Merlot, and the 2007 vintage as per the winelist was available.   Conrad offered to chill down the wine for us, something we have never been offered for a red wine before.  We declined the offer, being happy with it at room temperature.   The Manager came to explain that the restaurant is re-doing its winelist, and that he had worked with owner Rochelle Bushell on it that day, to update it.  He promised that Rochelle would call the following day.  She did not.  Strangely, after being open for a year, the restaurant’s website is under construction.  

The black leather menu is very descriptive, and each dish gets the copy-writing treatment but over-promises what is presented.   Eight starters include a summer soup, strawberry gazpacho, prawns, Caesar salad, venison dim sum, salmon carpaccio and mushroom tortellini, ranging in price from R 45 – R 77.   The mushroom tortellini is described as follows: “A medley of mushrooms combined with mild goats cheese and stuffed into pasta parcels.  Served with sliced prosciutto, a fresh asparagus salad and truffle dressing.  Finished with a light preserved lemon hollandaise”.   The amuse bouche was a tasty wonton with beef, cottage cheese, and olive, served in a lemon hollandaise sauce.  The Mushroom Tortellini did not deliver on its promise, no prosciutto being found in the dish, and the “asparagus salad” was 6 tiny slivers of asparagus used to decorate the plate.  

Nine main courses are offered, including oxtail, tuna, venison, lamb, duck, beef fillet, line fish and mushroom, ranging from R 105 – R 151.  The Exotic Duck is described as “An exotic dish of duck served 4 different ways. Pan seared duck breast on mange tout, confit leg on pomme de terre croquette, duck liver and thyme wonton, and finally finished off with crispy duck skin. Served with mango salsa, orange gastrique and carrot puree”.  The duck skin was two tiniest 20 cent size pieces, which were shown to the waiter to illustrate the overpromise of the menu, and was not “crispy”.  He did not react to this feedback.  The Manager’s reaction was a lame “I’m sorry”.    The fillet steak was served as tiny thin slices, with an olive oil mash, good in taste but not enough to satisfy a young student.   After the main course a mango and passion fruit “palate cleanser” was served.

The dessert list offers six choices, ranging from R 45 – R 60, as well as a luxury dessert platter for two to share, with a selection of desserts, at R 95.  A cheese platter is also available.  The chocolate mousse dessert promised a peppermint centre, but there was none.  The small slice of chocolate mousse cake was lost on the large plate that it was served on, and tiny specs of peppermint were found at the end tips of it.  It was accompanied by a semi-fredo.   I am a cappuccino addict, but could only manage to finish half of it, it being too milky.  We were charged in full for it, even though I told the waiter that I was not happy with it.

The Head Chef at The Opal Lounge is Robert Miguiez, and the Executive Sous Chef is Steven Kruger, previously with Ginja and Portofino.

NOTE: The day after our dinner on 22 March, for which we had paid R 770, I received a call from Malcolm Bushell, who introduced himself as the husband of Rochelle Bushell and a director of the company.   In the most rude, abusive and threatening manner, he told me in no uncertain terms that if my review (only written on 26 March and posted today for the first time) were to contain any “lies”, or was disparaging, he would have no hesitation to seek legal advice, and also told us to not return to the restaurant.  He was not interested in hearing what the customer feedback was about the experience at the restaurant, doing the “my staff are perfect” routine, and did not allow the customer to speak.   There was no “thank you” for the custom.   When I told him that I would share this call experience with friends Gudrun and Barry Clark, who were also at the restaurant that evening, he said he did not care, and that they too would no longer be welcome!   It is clear to see from whence the arrogance of the staff of this restaurant comes!

The Opal Lounge, 30 Kloof Street, Gardens, Cape Town. Tel 021 422 4747.  www.theopallounge.co.za   Open Mondays – Sundays for dinner only.  Open for lunch for corporate bookings only.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com