Sotano by Caveau Mediterranean restaurant opened officially today in the newly renovated funky La Splendida Hotel on Beach Road in Mouille Point, near the lighthouse.  Its name has caused confusion on Twitter, as it has been referred to both as Sotano (meaning ‘cellar’ in Spanish) and Sontano (the till slip spells it this way).  Given that the name is to link to Caveau (‘cellar’ in French), the spelling must be the former.  However, there is no cellar visible or accessible to patrons at Sotano!

The restaurant is operated by Caveau, a Wine Bar and Deli in Heritage Square on Bree Street, and At the Mill in Newlands.   The owners are the trio of Jean-Yves Muller, Brendon Crew and Marc Langlois.   It is a surprise that Newmark Hotels, who operate the new hotel, has chosen to contract out the running of the restaurant to Caveau, when it has restaurant interests in OYO (in its V&A Hotel) and Salt Restaurant (in its Ambassador Hotel).   Talk on the street is that Caveau has lost its charm and attraction, and lots of its good staff.  

General Manager of the restaurant is Bruce Philemon, who has worked at Buitenverwachting as Restaurant Manager, at Steenberg as Food & Beverage Manager, and as sommelier on cruise ships, he told me.  Chef Philip Myburgh was previously at Caveau, and before that at 48 on Hout Street, which no longer exists.  He was enthusiastic about his focus on ‘authentic Mediteranean’ food that will be served at Sotano, with an emphasis on seafood and shellfish.  

The wooden deck leading to the pavement, covered to protect patrons from the sun and wind (the south-easter can pump in that corner of Cape Town), with wooden chairs and tables locally made from “French wine barrels”, the imprint on each says, is clearly the most popular space on a good summer’s day.  The problem with the outside seating is that non-smokers have to endure the smoking habits of others.  The beauty of the interior design could be lost to those patrons sitting outside, Inhouse Interiors having constructed a fascinating bar in white with coloured bar stools.  The restaurant section caters for a substantial number of patrons inside, on rainy and windy days.   For ambiance, the restaurant could have done with music.

The restaurant opens at 7h00 every morning and will be serving breakfast until 11h00 every morning.  There are eleven breakfast options, and they seem expensive, but the prices can only be judged on portion sizes.   A health breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and honey costs R50; a charcuterie and cheese platter sounds an interesting breakfast option, at R 55; a salmon bagel with chive cream cheese and smoked salmon costs R60; French toast with fruit and mascarpone (R 55); full English breakfast costs R65; Eggs Benedict R60; and omelettes range from R58 – R70.   After 11h00 the blackboards offer snacking, as well as lunch and dinner options, until 23h00 every day of the week.  The staff are neatly dressed in white branded golf shirts and in grey aprons, with either Anthonij Rupert or Paul Cluver branding.

The Mediterranean menu is written onto two blackboards, and the writing is not easy to read for all menu items.   My eye caught the expensive Caprese salad at R 82 immediately, and in general the prices seem on the high side.  Chef Philip explained that the mozzarella has been sourced from an Italian in Cape Town, who makes the mozzarella from cow’s milk, and the full 100g ball is served in the salad.   Greek salad costs R58.  Oysters cost R 18 each.  Vitello tomato costs (R65), Beef carpaccio (R60), Tomato salad (R60), Fish soup (R70) and Gazpacho (R40).   The Gazpacho was spicy, and consisted of raw tomatoes, baguette slices, red and yellow pepper, as well as herbs, red wine vinegar and lemon juice blended together to make a thick refreshing summer’s day soup, a little on the oily side.   Mains range between R98 (chicken supreme) and R125 (for grilled salmon and poached egg), seafood paella and crumbed veal being the only other options.  One can order flat bread at R20, with hummus (R10) or Tzatziki (R8).   An avocado and feta pizza costs R70.   For dessert one can order fresh watermelon, a summertime treat one rarely sees on a menu (R25), as well as nougat glaze (R28) or lemon tart (R30).

Teething problems were the Cappuccino machine not working yesterday (although the hotel has a 70 % occupancy, and has been open since last week, and invitations on Twitter encouraged one to try the restaurant ahead of its official opening), and the toilet paper running out without any spare supplies.  Waiter training was happening in front of patrons.  A group of four next to me wanted to order a bottle of Pierre Jourdan Brut Rosé (R232), but the waiter offered to bring it by the glass, and the manager had to be called for assistance.   The winelist is not yet ready, but information on the winelist will be added to this review after it is finalised tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT 16/11:  I went back to Sotano by Caveau this evening, to finalise the winelist information for this blogpost.  When I looked for a table on the deck, I was blocked by Caveau/Sotano by Caveau Operations Manager Ross Stillford, who told me that the three owners of Caveau have decided that I am not allowed to eat at Sotano by Caveau, nor at Caveau, ever again because of the review I wrote about Sotano by Caveau.  To add insult to injury, co-owner Brendon Crew Tweeted about this incident, referred to me as a “bitch” in a Tweet, and continued in disparaging and defamatory vein in subsequent Tweets.  Not a good start to a restaurant that has only officially been open for less than 24 hours!

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  I have managed to obtain details of the Sotano by Caveau winelist.  Seperated into “Bubbles, Whites, Rose, Reds, Desserts”, it details vintages but not region of origin.   Two sparkling wines (Graham Beck Brut – R49/R195 and Pierre Jourdan Brut – R 38/R150) are offered by the glass.  No champagnes are served.   About ten options per variety are offered, and each variety offers wines-by-the-glass.  Sauvignon Blancs range from R28/R110 for Haut Espoir to R51/R205 for the Warwick Professor Black.  I was interested to see the name of a wine (Parlotones Push me to the Floor), a white blend sold at R116, I had not heard of before, and its red blend ‘sister’ Parlotones Giant Mistake.   Shiraz options range from R25/R110 to R620 for De Trafford CWG 1999.  Magnums are available for Vriesenhof Grenache 2007 (R650), Jordan Cobblers Hill 2000 (R1000) and Meerlust Rubicon 2001 (R1250).

POSTSCRIPT 2/12:  Neil Markovitz, the owner of the La Splendida Hotel in which Sotana by Caveau is located, was most apologetic about the Sotano/Brendon Crew incident when I saw him at the Newmark Hotels function two days ago.  

POSTSCRIPT 4/12: Today we went to have breakfast at Caveau, to try out the restaurant, given the many negative comments it attracted to this blog post.  We were served by the charming Lilly, who brought the breakfast board to the table, and took our order of scrambled eggs (R19) and cappuccino.  The prices were most reasonable, and the coffee was served in Origin-branded cups I have not seen anywhere else.   We were shocked at how run-down the place looked on the outside, with paint peeling off the walls, the chairs wobbly, the tables and chairs not having been varnished for ages, and the Vin d’Orrance umbrellas dirty.  It generally smacked of neglect.   Before we could be served our egg orders, we were asked to leave by the Caveau Operations Manager Ross Stillford, but not before we paid for our coffees!      

Sotano by Caveau, 121 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town.  Tel 0711962660    www.sotanobycaveau.co.za (website under construction)  Monday – Sunday.   7h00 – 23h00

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