For being one of three judges for the annual Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards; being known as a celebrity chef, restaurant consultant and food alchemist; and presenter of the Kitchen Cowboys cooking workshops, our first visit to Peter Goffe-Woods’ new Wild Woods Bistro & Bar, at the foot of Chapman’s Peak Drive in Hout Bay, was a disappointment.   Our expectation was of a quality restaurant, that reflects what top restaurants aspire to : good food, good service, good ambiance, and if one is lucky, a good connection, which makes one feel that the restaurant is one that one would like to return to again.   Sadly, this expectation was nowhere near met, and it appears as if Goffe-Wood is not serious about his new venture.  Given the stature he holds in the Cape Town food industry, and being a judge of other restaurants, Goffe-Wood may seriously disappoint his followers, and may even damage his reputation.

We sat on the terrace with a fantastic view across to the Hout Bay landmark The Sentinel, for a Saturday lunch, and our first surprise was that we were seated at a very battered looking wooden table.  My first reaction was to ask the waiter if he would bring the tablecloth, as the tables inside the restaurant all have one, but those on the terrace do not.   There is no attempt to even cover the well-worn tables with place mats.   The decor inside the restaurant is very basic – the table-cloth covered tables, wooden chairs, and very basic and functional lighting, with a bar counter, behind which the Manager Rory was to be seen most of the time, even though most of the few clients sat on the terrace.  The word “unpretentious” came to mind immediately – paper menu, paper serviettes, the decor (or lack of it), and the battered tables.

We were asked for our meal order immediately, and were not offered a winelist.  An ordered beer never arrived.   Our waiter was friendly, and took the order efficiently, and brought us bread with only one place setting, but brought another when requested.   The bread was lovely, clearly home-baked.

The menu lists eight starters, ranging from R 45 (mussels, chicken liver parfait and two salad choices) – R 60 (gravadlax, caprese salad and cured ham).  The main course list was commendable, in that Goffe-Wood has clearly capped his prices at R 100, for a substantial plate of food, offering seared tuna, sirloin steak and lamb rogan josh at this price, mushroom risotto at R 60, angel fish at R 75, and chicken breast, pork belly, veal brisket, hangar steak, and a sirloin and egg sandwich range between R 80 – R 90.   The pork belly was served with a generous portion of mash and a little spinach, and was most crispy and delicious.  I would have preferred to not have the gravy, which is not mentioned on the menu.   The steak and egg sandwich was a substantial meal for a hungry student, and the chips tasty.  We did not have any of the six desserts offered, at R 40, nor the cheese plate at R 60.  Having seen the menu on the website before we came, just 2 days before our visit, I was disappointed that it differed so vastly from that which we were presented.

The menu carries the S A Sustainable Seafood Initiative logo, so subtle that most would not see it or recognise it.   The menu has a welcome non-smoking sign on it, and welcomes “restaurant friendly children”.

The Manager Rory only spoke to us when we asked about the lack of 3G connectivity in the restaurant, especially outside, and he confirmed that they struggle with it too for their credit card machines because of the mountain.  This prevents the patrons from being able to Twitter, which Goffe-Wood should attend to, being on Twitter himself.   Rory previously was a restaurant owner himself (Rory’s in the City Bowl and Observatory) before he opened a restaurant in Arniston. 

Goffe-Wood was not seen at all, being in the kitchen,  which is a good place for him to be for the benefit of his clients, but connecting to his customers in these early days of his restaurant opening would go down well, especially as he is a very likeable and sociable person.  Goffe-Wood’s charming wife Elize was not at the restaurant. 

The waiters need training, our waiter not only forgetting the beer, the Manager nor the waiter checking our satisfaction with the meal, the waiter removing our plates while we were chewing the last food on the plate, and the waiter wanting to take our money before we had finished our coffee or looking ready to leave. 

POSTSCRIPT 25/4/11:  After just over a year of being open, Wild Woods is closing at the end of this week.

Wild Woods Bistro & Bar, Main Road, Hout Bay (next door to Chapman’s Peak Hotel), Tel 021 791-1166, open Tuesday – Saturday evenings, and for Saturday and Sunday lunch. www.wildwoods.co.za Twitter  @peteGW

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