Yesterday we set the scene for the Sante Hotel and Wellness Centre, which re-opened just over two months ago.  In our review of the Hotel and Spa, we painted a picture of mis-management, and our tale continues with our review of the Hotel’s restaurant Sommelier, a disappointment, in not having a sommelier, for being expensive in what it offers, and for its below-average service.  The restaurant Sommelier was in place when the Hotel originally opened.  I am not aware that a sommelier was ever in operation. The new owner of the hotel has maintained the restaurant name.

The restaurant is large, and not well filled with furniture, seating about 50 persons on four completely different styles of chairs, which makes it look more empty.  There was no music, no candles, nothing to create some mood – even if I was the only person eating there on the first night.  The menu was neatly typed on a sheet of paper, presented on a brown leather holder which I have seen often recently (Restaurant at Majeka House, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Overture), but nothing like the “gourmet menu” nor offering a “choice of South African and international cuisine”, as claimed by the Hotel website.  Three choices are offered per course.

The “Wine Collection” (nice name) is an impressive looking document, bound in brown leather, and commendably has the Platter star-rating of every wine listed.  Each of the more than 70 wines is described in detail.  It is however the most difficult winelist from which I have ever chosen a wine.   Instead of going the predictable wine variety route in classifying the wines, the “authors” of the winelist (the GM Kristien de Kinder and two wine consultants) went the wacky route of trying to be “clever” in classifying the wines stocked in terms of sometimes funny, sometimes weird headings they have given, which means that one does not understand what the headings refer to, and therefore one must go through each of the 17 pages to find a wine one knows or would like to try, which could easily take half an hour.  The Wine Collection must be so new that one feels that one is touching its pages for the first time.

Only one Wine Collection category is understandable (“French Champagnes”), but most are not.  So, for example, “Taste the Stars” lists sparkling wines (e.g. Miss Molly from Moreson, Krone Rose Cuvee Brut); “Great Whites” (all Sauvignon Blancs); “White Collar Whites” (e.g. Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay, Bosman Old Bush Vines, Veenwouden Vivat Bacchus, Warwick Professor Black); “The Crowd Pleaser” (e.g. Altyd Gedacht Gewurztraminer, Glen Carlou Chardonnay); “Rich Whites” (Constantia Uitsig Semillon); “Scented Garden Wines (all Rose’s); “The Outsiders” (De Krans Tinta Berocca (sic), Idiom Sangiovese);  “Cheerleaders” (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon); “Sensual Reds” (Seidelberg Un Deux Trois); and “Incredible Reds” (De Toren Fusion V).  Wines-by-the-glass cost between R40 – R50, and the vintages of the two reds (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon and Bell Post Merlot) are both 2006.  I enjoyed a bottle of Rijks Shiraz 2004, which I spread over my two dinners whilst at the hotel.  Commendably, they have a special closure to pump out the oxygen once the bottle has been opened, to keep for the next day.

I was interested in finding out about the chef, and Terence told me his name is Neil.  He went to find out his background, and told me that he came from the restaurant at Rickety Bridge outside Franschhoek.  I asked if I could meet him – when he came to the table, his name had changed to Neville, Chef Neil Rogers having been one of the 20 staff to have been fired the week prior.  Sous Chef Neville Appollis came to the table wearing the chef’s outfit of Proviant Hospitality, a catering company he worked at more than two years ago.  He had been at the “old” Sante, and his last job was at Rickety Bridge.   There is no Executive Chef at Sante, I was told.   (Guests Larry and Heather Katz I met in the restaurant on the second night were told that a chef from Grootbos is to start in September).

I was not offered any bread, and when I questioned the waiter Terence about it, he said they don’t serve it.  The chef Neville was more honest in admitting that they had forgotten to bring it to the table!    Starters are a choice of butternut and orange soup, expensive at R50, a smoked “salmon gravadlax” salad, and a chicken salad, both at R55.

The main course (Pan-grilled lamb noisette rolled in marjoram, coriander and paprika) was served within 5 minutes of giving the go-ahead, after the difficult wine choice.   This meant that the food had been pre-prepared, even though I had asked for it not to be prepared until I had been through the Wine Collection, which explained why the food was not served hot.  The lamb was very fatty, served on mash (which I had requested instead of the couscous), and served medium rare, even though the waiter had suggested it should be served medium.  Stirfried red cabbage and red pepper strips were served with the dish, and had a surprising sweet taste. The dish was served with a Red Wine jus.  I felt that the cost of R130 was expensive for a restaurant stuck away in the middle of nowhere, not having a sommelier, not serving bread, and for having no ambiance at all.  Chef Neville admitted that he may not have cut off enough of the fat before preparing the dish.  Other main course choices were Grilled Dorado (R95) and Oxtail (R140).

I had springrolls with an orange and chocolate filling, with a spoonful of vanilla pod ice cream served in a  Chinese spoon for dessert (R45) – the rolls were very crispy, but I felt that the orange was dominated by the chocolate filling.  Other options are creme brule (sic) and chocolate fondant with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, at the same price.

Things looked up on the second night, as there were more guests in the restaurant, music was played and a candleholder was on the table, but the candle was not lit.  A new waitress was far more efficient in service, but once again there was no bread (I had been promised it for the second night).    Mannie, the Duty Manager of the hotel, came to the rescue, and bread was brought to the table.  I had chosen to eat at the hotel again, because of the bad condition of the gravel road off the R45 to the hotel, and because the waiter Terence had promised that the menu changes every day.  Only one of the three dishes per course was different to the menu of the night before.   A Greek salad was brought to the table, which was not for me, and was not a menu option.   I had the Beef fillet served on shitake mushroom risotto, served with vegetables, and could not help but think that the mushrooms were fresh out of a tin, chopped up.  The size of the steak was tiny, meant to be 200 gram, I was told, and the risotto was heavily overcooked, cloying and mushy.

The bottom line is that the restaurant name is misleading, in there not being a sommelier.  The quality of the service staff is poor, and there is no Restaurant Manager on duty in the evenings.  The food is not well prepared, portion sizes are small, prices are high, and the kitchen seems to be out of its depth without an Executive Chef.  The winelist is odd, the ambiance non-existent, and there is poor co-ordination between the kitchen and the waiters.  The retrenchment of 20 staff last week, only two months after opening, plus the threatened further staff cuts, have created a staff complement that is ready to jump off what could become a sinking ship, badly influencing the operation of every aspect of the hotel, spa and restaurant.

Sommelier Restaurant, Sante Hotel and Spa, off R 45, between Klapmuts and Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 875-1800.  www.santewellness.co.za (The website does not feature the menu of Sommelier, but it does have a menu for Cadeaux, a restaurant which is meant to be run in the Spa building, but has not re-opened.  It states that Chef Neil Rogers is running both these restaurants, but is dishonest in that only Sommelier is open, and that the Chef has been fired.  The food photographs are extremely misleading relative to the presentation of the food).

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