It must be fabulous living in the country estate of Val de Vie, with fantastic sport facilities and country living, equidistant from Paarl and Franschhoek, and not too far from Cape Town, and now have Reuben’s & Co Café open its doors, alongside the gym and largest swimming pool in Africa, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Reuben’s & Co Café is far beyond a Café, defined by Google as a ‘small restaurant selling light meals and drinks’, given that it can comfortably seat 190 patrons, and 350 standing patrons as they did before and after the recent Andrea Boccelli concert at Val de Vie. What it serves is far beyond light meals, many dishes being the same as or evolved from dishes on the Reuben’s menu in Franschhoek and Cape Town.
Reuben’s Café is Chef Reuben Riffel’s fifth restaurant, alongside Reuben’s in Franschhoek, at the One & Only in Cape Town, at the Capital Moloko in Johannesburg, and Racine in Franschhoek, and opened its doors in December 2018. It is the first project created jointly with Chef Richard Carstens, having created a restaurant consultancy called RiffelCarstens after Chef Richard left Tokara.
I had not been to Val de Vie for a while, having driven through it last year with my Parisian friend, having discovered a little coffee shop called Fleet. It was here that I got lost inside the vast and ever-growing Val de Vie estate, and had to be fetched by the friendly GM Charlotte Bredell, the boomsman at the recently opened Berg River Gåte entrance to the estate close to Paarl handing me a huge paper map and quickly rattling off instructions to me, as if I had been there before. Their electronic security system was not working on the day, so I had to fill in my details on a paper sheet, not my favorite, which created problems when I left through the Franschhoek exit, meaning I had to enter my details on a sheet again! Charlotte shared that a huge retirement village is to be built across the road from the Café, and that Pearl Valley and Val de Vie have amalgamated, with a road now connecting the two estates.
Having been a competitive swimmer in my youth, I was impressed with the pool, alongside which the Café is located, so chose to sit outside on a beautiful sunny day, facing the blue pool. But first I went inside with Charlotte, who showed me the different sections of the restaurant, two casual seating lounge-type areas, a coffee, Cake, and juice station, a bar, an open-plan kitchen, a wine storage area, a shelving area with Chef Reuben’s books, metal tea pots, and KitchenAids, clearly for sale but not priced, and various table sizes, small as well as long shared ones. Outside on the terrace there is ample seating too. The vast long space in the restaurant has been softened with bamboo baskets overhead, and baskets with plants throughout. Being a rectangular space, the one length faces the pool, with sliding glass doors. One of the lounge areas has a tile detail which looks like it replicates a mountain scene. Chairs look like those from Woodbenders, in a light wood, linking to the baskets above. The interior design was done by Maryke Riffel and her team, and has been nominated for a design award by the SA Property Owners Association.
Chef Richard Carstens introduced me to Head Chef Gianlucca de Quintal, whom I had last seen at Caffe Milano on Kloof Street, a favorite coffee shop of mine before it was transformed into a Carne steak house by owner Chef Giorgio Nava. Chef Gianluca moved to Reuben’s One & Only from there, took a break for a year, and then helped open the Reuben’s in Johannesburg, before starting at Val de Vie. Chef Gianluca said that he is not intimated by big numbers of patrons, yet runs the kitchens with only six other chefs. He described the food served at Reuben’s Café as ‘relaxed’, and said that they were surprised that the local residents were not looking for extreme healthy foods as they expected. The favorite dishes are their Eggs Benedict, sandwiches, and their Beef Burger. But it is the Reuben’s signature dishes they want too, the salt and pepper squid being a favorite too. Chef Reuben visits twice a week, but it is Chef Richard who is his mentor and guide in the restaurant.
Charlotte impressed, being eager to listen and to take action when receiving feedback. She worked at a guest house before starting as a manager at Reuben’s Franschhoek, and then at Val de Vie. She told me that about 80% of their patrons are Val de Vie residents. It was cute that she offered me a dry cappuccino on arrival, but I have given them up, having switched to tea.
On the wood top tables was a side plate by Revol from France, with a guaze branded serviette and Eetrite cutlery. I liked the round black place mat, a better quality than one normally sees in tablecloth-less restaurants.
I ordered a salad of butter lettuce, Gorgonzola cheese, poached pears, roasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola cheese, with a dressing of rice wine vinegar, canola oil, oregano, and castor sugar on the side (R95). I was surprised about the leaves in the salad, not reflecting the soft ones I buy at Woolworths. Chef Gianlucca explained that they order ‘frilly butter lettuce’ from their supplier, and use this in the salad. It was served in an imported Churchill bowl. I liked the contrast of the sweet pears and the Gorgonzola, and the crunchiness of the walnuts, a favorite. Speaking to Chef Richard just before posting this Review, he confirmed that they have switched to the soft Butter Lettuce.
When I saw the Chocolate mousse and Tiramisu ice cream dessert on the menu, I had to have it, throwing all dietary caution to the wind, my two favourite desserts in one. The chocolate mousse was served as a slice, rich, moist and creamy, with bits of Boudoir biscuit, the ice cream, and topped with a shard of meringue dusted with cocoa powder, looking like a hat. Absolutely deliciously perfect (R75).
Chefs Richard and Gianluca came to sit with me after I had eaten, and shared their Autumn menu with me, which was introduced yesterday. It will include Beetroot, chicken, and sweet potato salads; blue cheese and onion tart; crisp squid; mushrooms on sourdough; chicken livers on sourdough; tempura prawns; a soup of the day: butternut ravioli; eggplant parmigiana; beer-battered hake; confit Chicken; lamb shoulder; pork neck; chef’s cut beef; pasta; curry; sandwiches; and beef burger. Desserts are Chocolate Malva pudding, crème brûlée, and waffles.
They serve breakfast from 8h00 – 11h00 on weekdays, and all day on weekends. On Sundays they offer a Harvest Table, and the Mother’s Day one on 12 May costs R250, offering a bread selection, various dips, Lamb Bobotie, a vegetarian and feta lasagna, Riesling-braised chicken, a variety of vegetables and potatoes, and desserts of eclairs and apple cake.
The service was friendly and efficient, especially from Chefs Richard and Gianluca, as well as from Charlotte, who once again demonstrated fabulous service in showing me the way out of Val de Vie on the Franschhoek side.
Disclosure: When I asked for the bill, Chef Richard declined to present one. We agreed that I would return to Reuben’s & Co Café, to try the Autumn Menu.
Reuben’s & Co Café, Val de Vie, Franschhoek/Paarl. Tel (021) 863-6185 www.valdevie.co.za www.reubens.co.za Instagram: @ReubensandCoCafe
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein