Rhapsody’s opened in Green Point last week, where Doppio Zero used to be, perfectly positioned for business when the Cape Town Stadium hosts events, and for locals in general.  It is the first full-scale restaurant of this Pretoria-based franchise group in Cape Town, and the 12th for the group, which has ambitious restaurant opening plans for next year.  It was chatting to the Executive Chef Claire Brown, previously of Pierneef à La Motte, and some of the passionate managers that gave me confidence that this restaurant won’t be another franchise restaurant, but one that wants to make a difference for Capetonians.

I was intrigued when I first saw the logo on the boards outside the restaurant when I visited neighbouring Café Extrablatt about a month ago, and they told me the name of the restaurant.  The franchisor of the group and owner of the Cape Town branch is Michalis Xekalos, who opened his first Rhapsody’s branch in Menlyn, Pretoria ten years ago.  There are Rhapsody’s restaurants in Ghana, Bloemfontein, Polokwane, and Bedfordview, and an ambitious expansion plan for next year includes another branch in Ghana, two in Nigeria, and restaurants in Zimbabwe and Botswana.  Outlets may also open in Namibia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Barcelona, and more in Cape Town.  The restaurant pay-off line is ‘Flavours of Life’, and this governs what the restaurant group stands for.

I was astounded at the transformation of the interior from the previous Doppio Zero, the shop section on the left having become a lounge with a high tech bathroom, with a communal water fountain.  A huge bar counter has yellow lighting, and tables and chairs can seat about 100 inside.  A lot of money has been invested in the interior design, with a more-is-more design approach! A gas fire in the centre of the room creates ambiance, columns are black and white striped, and walls are a mix of terracotta-colour and face brick.  A massive wine rack at the entrance is unlike anything I have ever seen, very modern. A communal wooden table was specially made with the Rhapsody’s logo in silver.  Highback chairs in white and grey with a red thread are unusual, and the chairs around the ‘logo table’ were made from ‘synthetic’ white leather. The interior takes one’s breath away, as it is so large and has so many design features to comprehend.  The architect is Chris Pattichides, who designs all the Rhapsody’s restaurants, and also does its interior design.  The decor is designed to make one feel the experience of being at Rhapsody’s.  The exterior of the building is strongly lit at night in the corporate blue, and one cannot miss its branding when turning into Main Road from the Stadium traffic circle.

The managers have largely come from other Rhapsody’s branches (with the exception of Chef Claire), and all seemed to radiate pride in their new operation, and seemed to be very un-Pretoria, being focused on making this restaurant meet the needs of Cape Town customers.  Diederick Bissett is one of the managers I spoke to, and he told me that the time had come for Rhapsody’s to open in Cape Town, the group already having a lounge at Cape Town International airport, at which they serve drinks and light meals only.  He told me that the Cape Town decor has made it the flagship restaurant, and is very different to the more conservative decor of the older restaurants, being more ‘vibey’.   The restaurant will tend more to fine-dining compared to most of the other outlets, to reflect this greater need in the city.  Its winelist will also be expanded, to reflect the more sophisticated wine taste of locals.  The appointment of Chef Claire, sommelier Willie Kriek (previously with Cape Point Vineyards) and sushi chef JC Duarte (who has worked at Nobu and Zuma in London) demonstrates how ambitious Rhapsody’s is.  Cape Town Stadium event packages, including parking across the road, the ticket, and a meal will be offered.

Chef Claire told me that ‘fusion food’ is served at Rhapsody’s, being a mix of styles, with sushi, steak, fish, and salads.   The menu I saw was a standard Rhapsody’s one, used in all their restaurants.  In January Chef Claire will present her own menu alongside the standard one, and will work with the sommelier to have a featured dish paired with a wine.  The whole group will meet in April, to review the menu, and at this time the executive chefs will have a say in the standard menu. The Cape Town branch is likely to set the benchmark for the group menu in future.  Suppliers include Fresh Produce, Hartman’s, and Gastro Foods, Southern Cross, and Illy roasts a special Rhapsody’s coffee bean.  Special Supper Club functions, with a set menu and live music, are on the cards, as could be celebrity chef cook-offs.  Chef Claire said her favourite Rhapsody’s dishes currently are the salmon tian (R69), chilli chicken penne (R74), and avocado brie fillet (R135).  Inside tables have table cloths, and a material serviette comes with two knives and a fork, by Fortis, and Kikkoman soy sauce was brought to the table for the sushi.

The extensive menu uses beautiful photographs of the menu items to create appetite appeal, and it is introduced with a quote by Coco Chanel: ‘In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different’. I ordered a prawn and avocado hand roll, which wasn’t on the menu, but it is planned to be added by the sushi chef. It costs R35, and is one of the best that I have eaten.  I was impressed with the care taken in its presentation, something I have not seen for sushi before. Sushi platters range from R79 for seven pieces to R220 for 30 pieces. I also tried the salmon tian, a stack of toasted crostini with lemon-pepper cream cheese, avocado and tomato, the basil pesto on the plate being an unnecessary extra.  Other starters are curried chicken liver (R47), snails (R48), calamari, and carpaccio (R59).  Salads range from R55 – R69 for Thai Beef salad.  All steaks come with extravagant toppings (e.g. one comes with cheese, avocado and biltong, costing R135, another with bacon and mushroom, at R129). Chicken dishes cost about R85, kingklip R125, burgers cost R59 – R69, and desserts range from R35 for Mississippi Mud Pie to R 42 for Death by Chocolate.

The Cocktail list has an orange cover, in contrast to the black covers of the menu and winelist.  It is an extensive collection of cocktails, and contains branded pages with cocktails made with SKYY vodka, Glaceau vitamin water, Carvo, and Powerplay. Cigars are also  presented in the list.  The winelist is filled with beautiful photographs of a vineyard, champagne cork, and also contains branded pages for Saronsberg, Val de Vie and Van Loveren, reminding me of the Balducci menu and winelist.  Dom Perignon is offered at R2200, whilst Veuve Cliquot NV, Moët et Chandon NV, and Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé cost around R800. Cap Classiques (Pongrácz and Pierre Jourdan, both just under R200 for the Brut) are separated from Sparkling wines (JC le Roux Le Domaine and La Chanson, both at R99) on the list.  Shiraz range from R26/R98 for Arabella, to R289 for Cederberg, with Cloof, Delaire, Saronsberg Provenance, Joostenburg Syrah and Kloovenburg offered too. No vintages are specified at all, a major weakness of the winelist, but each wine is described.  Interesting is that a Red and a White wine Speciality section is listed before the variety sections on the winelist, and contained a mix of brands such as Leopard’s Leap Lookout Chenin Blanc (R99), L’Ormarins Chardonnay (R215), Tokara Walker Bay Chardonnay (R215), Guardian Peak Frontier (R195), and Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir (R375), all wines distributed by Meridian, I was told on asking.  Another Cape Town winelist will be available soon, with 35 wines (with vintages) to be added, to meet the Cape Town palate.   The cappuccino was weak, and Diederick was honest in acknowledging that they haven’t got the coffee grinding quite right yet.

Staff seemed plentiful relative to the customer numbers, but the restaurant filled up whilst I was there, on the terrace in the main.  I liked the blue branded shirts the staff wear, a break from the standard white and black. The staff was friendly, and Diederick told me that a lot of time is spent on staff training.  Rhapsody’s staff feel to be part of the ‘family’ and receive above-average pay, and this makes them stay longer and give better service.  The owners are charismatic and sociable, and involve their staff.  Customers too are looked after via The Rhapsodian CashBack Rewards programme, giving one 5% off, and building loyalty, one receiving the card immediately.  One should not expect much live music, despite the name and logo of the restaurant, but the background music volume and compilation was good.

I found Rhapsody’s to be a little overwhelming, with an incredible selection of decor styles under one roof, a massive menu which comes across as franchise-orientated, and very friendly staff and management. I am sure that the Cape Town menu of Chef Claire and Willie’s Cape Town winelist will lift the level of the restaurant, and will take away its franchise feel.  Diederick refused my payment for the meal.

POSTSCRIPT 12/5: Rhapsody’s closed down in April.

Rhapsody’s, 83 Main Road, Green Point, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 434-3004.  www.rhapsodys.co.za Twitter: @RhapsRestaurant.  Monday – Sunday, Breakfast (7h00 – 12h00), Lunch and Dinner

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