Restaurant Review: Café des Arts poor quality, lacks interest, gives Franschhoek a bad name!

It’s been a long time since I have been to a restaurant that is as badly run and so overall disappointing as Café des Arts, previously Topsi’s.  It is an embarrassment for Franschhoek, a village that prides itself on its gourmet standards.

I had read feedback about Café des Arts on Twitter, both Rob Armstrong and Dax Villanueva praising it, and felt obliged to try it out, one of the few Franschhoek restaurants I had not been to yet.   I arrived at about 20h00 on Friday evening, to a restaurant which still has the Topsi’s signs outside on the main road and on Reservoir Street, dishonest I felt, given that the restaurant name change took place in August last year, and no attempt has been made to change the signs after taking over from esteemed chef Topsi Venter.  I was one of four tables, all Franschhoekers that I knew.  I was surprised in retrospect to see them eating there, one couple in particular, having come out from Cape Town and previously owning a wine farm in Franschhoek.

I take my time in ordering at a restaurant, assimilating the interior, making notes about what I have observed, and felt pressurised to order by the co-owner Louise Rambert, when I had not even looked at the menu board.  She brought the winelist blackboard to the table first, but oddly placed it behind me, which meant that I had to turn around to read it.   The menu blackboard was placed against a wall, which I could read more comfortably, yet not all the handwriting on it was legible.   The teriyaki pork belly with Asian noodle stirfry had sold out, but it had not been deleted from the menu board, and Louise snapped at me when I wanted to order this dish.

I had not been to Topsi’s for many years, but remember that she had tables on two levels of the restaurant.  Now it is contained to the higher level, the entrance section being an untidy mess, containing a bookshelf that had not appeared to have been touched in years and left in a haphazard state.  An industrial fridge and a counter with the coffee machine, as well as more menu boards, were visible, the room looking more like a storeroom than part of a restaurant.  Tables are wooden, with riempies-style chairs.  There are no tablecloths, and a paper serviette is offered.  The cutlery and glassware is cheap.   On the table was an Oryx desert salt grinder and an unbranded pepper grinder, as well as a green sugar bowl.   On a cold winter’s night the ceramic fireplace made the restaurant comfortably warm.  The kitchen is open to the restaurant.  There was artwork on the walls,  mainly by Wakaba Mutheki, but also by other artists, such as Koos de Wet, the only other artist’s name which Louise could remember, yet they sell the artwork for RED! The Gallery in Tokai.  A Mandela portrait is striking in its realism, and costs R30000.   One wonders how a gallery could place this expensive art in such a poor quality restaurant environment.  Louise told me that they have sold quite a few works already.

Chef Chris Hoffman previously owned Café des Arts in Kalk Bay, where he had a similar concept of displaying art in his restaurant, but these were local artists.  He was trained as a chef by Topsi 16 years ago, in her Franschhoek restaurant, and he took over Topsi’s after a visit last year, feeling that Topsi was struggling to run her restaurant after a serious knee operation, and that her family was neglecting her, one of the other guests told me.  Chris closed down his restaurant in Kalk Bay, and took over Topsi’s, renaming it Café des Arts, and Topsi can be seen there frequently, I was told, when she is not at her daughter’s good Franschhoek Food Emporium deli in Place Vendôme.

At first I thought Louise was a waitress, as she had attitude, but she pointedly told me that she was the ‘owner’ of the restaurant, until I asked her about the chef, and she admitted that he co-owns the restaurant with her.  I have never met a restaurant owner who is so disinterested in her clients, who deals with them functionally, who takes no interest in finding out what makes them come to the restaurant, and whether one is a local or not.  Louise told me proudly that they do not advertise, as they are only there to serve the locals, and want to get known by word-of-mouth.   A waitress worked with Louise, but stood near the kitchen most of the time, only bringing one dish to the table, and not communicating at all.  Louise asked for feedback about my main course dish, being lamb’s liver, and when I told her it was tough, she did not respond, walking away from the table.   It became clear to me why she was pressuring me to order – the chef Chris left at 8.45 pm, once he had cooked my liver, walking through the restaurant in his odd-looking civvies, blatantly demonstrating that he had finished with us and his restaurant for the day!

The lamb’s liver (R75) was served with mash, bacon, and balsamic onions, and a rather tasty sauce, but was tough, but the pedestrian knife may have been partly to blame. I am so used to Reuben’s calf’s liver, that I did not like the lamb’s liver by comparison.   I felt the dish to be expensive for what one got.  Other options are two salads, a soup (R48) and mussels (R55/R85) for starters, two fettuccine dishes (R65 – R75), and main course choices were Red Snapper and Lamb loin chops (R110 – R115).   I ordered the apple crumble for dessert, and was assured by Louise that it came with fresh whipped cream, but it was not whipped, and there was barely any on the plate, so that I had to ask the waitress for some more.  I had also asked Louise to only warm up the dessert a little, but it arrived piping hot.  I liked that it contained raisins, but the crumble topping was burnt.  Other dessert options were chocolate tart, and a bread and butter pudding made from croissants, Louise said verbally, but the board stated that it was made from hot cross buns.  All desserts cost R30.   I was told by one of the patrons that the menu is changed regularly, and that she likes to eat at this restaurant, as they make dishes that vegetarians like she can order. 

The winelist offered one or two wines per variety, a house Helderberg Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon (Louise told me that this belongs to Boekenhoutskloof) for R25 per glass.  Haut Espoir Shiraz costs R130, and Stony Brook Shiraz 2006 cost R35/R170.  I was disappointed with it, given its age.

I will never go back to Café des Arts, after my experience.  I found it absolutely amateurish in all respects, and cannot see how it can survive.  With a disinterest in the patrons, mediocre food, lack of food presentation, the chef leaving early, no interior design, no website, false marketing riding on the Topsi’s name,  and a hand-written invoice with no contact details should one want to book in future, Café des Arts cannot be taken seriously in Franschhoek, nor is it a tribute to what went before at Topsi’s.  I was happy to leave and have a lovely cappuccino at Reuben’s across the road.

POSTSCRIPT 4/5:   The owners’ reaction to the review has been surprisingly unprofessional, and has led to them banning me from their establishment.  See the Comments to the blogpost. 

POSTSCRIPT 14/5: I photographed the Topsi’s sign on Huguenot Road today, still up 10 months after Topsi’s closed down, and became Café des Arts!

POSTSCRIPT 22/5:  Seeing a number of extremely positive TripAdvisor reviews for Café des Arts via a Franschhoek Restaurant Google Alert today, I noticed that a review that I posted on TripAdvisor about my dinner at Café des Arts, condensed in content to my review above, has been removed!  TripAdvisor has not sent a notification as to the reason for the content removal.

Café des Arts, Reservoir Street, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2952.  No website, and none intended.  Facebook page.  Tuesday – Saturday.   Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.  

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

49 replies on “Restaurant Review: Café des Arts poor quality, lacks interest, gives Franschhoek a bad name!”

  1. Chris Hoffmann says:

    Hahahahaha hahahahaha you’re funny. How about if I am still here next winter, you can come kiss my ass.

  2. Graeme says:

    I have been many times to the Cafe and have always found the service beyond reproach, the quality of food to be excellent and the atmosphere hospitable and friendly. Certainly, it doesn’t present itself as a restaurant in the same caliber of decor and cutlery as it’s near neighbours such as Rueben’s and Quartier but its offering is beyond reproach. I go to the Cafe for quality and value and am never disappointed. I know many in the village feel as I do.

  3. Thanks for your feedback Graeme.

    I must have experienced a particularly bad off-night. I chatted to Louise after the meal, and could not find out from her why she had been so non-caring to and disinterested in me.

    Chris

  4. Dear Chris

    I find your reaction to my review of your restaurant disappointing and childish.

    Chris

  5. Chris Hoffmann says:

    A bad off night for us or you?

  6. If you read the sentence and the review again Chris it is clear that the off-night related to your restaurant.

    I arrived and left in good spirits, and enjoyed chatting to your other patrons, whom I all knew, which is more than Louise did!

    Chris

  7. Louise Rambert says:

    My mother always taught me that if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. Obviously you were not taught this value in becoming a respected human being. I could argue all your points and negativity about our restaurant but I am not going to waste my time on you. Before you stepped into our restaurant to slant us the way you did, we were warned about you, in fact the majority of the village told us not to even let you through the doors! But for our sins there you sat a miserable, unhappy, lonely woman. Another reason why I am not even going to bother on you, is because after reading TRIP ADVISOR on your whale cottages, WHALESPOTTER and DIRTYWHALE.COM, I am somewhat, not bothered by your pathetic attempt at slander and bad mouthing me and my establishment, because in light you are nowhere near to perfect, I don’t even think you cut the mediocre mark. Where you get the idea, that you of all people can judge establishments the way you do, god only knows. At this, you say you will not come back, well thank the heavens because you are not welcome through these doors, right of admission reserved!
    I also hear that you choose what comments you wish to publish and if you don’t ‘choose’ to publish mine, that’s alright because I know YOU have read it!

  8. Chris, this comment is both for you and your readers. I enjoy every aspect of living, working and playing in this beautiful valley. There are an amazing selection of restaurants to choose from, each offering their own unique experience, quite similar to the accomodation sector where opposing ends of the scale exist; as I am sure you are well aware of with the comments surrounding Whale Cottage. Beyond the eating and the sleeping, this valley offers a great sense of community first and foremost, amongst everyone who calls this valley home. I get a real kick out of this communal aspect of our daily life.

    So when you label this restaurant, run by honest, good hearted people, which I do frequent, as ‘an embarrassment for Franschhoek’ I feel a call to comment.

    The embarrassment Chris, is in your post.

    Now, while I dont expect everyone to pat each other on the back and sing eachothers praises all the time in the Hoek, there is no need to be so ruthless in your assesment coming from a once off visit to a restaurant which clearly is not your style. You take issue with so many petty things in your post that it provides rather boring reading. I will leave the petty points you make aside, and just mention this one major issue: I have found the quality and value of the food incredible, the service always relaxed, honest and friendly, and the experience is just what the Franschhoek locals and tourists need. Chris and Lou don’t discriminate.

    I encourage every reader of your blog to visit Cafe des Artes, experience whether or not your review of them is fair or, as I seem to think, completely unfair. And then, decide for yourself whether anything that Chris von Ulmenstein writes is worth taking seriously. This clearly isnt a restaurant that suits you Chris, it is not necessary to be so spiteful and rude in your assessment of them. I for one, am happy with one aspect in your post, and that is that you wont be back. Allowing us to enjoy our meals in peace. And I hope that more and more restaurants in the Valley ban you. There won’t be many left for you to go and bother both the patrons and guests soon. A famous saying keeps popping up every time I read your reviews: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  9. Dear Louise

    As a co-owner of Cafe des Arts, and given Chris Hoffman’s review reaction yesterday, it is no surprise that your restaurant is doomed to failure. Neither of you have apologised for the poor food and service I experienced last Friday, but both of you have reacted to the review unprofessionally.

    Imagine me as a customer asking you if I had offended you in your restaurant, as you were completely disinteretsed in me as a customer, and in my feedback about the food.

    I paid for my meal, and am entitled to my review. There was no slander in it, just honest feedback. You have not stayed in my guest houses, and therefore you have no right to disparage my establishments.

    Your operation is poorly run, and dishonest in riding on Topsi’s name.

    Chris

  10. Dear Rob

    You regularly badmouth me in Franschhoek and provide input to David Cope’s campaign, so your (lengthy) comment is no surpise.

    You do not declare that your Haut Espoir wines are sold at Cafe des Arts, and that you clearly are friends of the owners.

    Almost all my reviews are written after a first visit, a realistic way in which one judges a restaurant, and on which word-of-mouth is based. I cannot be expected to go back to a restaurant to give it a second chance, when it was so extremely poor in all respects that count for me in a restaurant. These were all detailed. Other than the fireplace, there was nothing to praise. I wrote the review as I do them all, and judged my restaurant experience in the way that I have done the more than 100 reviews that I have written.

    I do not do spite Rob! I have known Topsi for 25 + years. Banning me from Cafe des Arts is childish and spiteful, and you calling for others to ban me just shows what type of a person you are! You are most welcome to not read my blog and its reviews any more!

    Chris

  11. Saul says:

    Dreadful, dirty restaurant, totally overpriced, went there once, never again. With the atrocious overpriced food and obnoxious management I doubt they will be around next winter to kiss anyones ass !

  12. Peter says:

    Quoting tripadvisor:

    “Dreadful experience”

    Date of review: Mar 13, 2011
    We had the unfortunate experience of dining here earlier this year and it was dreadful,more like Fawlty Towers than a proper restaurant,we arrived early in the evening and the menu was presented on a tall,narrow blackboard which the waitress manhandled around the room,the supposed speciality of the chef is slow roasted duck which is cooked at a low heat for 8 hours,the meat removed and then the bones and carcass cooked with herbs for another 8 hours to produce a rich gravy,the whole being served on a bed of fruit,it read beautifully but the execution was poor,the food was cold,not even tepid,the chef to his credit offered to redo the dish but we declined,insult was then added when the waitress tried to justify the poor execution and presentation,we looked at each other and decided to put it down to experience but we will not dine there again.

  13. Ryan says:

    Chris

    I never bothered going to Topsi’s…regardless of the lovely lady that she is. Myself and Lana however, go to Chris and Lou’s place regularly.

    the most unbelieveable part of your review is that you left without cappucino.

    that’s just nuts.

    Cafe des arts makes by far and away the best coffees in the village, everyone knows this. As a restaurant owner myself, something I am particularly jealous of.

    As an afterthought, I find it very strange that you would attempt to adopt the moral high ground withregards to “I ate and paid so am entitled to review”…stance.

    Are you not influencing the opinion of many others whom have not eaten and paid?

    Hence….why would Lou and Chris want to go and stay at one of your establishments having read what others, who have “stayed and paid”….have had to say about your establishment?

    something to think about maybe?

    I do not like this willy nilly talk of predicting which restaurants will close. This is something that influences many lives and jobs beyond patting yourself on the back a few months down the line…because You got it right.

  14. Thank you for the input Ryan.

    I had so little faith in Cafe des Arts, that I did not want to risk the cappuccino, not knowing its good reputation. If there is one thing that a poor restaurant messes up, then it is usually the cappuccino.

    You and I both know that vindictive guests as well as competitors can write untested information on Tripadvisor, using an alias. I use my own name in my reviews, I justify my criticism, and stand by what I have written, even if I have to be banned – in this case it is no loss at all.

    Chris

  15. Dear Saul and Peter

    Thank you for both sharing your feedback, different compared to the CdA-supporters’ club!

    The Trip Advisor feedback is interesting, especially given the finger pointing by Louise and Rob above – what was that about glass houses…?!

    Chris

  16. Dorrit says:

    Classy people these Cafe des Arts owners, I for one won’t be setting foot near their restaurant.

  17. Jason says:

    What was that I was saying about happy thoughts chris…nice to see Ryan one of few locals to post a comment. Have made a booking for next winter already, coming with me chris?

  18. HappyCook says:

    As an impartial bystander there are several things that strike me about the above post and subsequent exchanges.
    First, as a potentially positive PR opportunity, the owners of Cafe des Artes have shot themselves in the foot in most awful fashion. I cringed reading their responses. Many people suspect that the veneer of charm exhibited by restaurant staff disguises contempt and cynicism: this exhibition proves it.
    Further, if the owners, as one attests, were au fait with Chris von Ulmenstein’s reputation for speaking her mind, in my opinion they were extremely foolish not to spoil her by being extra nice. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. By all accounts, based on what is written above, they went out of their way to be churlish.
    Further: no-one can please everyone. It is dangerous to listen only to praise, and painful as it is, professionals in the hospitality industry need to learn how to deal with criticism in a dignified and effective manner.
    Lastly: as a regular diner, I seldom pay attention to restaurant reviews on the Internet, as the vast majority of them are written by amateurs, individuals with no experience nor knowledge of professional writing OR cooking. Their comments emrely reflect their own opinions, not a proper professional assessment.
    I do, however, pay attention to the BEHAVIOURS of diners, chefs/owners. The motivation here seems to be largely vindictive and petty, and who wants to eat food made and served by such individuals?

  19. Well said HappyCook!

    Banning me from a restaurant is the poorest reaction to a review. I wonder if Rob Armstrong will ban me from drinking his Haut Espoir wines too? LOL!!

    Chris

  20. Strange that you would not invite me to your own restaurant Chez d’Or Jason!

    Chris

  21. HappyCook says:

    It all seems rather silly, really. One can understand that the owners felt stung by an adverse critique, one just wishes for their sake they hadn’t entered the fray. Interestingly, internet reviews of food and wine regularly come under fire in the media, yet it is a certainty that this phenomenon shows no sign of abating, nor will it for a long time to come. Savvy restauranteurs will need to learn to make it work to their benefit with alacrity.

  22. darren says:

    Agree with happy cook, we all know that the best way to get a great review from chris is give good food at a reasonable price with charm and politeness, this is what we all expect and i agree that the way the owners have responded is both childish, unprofessional and just down right stupid…..use a bit of common sense, give good food, treat everyone the same and the restaurant owners wont have anything to fear.

  23. Annette Phillips says:

    We think that Cafe Des Art is JUST what Franschhoek needs. Honest food prepared by a young couple who work very hard. As for riding on Topsi’s name – there is usually signage on the railings with the new name.
    I disagree with Happy Cook and think that the honest approach to an unwelcome diner is refreshing.

  24. Tamara says:

    @HappyCook – this is a blog for plebs, use small words pls for small people and leave the big … oh, never mind.

    I have to add, that I do agree that they responded with emotion. I would too, being in the industry myself as it does hit close to home when it is your passion and living – otherwise we would not be in it at all, agree?

  25. Theo Cromhout says:

    Chris…

    Up front, let me declare that I do not know Rob Armstrong , Darren, Saul, HappyCook, or anyone else that has contributed this blog review. I have absolutely no relationship with anyone who has added other comments….

    I do however have a very strong view that by responding to certain “blog reviews”, we give these comments and opinions relevance, which is one of the primary reasons I have not responded to several comments that have been posted in the past by various establishments that I have worked for in my career. I will respond to a comment if it relevant, valid, and if the comments are constructive and intended in the right spirit.

    The source/blogger, their credibility and reputation are also important before deciding whether to respond or not. All the recognised and respected foodie bloggers have been consistent, fair and reasonable over a period of time, and hence they have a good standing in our industry. As a passionate hotel, restaurant, food and wine guy, I have made it my business to know and the difference between the two, and as such, when to respond and when not to respond.

    In this specific case, I think the owners of this restaurant made 2 mistakes. First, they chose to respond where rather, in their silence would have been their strength. Second, the responded impulsively with emotion and a bite, and this may have eroded their credibility, although I don’t think this is serious, as the original review would be taken with a large lump of salt by most readers…..

    For my part, I am choosing to respond now, as I do believe that many of the other comments posted in response to your review are extremely relevant, credible and valid.
    Here is my take on this all……

    Rob Armstrong says: “…in Franschoek, there is a great sense of community.” As a spectator, it would seem as you (Chris) have abused and violated this sense of “community” and Rob has a very valid point. He adds that your content is “petty” and “boring” – I would tend to agree and feel that many, if not most, would agree with this feedback.

    Saul says: Overpriced, arrogant, dirty, etc etc. I am starting to wonder who this “Saul” character is as he seems to pop up regularly to defend your reviews and opinions, mostly in the same tone, style and manner in which your own content is posted. Is “Saul” an alter ego and a construct of Whale Tale?

    Darren and HappyCook Say: Chris should get special attention in any restaurant she visits because she has a “reputation”? Darren/HappyCook, are you serious?! That is the most absurd notion I have ever heard of!

    HappyCook also says that internet reviews are not taken seriously as they are often by amateurs. Here I will most definitely agree; a Twitter Account, Blog or a few hundred facebook follows doth not a Food Critic make!!!

    One has to ask the question, “Who is guarding the guards?”

    In my view, the majority of your blog postings cannot be considered “reviews”, but rather personal, vindictive, negative swipes and attacks at your/our industry peers. I feel your reviews are against the spirit of hospitality at best and at worst, I feel your approach and style are against the spirit of being proudly South Africa.

    I believe that in our industry “customer feedback” is in fact a GIFT, and I am sure most would agree this is dependent on RESPECT and the manner in which feedback is given in a constructive and useful manner.

    This is where I feel you have long since lost your way and have an extremely poor and negative standing/reputation in our food and wine industry here in South Africa. In short, my feeling is that you lack credibility and respect of the majority of our industry peers and are recognised and known for all the wrong reasons.

    My worst fear is that this trail and string of blog comments will actually enhance the possibility that your blog may once again be nominated in the category of Most Controversial Blog of the SA Blog Awards.
    If this is the case, I feel this would erode the credibility of these awards as one should not be recognised as being controversial for controversy’s sake. One can be controversial but at the same time, remain respectful in a quest to stimulate robust discussion and debate. This is constructive controversy!! There are so many other truly controversial blogs that deserve and warrant this acknowledgement and recognition…..

    I think that you urgently need to change your approach, attitude and outlook on your blog, as much as life, as this must all be very energy sapping – and it is all so unnecessary while hurting small business owners who do not deserve this coming from you.

    You have an opportunity to make a positive contribution in such a positive manner. This is something you desperately need to address for yourself, your company and your blog.

    Yours in South African Hospitality, Theo

  26. darren says:

    Theo if you read my comment again and again and again you will note that i did not say what you claim i said below.

    Darren and HappyCook Say: Chris should get special attention in any restaurant she visits because she has a “reputation”? Darren/HappyCook, are you serious?! That is the most absurd notion I have ever heard of!

    Also claiming that her atitude of criticising a restaurant is against the spirit of being proudly south african is a really strange comment, where you sure that you meant to say that.

    So being proudly South African means what, putting up with crap service from crap restaurants, dont think so and the more people complain the better the standards will be.

    I suspect that you maybe work or represent an establishment that whale cottage has been critical off in the past, am i right

  27. HappyCook says:

    Tamara, sorry, I will try to keep it short and sweet. Theo makes many valid points with which I agree. Not the personal issues with the blogger, that is between them. My point is that we live in the information age, and those who choose to ignore it do so to their own detriment. Theo, it is called the hospitality industry, after all, not the hostility industry. From my position in the popcorn gallery the owners of Cafe des Artes had a great opportunity to sway a hostile customer, and they failed. That is regrettable. And Theo, blogging and Internet comments on restaurant experiences are NOT reviews. They are subjective opinion. We are all becoming more discerning (sorry Tamara, it means choosy) about what we spit or swallow, as regards information. Not true?

  28. Saul R says:

    I am happy for my ip address to be shown !

  29. Thanks Saul – here it is for Theo to write to you: saulr@gmail.com. It doesn’t show automatically, the way WordPress is designed.

    Chris

  30. Thanks for your input Darren.

    I am sure that you mean that not just I but also other reviewers share some basic fundamentals that will make us write fairly about a restaurant.

    Chris

  31. I am delighted that you have taken to reading my blog Annette. As a Franschhoeker I know you move in a circle that is critical of what I write about Franschhoek, where all is not perfect, as you know.

    I am waiting for your fellow circle member Susan Huxter to endorse Cafe des Arts too!

    Chris

  32. Dear Theo

    I thank you for the energy that you have given your Comment. You impressed me greatly with your response, in your capacity as Marketing Manager of the Taj Cape Town, on this blog to my review of the Twankey Bar last year, being longer than my review was, and that is saying something!

    I was disappointed that you did not respond to my review of the Taj Hotel, in which I documented that I walked out at midnight due to the poor service I experienced there. No one from your hotel responded, surprising from a 5* hotel, I felt. I think this clouds what you have written, and I am declaring this on your behalf, so that the context in which you have written is clear to the readers of this blog. I won’t go into any detail about how your GM has forced the mutual food and wine appreciation organisation we belong to to disallow me to write about any of these dinners as a result of the Taj hotel review.

    My response to your Comment is:

    1. Why do you read my blog, when you find what I write to be so ‘petty’ and ‘boring’, and even more so, why did you take the trouble to reply and defend a restaurant that you have declared you have no link to or interests in?

    2. Linked to this, why did you read this review, when you disparage bloggers and their reviews? You are under no obligation to read any blogs.

    3. I have provided Saul’s e-mail address for you in one of my replies above. I don’t think you have read enough of my blog, and as we have never met, you may not appreciate how important it is for me to speak/write the truth. I have never feared to put my name to what I have written, with the positives and negatives (the odd restaurant ban, for example!) that come with it, and certainly do not need to post comments in the name of another person to make a point.

    4. Because you don’t know me, and your opinion of me can only be based on hearsay, you will not know that I do not go about my writing to be controversial! I observe, and I write. It is the reaction of persons like you and the Franschhoek inner circle that causes the controversy, by attacking the messenger, and using disparagement to negate what I have written. Our blog was nominated by others for the Most Controversial Blog category in the SA Blog Awards last year, and was voted into the Top 10 for this category by readers.

    5. You write that I am trying to destroy small businesses – again you should know that this is far from the truth – I have been running restaurant specials lists for a year now, I share my observations about the industry on my blog, and I hope that my feedback will be accepted and acted upon, to make it better for future customers. No establishment, including my own, is 100% perfect, and it is better to be told about it and fix the problems than have word-of-mouth destroy one’s reputation.

    6. I am Proudly South African, or more specifically Proudly Capetonian! You imply that because I am critical (my German genes!) in what I write, I am not a proud South African – come on Theo!

    7. In Transactional Analysis terms you sound like the Critical Parent, in your ‘fatherly’ advice for me to reflect on my blog and its writing. It may surprise you that I love writing, and that I do not earn a cent out of my blog, so I have the freedom to write about what interests me, and in the style that I have developed over the past 10 years with my WhaleTales newsletters, and more recently with my blog. Writing is not ‘energy-sapping’ for me at all, and I am wide awake writing long after midnight every evening. As a marketer you will know that the market will speak – if my 28000 WhaleTales readers and 26000 unique Blog readers did not like what I had to say, they would have unsubscribed a long time ago. Ironically you do not like my criticism of the hospitality industry, yet you are criticising my blog!

    The big hotels are bullies, and probably are irritated that a little guest house owner has such a big mouth, as evidenced by the behaviour of FEDHASA Cape three years ago, and more recently, that of your GM. I have no intention of stopping or changing my writing, but I do appreciate constructive input to my blog, via the Comments and also face-to-face, and to my newsletters at all times.

    I would love to meet you, having said all of that!

    Chris

  33. Louise Rambert says:

    I am happy to say that the Mandela has since been sold.

  34. Thanks for the feedback Louise – do we share the commission?

    Chris

  35. Graeme says:

    So, on Friday night we thought we would re-visit the Cafe experience. If it is fine dining experience that you are looking for in terms of starched white tableclothes and napkins, this is not the place for you (the name should tell you that !). But, if you are looking for an excellent dining experience with high quality, well presented food, in an hospitable atmosphere, this is the place for you. The service was consistent, attentive and engaged. For the overall dining experience I was happy to eat off a wooden table with paper serviettes.

    One negative, I think the wine list could do with some attention and I do have a concern that the charges for the food and wine is “excessive”, again for a “cafe” experience. But the food presented last night was as good if not better than that of the Cafe’s more illustrious neighbours.

    As a final observation, there were 6 tables occupied last night (18 people) and I recognised that 90 % of those were local FH families. That, in itself, tells me that the Cafe is here to stay, and they deserve to.

  36. Thanks for your further feedback Graeme.

    You cannot be a regular reader of this Blog to question whether I only look for fine-dining experiences – in fact I have been asked to stop writing about coffee shops and ‘non-serious’ restaurants, but given the times, I am writing about a broad spectrum. I have minimum standards of honesty, friendliness, value for money, and good quality food and wine, of any restaurant that I visit and spend my money at, none of which I experienced when I visited. If you had a good experience, perhaps the owners got a wake-up call from this review, and have improved what they do.

    They even sold the Mandela painting out of it!

    Six tables last night, up from the four when I was there, is not a great achievement, given the hundreds of readers of this review since 1 May! It sounds like the Portofino-effect – they had a full house after their controversy, yet closed down six months later.

    Chris

  37. Elizabeth Rossouw says:

    Chef Chris and Louise have been a breath of fresh air in the Franschhoek Valley. I have found them to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. I bring friends and family to their restaurant knowing the food is excellent and the service charming.

    I wish them the best and look forward to frequenting their restaurant next winter…

  38. darren roberts says:

    For all concerned I would like to point out that the comments and opinions made in this blogsite under the name “Darren” is in no way connected to myself.
    Darren Roberts
    Chef
    Grande Provence

  39. I know both Darrens.

    I can confirm that Darren, the regular Commenter on this blog, is from Hout Bay, is not in the hospitality industry, is a regular restaurant-goer, and is a frequent reader of this blog.

    Darren Roberts I know from Grande Provence, where he is the chef. This is the first comment he has posted on this blog.

    Chris

  40. Thank you for reading our blog Elizabeth.

    As the co-owner of the Franschhoek Col’Cachhio it is nice to see that you support other Franschhoek restaurants.

    Chris

  41. darren says:

    i would also like to confirm that comments made under Darren is not associated to Darren Roberts or any other Darren in RSA other than me Darren humble restaurant goer from the metropolis of Hout Bay.love the ego trip of Darren Roberts though

  42. Daniel says:

    What’s that old proverb – “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”

    As a customer in any reataurant you expect friendly, professional service and a level of quality in the food, sadly lacking in so many venues which tend not to survive, thankfully – check out West Cape Auctions.

    The message here is accept the comments and address them in a positive light and you will win in the long term – the best customers are those that have an issue and you correct it. Not by throwing the toys out.

  43. Thank you Daniel, and I absolutely agree.

    Chris

  44. Robert Rittel says:

    Forgive them, then they do not know what there doing……

  45. Daniele says:

    To all of you who participated in this blog-thing.

    I feel quite uncomfortable after having gone through this discussion. I experience it as petty, childish, often personally biased and boring.

    I am very happy we still have freedom of expression in SA, so we are all entitled to say what we want to say.
    However, freedom is a very precious right and shouldn’t be abused by or being confused with “the right to be rude” in ones expressions.
    Someone should be able to express themselves in an intelligent and respectful manner, both in writing as well as speaking and still criticise passionately..

    I miss the basics of civilised human behaviour quite often in your South African critiques. Have never experienced this so strong in any of the many democratic countries I lived.

  46. Ronan says:

    WOW! I had heard about the blogging thing that was going on about Cafe Des Arts and how it all started on that ‘dreadful’ night when ‘The Ulmenstein’ came to dinner, but I had never imagined the magnitude of what I’ve just spent 30 minutes reading here !
    It seems that season one and two in the series have had their turn and gone down pretty well, resulting in Cafe Des Arts being the culprit behind an intriguing struggle between lower-middle class, upper-middle class, normal people, extra territorials and those of us who want to just eat good food, drink good wine, enjoy precious time with our friends and cherish as Rob puts it so well – our community.
    Season 3:
    I’m not from Fraschhoek, but I’ve known Lou and Chris from their Kalk Bay days when I used to visit their restaurant there and stay way past everyone’s bed-time until we got kicked out the back door! So I am in a sense part of the community.
    This past weekend was Bastille Day, an annual event that sees Fraschhoek pull out all the stops and party as hard as this beautiful little town can handle.
    If you were anywhere near Cafe Des Arts during the two days you will have either just plainly gotten stuck there the whole day or told all your friends and their friends to make their way down and join you to feast on the spectacle, the food and the music. I was part of the band Hot Water that played on both days, so I spent a good 24 hours observing, listening and meeting all the locals. A colourful, brilliant, incredibly generous and positive bunch. In many conversations I was told that Cafe Des Arts have officially set a new standard and raised the bar for next year’s Bastille Day. Everyone was praising Lou and Chris for their outstanding efforts in providing the town with such a ‘sensory feast’. I am honoured to have been part of their ‘crew’ and am inspired to live up to their grace, standard and all inclusive nature that they practice so well. If anything Lou and Chris are providing a reason for people to enjoy their community, explore each others cultures and break down the illusions of ‘small town’, ‘class system’ and frankly ‘backward thinking’ mentality.
    If I could afford to I would drive from Cape Town every night to eat at Cafe Des Arts, as it’s some of the best food I’ve ever eaten! And seeing as it’s Mandela’s Birthday today (he has been mentioned in the other blogs quite a bit), I thought I’d post this little note of his at the end…
    “No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth… It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society.”

MANDELA 1994

  47. Dear Ronan

    Thank you for your detailed input, and for sharing your Bastille experience at Cafe des Arts.

    I was in Franschhoek all weekend, and did not know nor hear any music being performed there. I have never experienced such a friendly and vibey Franschhoek as I did this weekend, especially on Saturday – there was real magic in the air, everyone chatted to strangers, nothing got out of hand, and there was great food, wine and beer to be had all along the main road, so much so that one did not have to go to the Bastille marquee!

    Chris

  48. jocuri zane says:

    jocuri zane…

    Restaurant Review: Café des Arts poor quality, lacks interest, gives Franschhoek a bad name! | Whale Cottage Portfolio Blog…

  49. Donna Lee-Roberts says:

    Hearsay about how someones’ family may or may not be neglecting them in a food blog, wherein the green sugar bowl also needs special mention. This is too ridiculous but highly amusing, as I was told most of these opinions are. Will definitely be there to check this place out this Bastille. I’ll be sure pay special attention to any unused bookcases too. What a giggle.

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