I decided to try the new Chez d’Or restaurant on the main road in Franschhoek for lunch, after the 60th birthday concert on Sunday of well-known potter David Walters in the NG Church, diagonally across the road.  I had read in the local rag ‘The Franschhoek Month’ that six-time Eat Out Top 10 chef Richard Carstens had opened the restaurant, which led me to believe that he was the new owner of the restaurant.   It was a massive disappointment and let-down.

Previously low key Cafe Rouge, which was set back in Bijoux Square, making it hard to see, the new restaurant has been brought forward and expanded in this Square, in the space in which the optometrist was previously located.   Owner Jason de Jongh has re-invented the restaurant completely, with the larger space, more upmarket interior design, changing the restaurant name to bring it in line with his guest house name (Val d’Or), and bringing Carstens in on a three-month consultancy contract only (not mentioned in the article).   Carstens is the South African ueber-chef, who indulges in foams, is a good trainer of staff, and is good at helping set up new restaurants, but has had little staying-power (except at Lynton Hall, where he worked for five years).  Jason explained that he wanted to create a Bistro-style restaurant, with Carstens’ input, but without the type of cuisine Carstens has become known for, so as to not create a huge difference in the quality of the food served after Carstens leaves the restaurant in September.   Carstens is quoted in the article as saying about the restaurant: “Its a classic yet contemporary bistro with Asian influences”.  The red and white tablecloths with white overlays create the Bistro look.  The cutlery is neatly wrapped inside the serviette, probably a Carstens’ touch.

The problem with the restaurant and Carstens’ connection was immediately evident when the hardboard menu started with a list of sandwiches!  These are served between 11h00 – 17h00, and are quite expensive, in ranging from R 45 for an aubergine, mushroom, pepper, coriander pesto and gruyere sandwich, to R58 for a ribeye and aioli or smoked salmon sandwich, and a beef burger.  A further problem was that Carstens explained some of the menu items but not all – the Carstens touch shows when he described the Soup of the Day (the waitress just called it a Butternut Soup).   Carstens described it as a Butternut Soup served with almonds and snoek, changing its nature completely, snoek not being to everyone’s taste.  The spiced tomato, coconut, lime and chilli sorbet soup sounded delicious too.  The wholewheat bread did not look home-baked, and in fact seemed to show its age with first signs of mould, so we did not eat it.  The butter was untidily cut and presented.   Other starter choices are spiced calamari (R58), duck liver pate (R52), smoked rainbow trout (R65), chicken spring roll (R47), and a mushroom and artichoke salad (R45). 

The Pork belly (R85) was served on a tiny portion of mash with butternut, the black eggplant puree looking unattractive in the brown (with green oily bits) mustard sauce.  Overall, the plate of food looked unattractive, and the pork had an odd taste.  My son’s Ribeye steak(R98) was ordered medium rare, but was prepared more to the medium side. It was tender, but the chip portion was tiny, so the waitress brought more, without extra charge.   The spinach was tender and tasty.  The Tempura linefish (R80) was kingklip.  Other main courses are Duck leg (R85), Asian braised lamb shank (R98), and Beetroot and aubergine curry (R70).

The winelist is on the reverse side of the menu, and will not feature on the Diner’s Club Winelist of the Year awards list.  It is simply divided into “Methode Cap Classique Sparkling”, White Wine, Rose Wine, Red Wine and Dessert Wine/Port and is commendably Proudly-Franschhoek in its wine selection, with the exception of the Landskroon and Quinta Do Sul Vintage Reserve ports.  Each wine is described in brief, but no vintages are listed.  The wine-by-the glass prices are so low (R18 for Porcupine Ridge Viognier/Grenache, Haut Espoir Sauvignon Blanc R20, Eikehof Cabernet Sauvignon R18) that one wonders how young they are, and whether they are drinkable.  The Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir is the most expensive wine on the list, at R250, but most wines are under R200, making the wine choice affordable.

We skipped the starter to leave space for Carstens’ signature dessert, which is not on the menu – frozen dark chocolate mousse served with saffron ice cream on biscuit crumbs, with mint sauce.   The dessert sounded better than the real thing, which were four unequally cut blocks of frozen chocolate mousse.  The saffron ice cream and mint sauce were delicious.   Other options are an interesting sounding Gin and lemon tart (R40); Poached banana ice cream (R38); Vanilla creme (R38); Chocolate tart, cardamom ice cream with pear (R50); and a Cheese board (R65).

We left Chez d’Or bitterly disappointed, in having expected Richard Carstens’ quality but getting a most unsatisfactory meal, even though he was in the kitchen!   Anyone who would think of coming to eat at the restaurant, on the basis of Carstens’ association with it until September, should not eat here.   I felt cheated, as I could not sense Carstens’ hand here at all.

Carstens is rumoured to be taking over the Tokara restaurant when his consultancy contract at Chez d’Or comes to an end in September, but Tokara is denying this.

Chez d’Or, Bijoux Square, 60 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-4197. www.chezdor.co.za  (The website is disappointing, with only a Home page, giving contact details and a restaurant interior shot, no menu or winelist).  Monday – Sunday.  Lunch and Dinner.

POSTCRIPT 30/7: It has been confirmed that Richard Carstens will be the Executive Chef of Tokara Restaurant, in conjunction with Jardine’s Wilhelm Kuehn, from October.

POSTSCRIPT 1/8: I have been informed by Wilhelm Kuehn, the new operator of the Tokara restaurant, that Richard Carstens has left Chez d’Or.  The Chez d’Or staff confirm that he left on Wednesday, the day of our review, and that he left ahead of the end of his contract.    We were clearly told by the owner that he would be at the restaurant until September.

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